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CHR gets added Pfizer for healthcare strategy

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Cambridge Healthcare Research partners and co-founders, from left at St John's Innovation Centre, are Max Rubin, Matteo Perucchini and Edward Cartwright. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge Healthcare Research partners and co-founders, from left at St John's Innovation Centre, are Max Rubin, Matteo Perucchini and Edward Cartwright. Picture: Keith Heppell

The appointment of a senior Pfizer executive as strategic advisor to Cambridge Healthcare Research’s board is evidence of a company making progress.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from her home in Connecticut, Marjorie Norman, who was director of worldwide competitive intelligence until she retired recently after 17 years with the pharma giant, said: “Pfizer is the number one pharma company in the world and it’s important the company keeps a competitive advantage, and to do that Pfizer engages in competitive intelligence in a legal and ethical manner, and it employs companies such as Cambridge Healthcare Research to help achieve its goals.”

Cambridge Healthcare Research – CHR – is a competitive strategy consultancy based at St John’s Innovation Centre working exclusively with companies in the life science and healthcare sectors.

“I’ve been working with CHR pretty much since they started,” Marjorie continued. “I’ve been very impressed not just about their expertise in terms of the subject matter but also their dedication and commitment to clients.

“I’m delighted to be joining CHR to help shape this new phase of its expansion. The customised strategic support provided by CHR is invaluable for organisations in the complex healthcare environment where a thorough understanding of key trends, competitor activity and market dynamics is crucial for successful decision making.”

Marjorie isn’t the only new joinee. Laura Lawrence, formerly of Goldman Sachs, was appointed head of operations earlier in the year and Stella Wooder, chair at Team Consulting, is also joining the CHR board as a strategic adviser.

Such developments made me curious and soon enough I found myself in a St John’s meeting room with the company’s three directors: Edward Cartwright, Matteo Perucchini and Max Rubin.

“We met while working at a previous consultancy, Deallus,” says Edward. “They do competitive strategy: we were senior engagement managers.”

“Edward and myself were based in London and also worked out of Singapore,” says Matteo, “running an evolving life sciences, pharma and medical devices portfolio.”

Former Pfizer executive Marjorie Norman has joined the CHR as strategic advisor
Former Pfizer executive Marjorie Norman has joined the CHR as strategic advisor

The trio launched CHR in 2013.

“Two reasons,” says Matteo. “We wanted to do things in a different way, to address client needs – and also as a team we worked very well together. Strong and .... dynamic.”

“We’re self-funded,” adds Max. “We said: ‘We think we can provide a better service’. We provide not just information, but push beyond information to insight, implications and to the fundamental impact on our client – though we don’t provide funding or investment.”

“We support delivery of projects to our clients, we understand and solve their problems,” adds Matteo. “They need the expertise we have commercially – and also we understand the science and the clinical requirements.”

“Since we started, clients have come to us and stayed with us,” says Matteo. “It’s a long-term relationship, perhaps for the life cycle of a drug – they last years.”

And Cambridge?

“We all live in the Cambridge area, and are Cambridge graduates,” replies Max.

The first employee started in May 2015, and the head count is now 50. The sort of people CHR employs need a pretty awesome skill set which includes intimate knowledge of science plus strong and instinctive commercial and business acumen?

“The people we hire are natural born leaders,” says Edward, “even if they’re not always aware of it! Our role is to give them the confidence and the tools. But the reason we’re expanding our operations team is because we’re not operations guys, we’re able to do it up to a certain point, then we need to bring people on board.”

“Laura will help us on our journey,” adds Matteo. “We need someone in the role – and knowing your limitations is a strength, actually. We have an office in London and here in Cambridge, and a network of full-time consultants for additional support for the different timezones we operate in.”

Two-thirds of the clients are in pharma: that’s engagement with research organisations working in areas from chronic and acute diseases, like oncology, immunology and CNS, to rare diseases, and across disease settings, from hospital and at-home care to precision medicine and generic alternatives. The other third is in medical devices, but not all clients are large companies. “We also work with single-asset start-ups who want to better their opportunity,” says Edward.

Laura Lawrence, CHR's recently recruited head of operations
Laura Lawrence, CHR's recently recruited head of operations

Client privacy means CHR can’t always bang the drum.

Matteo: “Yes, the only time we’re not behind the scenes is for example when we work with the World Health Organisation, so when their reports are published we’re named as a source – and that’s very fulfilling for us.”

Max: “The World Health Organisation work is primarily in diagnostics, often in low income countries so for instance diseases such as hepatitis or malaria. We work not just with big pharma, but also to benefit non-governmental organisations.”

CHR’s strategy is to continue to expand – while staying within the self-funding model.

Max says: “We aim to be the top of our niche but are also actively exploring opportunities to expand into other niches, other networks.”

Edward adds: “We have ideas for diversification, and we know what business factors could be needed to trigger them. The model is sustainable growth. We’ve had very good growth, the next stage is how we invest back into the team. Once they are ready to lead we can bring in people underneath them.”

But that’s looking ahead. Right now CHR’s advisory network will be strengthened by Marjorie’s arrival, and underpinned by Laura’s expertise.

“Our first priority is to consolidate,” concludes Edward.

“There’s lots to do – it’s a thrill to be here in Cambridge, it fulfils part of the dream we’ve always had of where we should be, and CHR has achieved a level of trust which is what we want, so to consolidate all of that is very exciting and fulfilling.”

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