Cheryl R. Blanchard, Ph.D., has decades of experience building products, teams and companies, and all of that knowledge was employed as a leader in 2020.
Earlier this year, Dr. Blanchard was named interim and then full-time President and CEO of Anika Therapeutics in April, after the passing of company leader Joseph Darling. As a member of Anika’s Board of Directors since 2018, Dr. Blanchard was deeply familiar with the company and its new business strategy to transform from a contract manufacturer to an OEM broadly focused on the joint preservation market. Still, she took the helm of Anika as the company was integrating the acquisitions of Parcus Medical and Arthrosurface and managing through the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We spoke to Dr. Blanchard about lessons learned from this year, how her R&D background informs her leadership style and the future of regenerative medicine.
Dr. Blanchard’s doctorate is in materials science and engineering. Among her notable orthopedic experience is working at Zimmer from 2000 to 2012 and serving as Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer and General Manager.
You entered your role as President and CEO of Anika as the company was beginning to execute a new business strategy, grieving the sudden loss of its former CEO and entering a global pandemic. What lessons have you learned?
Dr. Blanchard: A lesson that the pandemic has taught me is the need to stay aware of how quickly and dramatically the world, and therefore the assumptions and data that support your business plan, can change. More than any other event in my recent memory, the pandemic has reinforced how important it is to have a great, experienced team that is responsive, flexible and working together with a uniform understanding of what needs to be accomplished. One lesson I always carry with me is to focus on people first – and that means employees, customers and patients. If you listen and pay attention to their needs, the right results will follow. I have no doubt that we will get through this as a team and come out stronger on the other side.
Your background is in materials science and engineering. How have the skills you developed in your R&D days shaped your leadership style?
Dr. Blanchard: Meaningful innovation is the lifeblood of any company, but especially a medical products company. My R&D background keeps me centered and focused on the true unmet needs that our products must address. The right products will drive value for all of our key stakeholders, including patients, physician customers, payors and the broader healthcare system, and our investors. It has also taught me discipline and the importance of making informed decisions about the investments we make as we build a growing and sustainable business. There always seems to be a huge number of potential products and projects to work on, and it is critical that a company makes timely and data-based decisions in order to drive value. Saying “no” to something can sometimes be the most strategic choice that you make.
What one piece of advice do you have for product development leaders in orthopedics?
Dr. Blanchard: Stay focused on developing products that address true unmet needs. Those needs can be clinical, patient, surgeon or healthcare system-driven, but they need to have a value proposition that the system can properly appreciate relative to the investment. Stay away from driving a technology into an application or solution – you will likely end up with a product that no one needs, wants, or will pay for.
You’ve spent much of your career in the regenerative medicine space. What can we expect from this space in the next five years?
Dr. Blanchard: I don’t consider myself a futurist and any prognostications will no doubt be proven wrong, but I do find value in the lessons of the past. In the early '90s, the talk in the industry was that the field of regenerative medicine – growth factors, cell therapies, drug delivery – was going to quickly change the face of medicine and replace more traditional implants and therapies across a number of therapeutic fields, including orthopedics. That simply has not yet come to fruition. Advancements with regenerative therapies have been slow and costly and the major success stories have been limited. The global regulatory paths have been difficult and sometimes fatal. Reimbursement has also been fraught with unseen obstacles. That said, the successes and incremental progress in the field have yielded more and more regenerative products that have made a huge difference for patient outcomes, and the broader system is realizing that now. I see companies working hard to partner with regulatory agencies and payors, and to invest in and develop these game-changing therapies to benefit patients. For those of us who are motivated to make that our life’s work, we will continue to make progress and make more regenerative solutions available to patients in need, and I do expect the pace of change to accelerate.