Health Advances and our clients’ success is inextricably intertwined with our amazing team, past, present, and future. Over the course of 30+ years since our founding by Paula Ness Speers and Mark Speers, Health Advances has supported the professional development of hundreds of leaders – some of whom are still with us as senior management. Many have gone on to fascinating careers in industry across biopharma, medical devices, diagnostics, and digital health.
This is the first of our Alumni Spotlight series, which will profile a wide variety of these industry leaders to understand where they came from and the role Health Advances played in their career development, as well as provide some insights into the future of global healthcare.
Brittany Carroll is currently a Vice President and Therapy Area Lead at Blueprint Medicines, a biotech company focused on protein kinases, the enzymes modifying the functions of proteins that are critical to controlling biochemical pathways and tumor biology. She spent nearly five years at Health Advances from 2007-2012, and in between, held a number of roles in Marketing and Customer Insights at Biogen.
For this profile, Brittany was interviewed by Partner Kristen Garner Amanti, PhD. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Kristen: Congratulations on your promotion to VP, Therapy Area Lead at Blueprint Medicines!
Brittany: Thank you! I’m very excited about the role. I’m now the program leader across our KIT franchise, with a focus on systemic mastocytosis. I lead a team of leaders across the drug development spectrum – from clinical to regulatory to medical affairs to commercial – tasked with successful drug development of our KIT franchise but additional data generation to ensure optimal use of our products over the long-term.
Tell us about your path from Health Advances to now.
I was at Health Advances for five years and loved it! The time at Health Advances was like industry boot camp for me straight out of undergrad – I was able to learn so much about biopharma and diagnostics. It was SO helpful to really understand the lay of the land. Through our projects, I would get passionate about an area of unmet need for patients and it became harder to hand strategic execution back over to the client. Given that, I knew I wanted to contribute more directly and see strategies through to completion by eventually crossing over after business school [at Harvard].
I see my career in three parts. 1) Industry training at Health Advances 2) Deep commercial expertise at Biogen and Blueprint Medicines and 3) I’m in the next stage of my career in biotech leadership.
During my MBA, I was an intern at Algeta [now part of Bayer]. At the time it was a startup with just phase 3 results, headed to commercialization. This was a great experience because I got to work on the commercialization planning, and I also helped with the hiring of all functions. It taught me so much about all the biopharma functions and the experiences needed. This convinced me to go into marketing because that’s where the strategy is set, but it’s also the center of the wheel of execution, ensuring all of the functions contribute to success.
Without in-line marketing experience, I started as a product manager after my MBA. I was able to learn so much in this role at Biogen. They really invested in me, and I was able to get experience both in the US and globally across specialty (MS) and rare disease (SMA) markets. At Biogen, I learned what it takes to commercialize products as a large biotech and this was an invaluable experience to me. I wanted to apply those learnings and skills to build something and that took me to Blueprint Medicines. I worked as a brand lead for Blueprint’s first marketed product and led the launch into Advanced Systemic Mastocytosis, a rare mast cell-driven hematologic disease treated by hematology/oncology.
I don’t think transitioning from consulting to business school to biopharma marketing is the most common path that Health Advances alums take, but it has been a rewarding one for me to help bridge strategy to execution and expand my impact.
What was the most important professional or personal skill you took from your time at Health Advances?
Ruthless prioritization! In consulting you really need to pick the things that matter and forget about the things that don’t. And this is especially true now in small biotech. You must prioritize at every moment and understand the depth you need to do at different times. At Health Advances I always had two cases, tight timelines, and additional questions from clients and it taught me how to effectively prioritize. I developed my “answer-first” hypothesis driven way of working which has been helpful in prioritizing my team and the work of my teams. Health Advances turned me into a prioritization ninja!
What were the most surprising things about your time in biopharma?
How hard it is to get things done. In consulting, you have all this data. You develop the strategy. But then, in industry, you must deliver and turn the strategy into results. The best ideas can fall flat without the right people or structure or systems in place. Developing strategies that can be executed and that all teams can get behind is hard to do. I have some commercial war wounds. But understanding what went wrong is important in learning, and then you move forward. So far in my career, bridging strategy to execution comes down to motivating teams to all row in the same direction.
What’s your most meaningful Health Advances memory?
I remember the times I was feeling stuck. I was always running so fast, but every once in a while, I’d be staring at these data and slides and still not know the “so what”. My mentor, Donna Hochberg, was so good at getting me to take a break, go for a walk, get a change of scenery, and talk about something else. She knew that was needed and that when I came back, it would be better. I’d be so annoyed about it in the moment because I never thought I needed a break, but she was right! Sometimes you just have to go pencils down and think about something else. I still do it now. I figure it out when I’m not thinking about it as hard. At HA, Donna was a really great teacher and mentor for me. She cared a lot.
What are three books, newsletters, social media follows, blogs, podcasts, or videos that have been meaningful to you lately?
- The Daily from New York Times keeps me up to speed on current events.
- Harvard Business Review’s Women at Work has been particularly impactful to me for the development of softer skills.
- One of my favorite podcasts is One Bad Mother. It’s amazing and gives me life. Being a mom is amazing and also so hard and you just have to laugh at it sometimes. This podcast is funny and therapeutic. Moms can call in and share their biggest “mom genius” and “mom fail” of the week. It’s so relatable and reminds you that everyone is just trying to do their best.
Who is a Health Advances alum doing something great that we should spotlight soon?
All of the Health Advances alumni I’m working with at Blueprint Medicines! But outside of Blueprint, Katherine McGrath is doing some great things at Vertex. She had such an impact on me when we were at Health Advances together. I’m so glad HA is doing this with alums! We have a network of people doing amazing things for patients!