Shire’s Strategy for Weathering the Storm of the Biotech Industry

Jennifer Moitoso shares her secret to leading her team in the wake of a merger and the constantly changing biotech industry

Back in 2014, during a major shake-up in Shire’s corporate organization, the company’s IP team lost three attorneys within a few weeks of one another, making Jennifer Moitoso the sole patent attorney for Shire’s human genetic therapies unit. For a period of time, Moitoso shouldered the workload of four patent attorneys in a company where research and development was incredibly active and business development required a significant amount of her time. While most people in her position would have rushed to recruit reinforcements, Moitoso instead spearheaded a significant search to find just the right people to rebuild the team.

“I knew to get the hiring right and to really get the attorneys that not only had the best skill set for what we needed, but also the right frame of mind to work as a team, it would take time,” Moitoso says. “Even though it wouldn’t be fun for me in the meantime, it would be worth it in the end.”

Filling all three vacancies took more than nine months, but the lawyers who joined the team then are still with Shire today. So Moitoso, now vice president of intellectual property at Shire, maintained the same patient and attentive approach to integration when Shire acquired Baxalta Inc. in 2016, doubling the size of the intellectual property department.

Jennifer Moitoso, Shire

Moitoso says the biggest challenge was trying to ensure open mindedness to change, regardless of whether you were a legacy Shire or legacy Baxalta employee. “That’s something that’s initially hard to do because people have their own way of doing things and they like the way they have been doing things,” she says. “Change can be stressful and hard to accept, but a team can’t continue to operate on two different tracks because our clients need to be able to expect across-the-board consistency.”

And integration, especially at that magnitude, isn’t easy. Something as simple as putting in an expense report or as substantial as obtaining approval to submit a regulatory filing might have changed under the combined company’s new business model. Moitoso says the team is still adjusting to some challenges and changes that came with the merger.

Today, Shire has more than twenty-two thousand employees across more than one hundred countries who work on developing and delivering drugs and other therapies, often to those facing rare, life-threatening diseases. Combining companies hasn’t led to layoffs in the intellectual property group, but combining cultures and doubling the size of the team—and the company as a whole—has forced Moitoso and other managers to make some tough decisions on how to make the best aspects of both companies work together.

Moitoso believes that clear communication, consistent follow through from managers, and a robust team culture is essential for helping employees through growing pains and periods of transition. For instance, even something as basic as sending clear, coherent follow-up emails can make employees more comfortable and welcome in the workplace, Moitoso says. This leadership has also garnered Moitoso praise from her business partners.

“Change can be stressful and hard to accept, but a team can’t continue to operate on two different tracks because our clients need to be able to expect across-the-board consistency.”

“Jennifer is an innovative and insightful leader within Shire’s legal department,” says Angus Chen, partner, Ph.D., at Haug Partners. “She is able to transcend legal issues and counsel Shire on its ultimate business objectives. It is a pleasure to collaborate with Jennifer in defending Shire’s intellectual property.”

“I really believe that a positive, team-oriented culture is key to retaining people and having them do their best work,” she says. “If you’ve got employees who are happy and feel they are respected and they are doing something worthy of their time and effort, then you’re going to get  the best from them.” Moitoso believes employee satisfaction and happiness is the key to maintaining a premier team, as well as respecting each employee’s personal time. As the mother of three young boys, she understands employees have lives and responsibilities outside the office.

“I understand the need for employees to feel like they have some flexibility in terms of when and where they do their work,” she says. Moitoso makes it a point to offer that flexibility to her team members with the understanding that clients must always receive the same exceptional support and service.

Moitoso knows that it’s critical to keep the company’s core business at the forefront of her team’s mind. But that’s not always easy given the dramatic changes going on in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, or even for her team in the near future. Shire is preparing for a merger with Takeda Pharmaceuticals, which can sometimes make it difficult for people to focus on their day-to-day duties when they are uncertain about their future, she says.

For this, Moitoso will draw from her previous experience and embrace the future as she did in the past. “I think the big challenge is to pull everyone into focus and get them to remember what our ultimate goal is and who benefits from our everyday work: the patients,” she says. “We have to remember that everything we do affects the lives of people with debilitating diseases, many of whom are children who may not live until their first birthdays if they don’t get the drugs we’re providing. We need to continue to get our jobs done and get them done well—because people are counting on us.”