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Michele Korfin: Patients are the Priority

Gamida Cell Ltd | Michele Korfin
Gamida Cell Ltd | Michele Korfin

As per research, cancer survival rates have improved steadily since the 1970s, but much more progress is needed.

Cancer is among the leading non-communicable disease, spiking up mortality rates. In 2018, there were 18.1 million new cases and 9.5 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. By 2040, the number of new cancer cases per year is expected to rise to 29.5 million and the number of cancer-related deaths to 16.4 million.

The picture painted by these figures necessitates professionals from industry, healthcare and government to charge forward with the most effective solutions and efficient use of medical innovation to lighten this scenario, helping people with malignancies live longer. For this, Academicians and Researchers, partnering along with doctors, are delivering the world with results that can help patients live longer and better lives.

To give a further push to the movement and widen its reach, healthcare organizational management should be led by a strong persona who will converge these recent research updates with the infrastructural capacities of the institute to deliver unique outputs and maximize patient care.

One such leader is Michele Korfin–-COO, who believes that strong culture, life-changing medicines, and transformational scientific innovation must be carefully cultivated, if they are to yield the right outcomes. She says, “Each one of these strengths is created, influenced, and sustained by people. So, it stands to reason, then, that sustaining and supporting the people is mission-critical.”

Her belief is translated into action by the organization – Gamida Cell, which with its NAM-enabled cell therapies, is pioneering a diverse immunotherapy pipeline of potentially curative cell therapy candidates for patients with solid tumor and blood cancers and other serious blood diseases. They apply a proprietary expansion platform leveraging the properties of NAM to allogeneic cell sources including umbilical cord blood-derived cells and NK cells to create therapy candidates for patients that goes beyond the current approaches to treatment.

Let us read more about Michele Korfin’s inspiring story to bring a change!

The Journey so far

Michele joined Gamida Cell’s leadership team as Chief Operating and Chief Commercial Officer in August 2020. Before Gamida Cell, she served as a Chief Operating Officer at TYME Technologies.

From 2016–2018, she was the Vice President of Market Access at Kite Pharma, where she oversaw market access strategy, including payer relations, reimbursement, and government affairs for YESCARTA®, the first approved CAR-T therapy in lymphoma.

She also worked closely with Kite’s manufacturing and supply chain teams to prepare for FDA approval and commercialization. Before joining Kite, she had spent more than a decade at Celgene in a variety of key strategic and operational roles, including in commercial leadership and oversight of the global lymphoma development programs for REVLIMID®, an approved therapy for multiple myeloma and MDS del5q.

Michele also led the Celgene oncology sales force of over 120 representatives who were responsible for growing revenues to nearly $700 million for ABRAXANE®, which was the very first nanotechnology-based oncology therapy and is now a standard of care in pancreatic cancer. She also held positions at Merck & Co. as a manufacturing scientist, Bain & Company as a consultant, and Schering-Plough in sales and marketing.

Michele has received her MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.S. in pharmacy from Rutgers University. She is on the Board of Trustees of BioNJ, an organization that represents the biotechnology industry in New Jersey.

Entering a New World of Treatment with Gamida

Gamida Cell is the world leader in pioneering NAM-enabled cell therapies designed as a curative approach for patients with cancers and other serious diseases. The company’s principal offices, founded in 1998, are located in Jerusalem, Israel, and Boston, MA.

Laying out details of the company she says, “At Gamida Cell, we are maximizing the power of our proprietary NAM-enabled technology to create therapies with the potential to redefine standards of care in areas of serious medical need and significantly improve patient outcomes.”

The company’s NAM-enabling technology enhances the number and functionality of stem cells and immune cells, enabling them to create potentially transformative cell therapies that go beyond what is possible with existing approaches.

Leveraging the unique properties of NAM (nicotinamide), they are expanding and are metabolically modulating multiple innate immune cell types — including stem cells and natural killer cells —to maintain the cell’s active phenotype and enhance potency. The proof of concept has been validated in clinical trials, demonstrating encouraging results that may improve patient outcomes.

Infusing Leadership to Gain More

Gamida Cell is a company of people committed to delivering on aspirational objectives that meaningfully improve the lives of cancer patients in need of novel therapies. Michele, while informing us about how she and her team have led the company, says, “We are continuing to build a company where every employee’s best work is supported and celebrated for the impact it has on patient’s lives.”

