Subhashini Karra Ayyalasomayajula – Viatris
Growing up in India, Subhashini Ayyalasomayajula was always interested in science. So, after earning her master’s degree in microbiology at Osmania University, she moved to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology.
“I continue to be curious about science and how the body functions,” she says. “It’s so beautiful and complex, and yet so fragile. It’s unfathomable.”
Throughout high school, and during her early days in college, Subhashini was almost certain she would end up doing scientific research—biomedical research most likely. As she was completing the program at George Mason University, however, she got married and soon after started a family.
While she loved working in the lab, the unpredictable schedule kept her from her family. Eager for a new career calling, she turned to patent law where she could leverage her scientific expertise but attain a manageable work-life balance, she says.
With her husband’s encouragement—along with that of her brother (a successful patent attorney)—Subhashini attended the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason at night while working full time and raising a young child.
“Without my husband’s support, I wouldn’t be here,” she says. “He sacrificed his career for me and took a year and half off to care for our daughter.”
While in law school, she soon realized that patent law was an ideal fit for people with a scientific background, given how many patents involve technology. After earning her J.D. in intellectual property, she spent a couple of years at a law firm before going in-house.
Now, as assistant general counsel at Viatris, a global biopharmaceutical company based in Pennsylvania, she’s leveraging her scientific background to help the company create new opportunities for growth and innovation.
“I’m always learning something new about science and technology that I didn’t know before,” Subhashini says. “My scientific background has given me a much more intimate knowledge of the work being accomplished in the healthcare industry and has allowed me to tackle intellectual property on a global level. I’m constantly learning new technology.”
Much of Subhashini’s time is spent counseling Viatris biosimilar business on business-related matters—everything from design and implementation of global IP strategies (and related market assessments) to risks and opportunities related to IP for biosimilars—medical products that are almost an identical copy of an original product.
She works closely with colleagues from other areas in Viatris, including research and development, clinical, regulatory, and commercial. Within the legal department, she works with the litigation team and often serves as a liaison between the legal and other functions.
“Being able to understand and break down complex ideas and communicate them in a way that makes sense to most is the hallmark of a patent attorney,” Subhashini says. “Having a science background allows me to understand what the research and development team is doing and give them advice in scientific terms rather than legal terms.”
Whenever the R&D department is working on a new biosimilar, Subhashini is involved early on. She provides patent diligence and seeks to understand the complexities behind the product. As a project moves forward, she makes sure her clients understand the legal and scientific nuances, helping create an intellectual property strategy and giving feedback as needed.
Subhashini manages a team that’s spread throughout the U.S., Europe, and India, which helps her to better understand regulations and best practices for managing intellectual property in different parts of the world. With Viatris manufacturing hundreds of types of medicines, compliance is a priority, she says.
“I love that we get a global perspective, which is imperative for me and my team,” she says. “In addition to working to protect patent rights around our products, it’s allowed me to grow and learn how to work with a variety of cultures, work styles and communication styles.”
For Subhashini, clear communication is imperative to doing her work effectively. In addition to being available to her team and her client, she’s made legal operations more accessible to colleagues by encouraging them to approach her with questions.
“I want everyone to feel comfortable talking to a lawyer,” she says. “We’re here to help our stakeholders work through issues and overcome obstacles. To be able to give the most practical advice, you have to look at not only the legal issues but the business side as well. The combination of caring about your client and the quality of your work will go a long way in terms of client satisfaction and personal satisfaction.”
Forging a path
Truth be told, Subhashini has been learning how to overcome obstacles her whole life, with her mom—an educator who taught Math and Hindi in India to elementary school students for more than 25 years—being her number-one role model.
“My mother worked very hard many years while I was growing up,” Subhashini says. “She taught me that nothing is impossible. She made me believe I could excel in anything I put my mind to. It’s hard, but we all have the same 24 hours a day and it’s about how we spend them and what we prioritize.”
Subhashini keeps her priorities in check by repeating three words to herself: dedication, determination and discipline. This mindset guided her as she immigrated to a new country, where she earned two advanced degrees and forged a nontraditional career path.
After earning her Ph.D., she started working at Kenyon & Kenyon, an intellectual property law firm as a technical search specialist and scientific advisor. She continued working for the firm while attending law school, staying on after graduating in an associate position. Subsequently, she went in-house at Actavis (formerly Watson), a global pharmaceutical company, where she spent a few years as a patent counsel.
In 2014, Subhashini joined Mylan, another global pharmaceutical company, as its in-house patent counsel managing the biosimilars portfolio. At the end of 2020, the company combined with Upjohn, a division of Pfizer, to create Viatris. Reflecting on her career, Subhashini says she’s been grateful for the opportunity to not only broaden her skillset, but to work for a company making a difference.
And if she can inspire others to do the same? All the better.
“I just want someone to see that they can take that non-traditional path,” she says. “I’m following my passion, just in a different way, and I’m able to bring the technology, the business, and the legal sides to the table when working with my colleagues on our mission to help people.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2022 Edition here.
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