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"IMI is the only game in town" – an interview with Pierre Meulien


Pierre_BIO_pic2014_200px.jpg‘The only game in town.’ This is how new Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) Executive Director Pierre Meulien describes the organisation on his first day in the job, adding: ‘I’m very excited to be here.’

Asked why he decided to apply for the IMI post, he cites the immense challenge faced by most countries worldwide in translating the latest knowledge created in the academic world into useful things in terms of healthcare systems and healthcare delivery.

‘A complex number of stakeholders need to be brought together to work out how to do this in a cost-efficient manner so that people can benefit from the latest scientific knowledge in a timely manner,’ he explains. ‘IMI seems to me to represent a neutral platform for debates to occur and for real innovations to be developed and implemented. It is also a joint venture between the public and private sectors, and I think this is an absolutely key element for efficient translation to succeed.’

The sheer scale of IMI is also an important factor. ‘We can dabble in this or we can really put some heavy duty resources together, and I’m not only talking about the financial resources, which are considerable, but the resources in terms of expertise specific to the public and private sectors,’ he says. ‘I think that’s the key, and for me IMI is the only game in town. I think it really is the best model in the world for this to happen.’

‘I consider myself a facilitator’

Acting as a facilitator or interface is, says Pierre, ‘my favourite thing to do’, and he says he is looking forward to working with the staff at IMI as well as the teams in the private sector and the European Commission and ‘really bringing these people together and aligning agendas around common goals’.

Asked what he hopes to achieve in his new role, he is clear. ‘I’m hoping to get alignment with all the players that are necessary to really drive forward the notion that we can develop very clear demonstrations of the value of innovation to those who pay for healthcare.’

He is also clear about the challenges that face him in the months and years ahead. ‘How do we communicate the impacts of what we do?’ he asks. ‘It’s very challenging! It’s not the scientific impact, it’s the impact on the public and on public health systems. What does that mean for different people? To articulate that is a real challenge for any organisation but I think it’s something that we have to embrace.’

No IMI newbie

Pierre is not new to IMI; 10 years ago, he was the Irish representative on the committee that would eventually become the States Representatives Group. He recalls it as ‘a fabulous time’, and describes working on the strategic agenda with the ‘tonnes of discussion, tonnes of different viewpoints’ that that entailed. At that time, he was founding CEO of the Dublin Molecular Medicine Centre (now Molecular Medicine Ireland), which linked the three medical schools and six teaching hospitals in Dublin to build a critical mass in molecular medicine and translational research.

In 2007 he left Ireland for Canada and the role of Chief Scientific Officer at Genome British Columbia. In 2010 he took up the post of President and CEO of Genome Canada. While there, he raised CAD$300 million from the Government of Canada which will be leveraged to $CAD900 million through partnerships. His experiences in Canada have prepared him well for his work at IMI. ‘I’ve learnt a lot about the responsibility of spending public money in the past 10 years,’ he notes. Working at Genome Canada also gave him considerable experience of bringing together partners who may not be used to collaborating.

Looking to the future, he is optimistic. ‘I’m very excited to be here,’ he says, before returning to the theme of demonstrating the value of innovation. ‘I have great faith that we can actually pull this off. If we can get people thinking of how innovation can actually help them sustain modern healthcare systems, then we’ll have done something very important and that will be a great legacy.’

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