Michele states that designing the organization to work optimally and fluidly, bringing in the best people who embrace their mission, helping people grow in their jobs and skills, and supporting this unique culture are key to the mission of ultimately helping patients in need of new therapies. She asserts, “As Gamida Cell grows, the scope and sophistication of these strategies grow as well.”

Curing the Challenges

In order for the U.S. healthcare system to compete on a global stage in the 21st century, it will take an ecosystem of healthcare partners working in concert. Michele says that the federal government, academia, patient advocacy groups, providers, payers, and private sector research-driven companies are all essential parts of the nation’s medical innovation ecosystem.

She opines that all need to be healthy and successful for the ecosystem to thrive. Successful collaboration among all these sectors of the ecosystem will deliver new cures for patients, reduce the burden on healthcare and grow the economy.

The potential impact of biomedical research is striking. Over the next 20 years, the number of new cancer cases is projected to increase by more than 50 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Without new medical innovations that change the course of these diseases, the burden of these conditions will overwhelm health systems and threaten economic growth. Considering this, she states, “After all, the best way to reduce healthcare expenses associated with a disease is to cure it.”

Michele suggests that curing diseases like cancers will require substantial investments of time and money. Developing the average new drug takes over a decade and costs more than a billion dollars with a high risk of failure. As per the ongoing scenario in this healthcare niche, Michele observes, “Hundreds of companies are working on new cancer treatments. Only a fraction of those is likely to produce breakthroughs for patients. The odds are long, but the returns in longer, healthier lives and stronger economic growth are substantial.”

At Gamida Cell, they understand that converting research initiatives into new therapies— and keeping the research pipeline flowing with promising new cures — requires more than just science.

She, as a COO, believes that to respond to these challenges, the current requirement is a patient-centric culture where all employees are working effectively and efficiently across all functions on collaborative and integrated solutions.

Adding on, she says, “It requires maximizing the value proposition of our discoveries so that a payer understands the value proposition of our cell therapies; that a patient can live longer with a higher quality of life; so that a hospital manager can send more patients home healthy and at lower risk for future readmission; so that society and the economy can realize increased productivity due to reduced sick days and a healthier population.”

Growing with Turn of Events

Reminiscing on her life and the incidents that have shaped her today, she marks that in 1998, her father succumbed to cancer when he was only in his 50s. He had been treated with a therapy that had been used for decades. The therapy was not that effective and, unfortunately not very tolerable. Michele says, “For me as a recent pharmacy school graduate, I realized that I needed to make a difference for other patients.”

Following her father’s death, she dedicated herself to her career, helping advance therapies for cancer patients and other serious diseases. With enthusiasm, she says, “I took that passion into companies where I worked either in drug development or patient access to ensure that I did everything I could to allow patients in need to access appropriate therapies.”

Healing by Guiding

As a passionate young woman in the industry to bring a change, she communicates with budding entrepreneurs wishing to enter this field by penning down her thoughts for them.

She says, Be Bold! Be Curious! Be Courageous! Be Aspirational! Be a believer that the impossible can become possible! Continue to find and pursue opportunities that embody courageous thinking and bold action with the ultimate goal of creating true and lasting value for patients, the healthcare system, and our society.”

As a concluding thought, she adds, “Also, take the time to mentor the next generation of leaders. A strong culture cannot be sustained without the next generation to lead the culture and the mission!”

Leaping Forward

Gamida Cell’s focus is to change the course of disease with NAM-enabled cell therapies.

Today, many cancers are treated with complex regimens and supportive care that are burdensome to the healthcare system and often difficult for patients to endure. Gamida Cell and its employees are dedicated to discovering, developing, and delivering innovative cell therapies.

As a leader of the organization, Michele proudly shares, “We are applying the latest advances in the field of cell therapy designed as a potentially curative approach that targets the source of disease with significantly improved outcomes for patients with cancers and other serious diseases. That’s good for patients, health care, and the economy.”

Scaling up for a potential commercial launch in 2023 is not only about the focus on just budgets, headcounts, sales and marketing, manufacturing, and other critical functions but also about ensuring that leaders continue to live our values and keep patients’ needs in the front and at the center of decision making and organizational design.

Apart from this, she states that this expansion will be supported by finding ways to bring greater efficiency to how the business is run, but never at the expense of creativity, innovation, or excellence in execution.

Lastly, Michele says, “We are working smarter to build and strengthen relationships with patients so that colleagues can easily see the real impact of their work. And, of course, hiring the right talent to help Gamida Cell expand with people who share the same values as them and the drive and spirit that characterizes the best of Gamidans.”

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