Deidre Arnold – Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
Deidre Arnold wanted to bring meaningful change to people’s lives as she grew up in Reading, Massachusetts. For instance, she helped build an orphanage in the Dominican Republic and raised funds for schoolchildren in Rwanda.
“I had always thought my life would center around making impact through nonprofits,” Arnold recalls.
Then her mother shared an article about a woman from a global bank who created a new micro-loan program for businesses in low-income countries—and Arnold realized how much impact she could have working in the private sector.
Now as vice president and head of U.S. commercial legal for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, she’s provided the legal support as the company provides RNAi therapies that treat rare conditions that affect areas such as the nervous system and kidneys.
Alnylam is currently developing RNAi-based therapies to treat more prevalent conditions and disorders, too, and Arnold is building the legal team and structure to support bringing those new therapies to patients and providers on a wider scale.
“I would say the values of the company drive me, particularly to help patients with high unmet needs,” Arnold says. “I’m so closely connected to the mission at Alnylam. There’s a higher calling to contribute to society in a positive way here that makes this work so rewarding.”
Alnylam was founded in 2002 and is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The RNAi therapies it has developed can turn off the production of proteins in the body that cause diseases and disorders. ONPATTRO, which treats the polyneuropathy of hereditary ATTR amyloidosis, became the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved RNAi therapy in 2018.
hATTR amyloidosis is a life-threatening disease caused by an inherited gene variant. Symptoms such as burning pain, weakness, numbness and tingling can affect the nerves, heart and digestive system. Alnylam’s other approved RNAi therapies currently include GIVLAARI, which was introduced in 2019; OXLUMO, introduced in 2020; and AMVUTTRA, introduced in 2022.
Gaining FDA approval for new drugs is a rigorous process that can take years, Arnold says. But marketing the approved medicines compliantly is complex, too. That’s where she and her team come in.
They’ve helped guide the commercial aspects in getting Alnylam’s current roster of therapies to market, using the launch of ONPATTRO as their template. For instance, Arnold and her team ensure the sales team is trained on how to effectively and accurately present the clinical profile for the therapies to physicians and health care teams.
Arnold and her team are also providing the legal support as Alnylam helps patients access its drugs. For instance, they’ve helped create agreements with insurance payers that provide rebates should the therapies not perform as well as they had in clinical trials. The approach shares some of the risk with payers and can minimize the time it takes to get approved drugs to patients, she says.
New treatments, larger markets
With Alnylam’s emerging therapies anticipated to treat more common illnesses and disorders, Arnold and her team will need to support marketing efforts by larger sales teams.
She and her team will also need to create larger distribution agreements and work with more physicians while ensuring Alnylam’s efforts comply with laws and regulations. So, they collaborate with internal regulatory and compliance teams and outside counsel who provide expertise and make recommendations regarding rule changes from agencies including the FDA.
Introducing therapies for wider use also means protecting a lot more personal and health care information and data, she adds.
“While we comply with regulations such as HIPAA, at Alnylam, we basic principle that patients shouldn’t be surprised about what the company knows about them or how we use that information,” Arnold says.
No 9-to-5 routine
Arnold became a lawyer with her personal and parents’ emphasis on serving a higher purpose in mind. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international affairs, concentrating on economics, from George Washington University in 2004 and her J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 2009.
While in law school, Arnold served as an intern for Judge Joanna Seybert in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and was a summer associate at the firm of Skadden, Arps in Boston. After graduating, she became a litigation associate there.
However, Arnold was also interested in an in-house role and was attracted to the health care industry because of the science and the opportunity to help people facing health challenges. In November 2014, she joined Aegerion Pharmaceuticals as its global compliance director and in April 2016, was named senior global compliance director. She became senior corporate counsel in June 2017.
In January 2018, she joined Alnylam as commercial counsel to support the launch of ONPATTRO. In March 2019, she became senior commercial counsel and was promoted to her current role in July 2022.
Arnold is looking to add to the legal team, including a senior leader who will focus on the advertising and promotion of Alnylam’s commercial therapies.
“I’m looking for someone that has a gritty biotech mentality,” she says. “You need to be comfortable growing, flexible and understand how to build an infrastructure to support a larger sales force and more products. This is not a 9-to-5 job.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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