Ask the Experts Interview Series

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Tord Labuda

Tord Labuda received his PhD from Lund University in Sweden after postdocs at AZ and UC San Diego, Tord initially pursued an academic career holding a position as an associate professor at the Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen working on Inflammation and immunology. In 2008 he transitioned to the pharma industry and has spent the last 15 years in various leadership positions at LEO Pharma spanning early research, translational medicine, clinical development, medical affairs, and commercial roles.

Tord has lived and worked in Tokyo Japan for close to seven years where he was VP R&D for Japan and later VP R&D Asia Pacific overseeing all research and development activities in the region for LEO Pharma. In 2021 Tord took the position as president and representative director of LEO in Japan.

After returning to Scandinavia Tord held a position as VP and Head Global clinical development and has also pursued BoD work. He is currently a member of the board of directors at NanoEcho in Lund Sweden.

Ask the Experts Interview Series

with Tord Labuda

Tell us about your background.

I am Swedish, born in Stockholm and grew up in a small village about two hours west (of Stockholm).  As I was always curious and interested in the natural sciences, ending up studying biology at Uni was not a difficult choice. Once there, the path into Immunology for grad school was rather straightforward simply because I thought it was by far the most interesting subject we studied. 

This was also at a time (in the mid-1990s) when immunology exploded as a research field, the Nobel Prize (medicine) was awarded for the discovery of cell-mediated immunity and there was also a lot of focus on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It was an interesting time for immunology research and exciting to be part of that community and the scientific progress.

Who/what was your inspiration for pursuing research earlier in your career?

There were several things but particularly, it was the environment during my PhD.  

At the time Pharmacia & Upjohn was close to our lab at Lund University and my supervisor, Mikael Dolsten, who at the time was heading up preclinical research there, allowed us almost unlimited access to the labs, reagents, and to collaborate with the scientists there, which was truly awesome. 

After my PhD and postdoc at AZ and UC San Diego, I returned to Scandinavia and started my lab at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

You’ve spent some time in Japan. Tell us more about the experience, and potentially something interesting about the broader Asia Pacific market. 

The background for my Japanese journey was that I was offered to take over R&D in Japan for LEO. At the time we had a tiny R&D organization there, really a few regulatory and clinical staff with limited experience in drug development. There were also cultural and language challenges between our affiliate in Japan and HQ. 

So, the task for me, coming over to Tokyo, was to build an organization capable of executing the development and approval of two drugs for the treatment of psoriasis for the Japanese market and assuring that the project teams at HQ and in Japan collaborated most efficiently. 

In addition, as we (LEO) in-licensed Tralokinumab in Ph2 from AZs (in 2016), the development of our first biologic became part of the package. This was of course challenging professionally and at the same time, there was the challenge of novelty in Japan, the Japanese culture and the Pharma market (including the regulatory authorities, PMDA). 

I ended up spending close to 7 years in Japan and loved it. Working in an affiliate is amazing from the perspective of learning about the whole value chain in pharma. I was involved in everything from research to sales and marketing, business development, and more although the primary focus of course was clinical development and putting new drugs on the market. 

Japan is different from China and South Korea when it comes to drug development. That said China and S. Korea glance towards Japan and also collaborate particularly with respect to regulatory requirements (e.g., multinational clinical trials, etc.)

There are also demographic similarities that matter such as fast-aging populations, interest in innovative drugs and participation in global development programs. At the same time, there are challenges with pricing strategies and market access, IP rights (e.g., China) etc. that differ between the markets.

What are some of your biggest achievements in your career thus far?

I would say that what sticks out for me is that while heading up R&D for APAC, and just before the approval of Dovobetâ foam (Treatment for Psoriasis) in Japan, I was offered to take over as GM. I took the opportunity which meant that not only was I accountable for the development and approval of the product, but was also responsible for launching it on the Japanese market. It was truly amazing teamwork and we ended up doing the best year to-date in Japan—a proud moment for the entire affiliate.  

What are some lessons learned during your time at LEO Pharma

Putting new drugs on the market requires an enormous team effort and without high-performing teams, the result will be mediocre. Leadership is key and finding out what drives people around you and supporting them to be their absolute best in delivering on the strategy is key.   

What drives you?

I have always been driven by good science and the ability to apply that to the development of treatments that make a difference for patients.

You are also on the Board of NanoEcho. What is the team there building?

NanoEcho is a MedTech company aiming for their system to be as valuable for physicians in diagnosing rectal cancer as ultrasound is to midwives. With current diagnostic methods, it is not possible to detect if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes in the rectal area.

As a consequence, many patients with early rectal cancer undergo excessive surgical interventions with a high risk of complications. NanoEcho´s system will hopefully change this leading to dramatic improvement in the quality of life of patients as well as the lowering of healthcare costs.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends but also exercise and everything from running to skiing and surfing. Skiing in Japan is something else and highly recommended. I also find it relaxing to work with my hands, we have been restoring a house for a while now in southern Sweden. I have been doing a small piece of that work which has both been enjoyable and sometimes frustrating, but we’re almost there now, and am looking forward to spending more time there.  

If you had to recommend some top books/resources, what would they be?

I am a big fan of authentic leadership and strongly believe that great leaders are great coaches and that people want to work for leaders that bring out the best in them. There is so much literature on leadership but two of my favorites on the subject are Coaching for Performance (John Whitmore) and the super classic The Inner Game of Tennis (Timothy Gallwey)

Any final remark/advice to share?

If you are given the opportunity to work and live in a different part of the world with a different culture, embrace it. Don’t overthink it, just do it—you will learn a lot!

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