Russell Basser, former Senior Vice President (SVP) of Research and Development at Seqirus, which is owned by global biotech leader CSL, has been at the forefront of CSL’s R&D organization for over 21 years. During his time, he helped the enterprise achieve significant milestones with products that are core to our history and critical to our future. He recaps his career highlights both on the front line of public health and delivering on promises to patients.
Culture and Camaraderie
After spending 10 years as a medical oncologist treating patients and being heavily involved in clinical research as an investigator, Basser brought his expertise into the biopharmaceutical industry at CSL. While it was certainly a different dynamic being in a corporate setting, he soon discovered that the optics were actually the same: the patient is at the center of everything.
“Even in confidential strategy meetings, the focus remained on our core values. Conversations always came back to the idea that ‘we are here for the patients and public health,’” Basser said. “That was such an eye opener, coming from my work in hospitals, realizing that commitment irrespective of where colleagues worked in the organization.”
Beyond that core value and purpose as a driving force for innovation, he attributed his achievements and longevity at the company to the camaraderie he shared with his colleagues throughout the business.
“The camaraderie here has just been fantastic, and you know, we generally like each other, the people I’ve worked with has been one of the great pleasures of my time at CSL,” he said.
Setting CSL R&D up for the future
Upon joining in 2001, Basser led the Clinical R&D team in Australia and took on positions of increasing responsibility as the portfolio and investment in R&D expanded. Early on in his tenure, one of the projects he took a personal lead on was to determine CSL 111’s prospect for success. Seeing its potential, he invested time in championing the program and its scientists – which resulted in its evolution into CSL 112, a therapy with the potential to make a difference.
“20 years later, we're still working on it and now it's in the largest phase three (clinical trial) we've ever done,” Basser said. “Most programs need a sponsor, or a champion. And I think I was the champion of it for a good six or seven years before we hired true cardiovascular development experts to push it forward so that it now has the potential of becoming a strong project for the organization.”
As that program was growing, he recalled several other notable projects in the works including Kcentra, IDELVION and HAEGARDA which were headed into clinical development. Each required a more concerted effort in order to obtain the licensure applications they were working towards. That meant an overhaul of the global clinical organization structure to become more centralized: a feat that set CSL Clinical R&D up to be a truly global development function.
He then took on the challenge of leading the Seqirus R&D team in 2015. Now, after the remarkable transformation of the influenza vaccine business, a turnaround he attributes to the strong collaboration, focus and determination of the whole Seqirus team, he feels that he has done as much as he could during his time at CSL, which is why he is comfortable leaving it up to the next in line.
“The vaccine R&D team has an embedded DNA of focus, delivery and self-improvement,” he said. “I am confident that Seqirus, indeed CSL writ large, remains an exciting place to work.”
Changing the vaccine industry
When his sole focus shifted to Seqirus, he and his team had a tall order to fill – renovating and modernizing the influenza vaccine portfolio, as well as defining the public health benefit of these differentiated vaccines.
"It's been a whole team, body and soul effort. The commitment and passion of my R&D colleagues has played an important role in bringing the company to where it is today. We are driving transformation of the industry, and we’ve only just started,” Basser said.
Now that the renovation work has been done, Basser is particularly optimistic about the innovation coming along with the development of the aQIVc vaccines, improving the manufacturing efficiency of the cell culture process, and the commitment of the business to developing the self-amplifying mRNA vaccine platform.
The key for the way forward in this new era for Seqirus? Focus, be confident and collaborate, which is a sentiment echoed by CSL’s chair of the board of directors Brian McNamee and fellow board of director Andrew Cuthbertson, Basser explained.
“As we grow, we need to be more and more focused and deeper in our understanding of what we're doing, because that is how we differentiate ourselves,” he said. “Don’t get distracted by all the noise around you, be clear in your goals, be clear in your understanding and what you're trying to do, don't keep changing your mind. Just be confident.”