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by Stephan Maldonado | September 18, 2019

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All consulting work is objective-driven in some form or another. Consultants are driven to transform their clients’ business models: to identify core challenges and opportunities, recommend a strategy for optimization, and often to implement that strategy to create sustainable change. The motivation that drives consultants in the life sciences sphere, however, can be vastly different from that which drives consulting in general. Life sciences consultants advise on a range of issues that can directly or indirectly impact people’s lives; their work has a direct impact on the lives of countless people served by their client organizations.

Vault recently spoke with Remco op den Kelder, CEO of Putnam Associates, a strategy consultancy that’s served the healthcare space for over 30 years, about what makes life sciences consulting different. “Life sciences consulting speaks to the essence of what we’re striving for—which is to live a healthy, impactful and long life,” says op den Kelder. “One of the fundamental underlying objectives of the industry that we’re operating in is to offer people the opportunity to improve their duration and quality of life through the innovations being developed and provided by the clients we work for.”

Putnam’s clients range from global to small venture-backed organizations covering biopharmaceutical, diagnostics, medical devices, and the venture private equity community. Their depth of experience across corporate strategy, new and established product strategy, pricing and market access strategy, and medical affairs allows Putnam Associates to guide companies to define their strategic trajectories and approach to bring life-saving and enhancing therapies to patients.

“What makes our work particularly rewarding for us is that we’re often [brought in] at those early stages when clients start to think about ‘whether or not to make specific investment decisions? Do we invest in those next-generation innovations?’ op den Kelder says. “We’re often involved to help structure some of those discussions. And as a result, the work we do often impacts the thinking of our clients in terms of whether or not they should move forward with certain programs.”

The Science of Saving Lives

Consultants who work in life sciences have the benefit of knowing that the work they do goes far beyond how it affects a client’s bottom line. While recognizing that any company—whether they’re in the biopharma industry or elsewhere—must account for that bottom line to succeed, op den Kelder says that is not all that ultimately drives them.

“The companies in the biopharma industry operate within a specific legislative environment, and within that environment, one of their corporate objectives is to optimize their profits and optimize the return on investment that they’ve made [bringing a product to market],” he says. “But ultimately, speaking to the people who are working on these products day-to-day, that’s really where the emotion, the passion, and the drive come through…People just care. They are driven by the belief that what they’re developing will truly help the people they’re developing these products for.”

“A lot of the people we work with are physicians that have treated patients before,” says op den Kelder about the types of clients Putnamites encounter. “They’ve seen the effects of the diseases they are developing preventions or treatments for firsthand. They can speak to the impact that these innovations will ultimately bring to the patients—the benefit of not having to admit a two-day-old infant to the NICU, where they’d be treated for nine days where their parents can’t hold them. The benefit of being able to prevent something like that is tremendous.”

“I know that were it not for our ability to frame the situations around certain diseases—frame the commercial opportunities for certain products in development—that some of the innovations that are currently making it to market might have never made it.”

The Human Face of Consulting

While there is certainly a business aspect to life sciences consulting, this practice area is uniquely rewarding in that it can give you the opportunity to see the impact you make. When asked how clear that impact is, op den Kelder offers some insight into how the business aspects of the work interact with the human element:

“On certain projects, that impact can be felt very directly because we’re working hand-in-hand with our clients, to make decisions about whether or not to pursue certain products in development. At the same time, we might conduct research on how to optimize a product that’s already available from a commercial perspective. The resources available to our clients to invest in future innovation is, to some extent, driven by how well products currently on the market are actually performing, so optimizing currently available products can indirectly impact future innovations.

“So, in some projects, it’s very direct because we can draw links between investment and innovation that impact patients’ lives in very meaningful ways. Some of our other projects are more related to how do we optimize the revenue generation of existing products so that revenue can get reinvested into future innovations.”

Still, Putnam's leadership makes it a priority to reinforce the value of the work. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep the bigger picture in mind when you’re looking at large datasets and crunching numbers,” op den Kelder explains. “You run the risk of losing track of what’s actually meaningful about what we do.”

To that end, Putnam recently instituted quarterly presentations of case studies to articulate the impact of recent projects. In many cases, those case studies illustrate the direct connection between Putnam’s work and a client’s decision to invest in a product—and how many lives a product has impacted says op den Kelder, “These presentations,” “can be quite emotional when you start to realize the impact of programs that we have worked on for patients. What further amplifies this is that we know that some of these programs would have gotten canceled without our strategic involvement in the process.”

Defining the Abstract

How do you know if life sciences consulting is the right profession for you? Job seekers weighing their options often worry that specializing in life sciences, as opposed to pursuing a career at a generalist firm, might narrow their focus too early in their career. When it comes to considering life sciences consulting, Remco op den Kelder has some sage advice:

“If you think about what you want to do and how you want to get job satisfaction, that partially comes from your title, your salary, etc. However—and we believe we’re competitive in those areas—the question really is, ‘What do we do as a firm and how do we actually impact society?’ Being able to have the experience to work in a specific disease that impacts 20,000 people a year, and working with clients to think through the ways in which we can bring preventative therapies to the market, this is extremely powerful and motivating. .’ There are many different problems being solved by consultants, but the benefit of working in healthcare is that it has a very tangible output that everybody can relate to. In my mind, that makes for a very rewarding career choice."


This article was sponsored by Putnam Associates, the No. 12 consultancy in the Vault Consulting 50 and the No. 4 boutique in our Best Boutique Consulting Firms ranking.

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