Cures for Canada

Takeda’s new GM in Ontario on fighting diseases with innovation, diversity and digital skills


Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited is the largest pharmaceutical company in Japan and one of the global leaders of the industry. Canada is an important market for the company.  

In February, Takeda Canada made news when it announced the appointment of Rute Fernandes as its new general manager. The seasoned leader has played key roles not only in the Takeda Group in other countries, but also in top companies of other industries. She has a master’s degree in economics from the Nova School of Business & Economics and an MBA from HEC Lausanne. 

The Canadian interviewed Fernandes about the experience she brings to the position, the ways that Takeda Canada is colla­borating on technical innovation and her views on increasing diversity in leadership positions.

Please tell us about your background.

Prior to joining Takeda Canada, I was the Takeda Group vice-president and the head of the Rare Disease Franchise for Europe and Canada, responsible for a portfolio of more than 15 brands across three disease areas —rare metabolic disorders, rare hematology and rare hereditary angioedema and transplants — in 38 countries. In this role, I also represented Takeda at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations Board-Sponsored Committee on Patient Access, and in this role championed the asso­cia­tion’s engagement in the field of orphan drugs [pharmaceuticals developed to treat medical con­di­tions that, because they are so rare, would not be pro­fitable to produce without government assistance].

With a career spanning more than 20 years, I have held a number of executive leadership roles in business development, strategy, commercial operations and country general management. I began my career in consulting with Deloitte, before working in a variety of industries, and with companies that include Procter & Gamble, Vodafone, Novartis and Shire plc.

Takeda Canada’s headquarters are at the Bay Adelaide Centre in downtown Toronto.

What lessons have you learned from your previous roles?

Working both globally and regionally, and as country leader, what I have valued most about this experience is defining a purpose and vision for the team and empowering people, both inter­nally and externally, to drive the journey towards that goal. 

It’s important to set an ambition that raises the bar for the team in a positive way — one that fosters curiosity to learn, courage and a growth mindset. In my opinion, key elements that drive team success are the passion, commit­ment and collaboration that enable a team to come together and move forward. These are the elements I always seek to foster in the teams I lead.

“As leaders look to the future of their organizations, we must create the circumstan­ces that allow women to advance.” 

What do you see as your greatest oppor­tu­nities and challenges?  

I think the current pandemic we find ourselves in has created an inflection point and has requi­red all industries and leaders to think differently about existing business models and how best to evolve for the future. Over the past year and a half, we have all been challenged to find inno­vative ways to connect with each other, and with our customers to ensure our medicines get to those who need them most.  

As the general manager for Takeda Canada, inspiring our people to embrace an agile, growth-oriented and curious mindset will be instrumental for our future success. We all need to rethink and unlearn. Supporting our people to ensure they have the tools and infrastructure to adapt to being more digitally enabled, more innovative and willing to try new ideas are key priorities and opportunities for me to better evolve to meet the future.

A large focus of our business growth in Canada is in rare diseases. Unfortunately, Canada is behind many jurisdictions when it comes to having a policy or framework in place for these diseases. I look forward to working with government and policy makers on supporting a strong rare disease framework in Canada that enables Canadian patients suffering from these diseases to have treatments available here. 

As an industry, we need to continue to ensure that Canada is a country that values an innovative life sciences sector and has policies that support innovative intellectual property and value-based pricing, so we can continue to bring our inno­va­tive products to Canada in a sustainable way.

Can you speak about the importance of the Canadian market for Takeda?  

Canada is a very important market for Takeda. We are one of the top five markets for the company globally. And two of our products — ENTYVIO [for the treatment of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease] and REVESTIVE [for the treatment of short bowel syndrome] — have Canadian roots in their discovery and development. 

Our aspiration is to lead in the areas in which we operate, and I’m proud to say that we lead in our key disease areas in Canada. We are leaders in neuroscience, gastroenterology, rare diseases, rare metabolic disorders and immunology. 

How is Takeda Canada collaborating with Canadian organizations?

We are proud members of both BIOTECanada and Innovative Medicines Canada, while many of our people are members of various com­mit­tees of these organizations. We also have numerous partnerships with research institutions and other stakeholders. These include: 

  • Princess Margaret Cancer Centre 
    We are collaborating with Princess Margaret Cancer Centre on the CAnadian CAncers with Rare Molecular Alterations (CARMA) — Basket Real-world Observational Study (BROS). CARMA-BROS is a five-year study to observe real-world evidence in lung cancer patients.
  • Alberta Government, University Health Foundation, Takeda Partnership
    In 2018, Shire [acquired by Takeda in 2019], the Government of Alberta Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, as well as the University Health Foundation formed a C$1.7 million strategic partnership. With the launch of Alberta’s Collaboration of Excellence for Nutrition in Digestive Diseases, it is focused on improving the long-term health outcomes, quality of life and economic prosperity of Albertans suffering gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Institute of Health Economics (IHE), Health Technology Innovation Platform (HTIP)
    Takeda recently joined the HTIP, a multi-year, public–private research collaboration that was signed by the IHE in Alberta and three other industry partners (Roche, GSK and Boehringer Ingelheim) with a mandate to explore new approaches for the assessment and adoption of innovative pharmaceuticals. The Steering Committee advisors include senior representatives from British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, as well as the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health and Health Canada. The HTIP is focused on developing policy options and tools intended to address the challenging issues of how to manage the real-world use of innovative medicines, including how to assess their value and pay for them.

What are some of Takeda Canada’s recent milestones? 

Last year, we completed the legal entity inte­­gra­tion of Shire and Takeda in Canada. This included the relocation of many of our employ­ees and the integration of our systems and pro­cesses. The team was able to accomplish this milestone on time and in the middle of a pandemic, no less! We were able to complete the integration while driving tremendous growth for our business. 

As we expand our business in the treatment of rare diseases, I am delighted that we have recently launched TAKHZYRO (lanadelumab) — a human monoclonal antibody — in Canada. The product is used to prevent hereditary angioedema (HAE) attacks.  

HAE is a chronic disease that results in acute attacks of swelling of various body parts, and can be life threatening. We are so pleased to bring this important therapy to Canadians living with HAE. It will allow for a new standard of care and improve the quality of life for these patients.

“It’s important to set an ambition that raises the bar for the team in a positive way — one that fosters curiosity to learn, courage and a growth mindset.”

What does Takeda Canada hope to achieve?  

Our ambition is to create better health and a brighter future for Canadians. We are anchored in our purpose to always challenge ourselves: What more can we do for patients? To benefit patients, we strive to truly trans­form innovation in new disease areas requiring tailored partnership. For instance, we know that the future patient experience is all about personalization, so as a company we are investing in technology and digital capabilities that will enable us to collect, connect and exchange real-world data from all corners of the healthcare ecosystem.  

We aspire to lead by being number one or two in the core therapeutic areas of our business. We want to do this by: 

  • Bringing solutions that are co-developed in partnership with patient groups, with a patient-centric mindset that spans from R&D and product and packaging design to market access solutions and delivery how and when required by patients 
  • Engaging with providers and customers from a place with deep understanding of their needs to become the partner of choice  
  • Becoming the employer of choice for our people and new joiners, through a diffe­ren­tia­ted employee experience built on tangible commitments to diversity, equity and inclu­sion, to learning and growth, to agility and resilience and to care and wellbeing

Is Takeda involved in Canada’s bid to combat Covid-19?    

Although we are not involved in the deve­lop­ment of vaccines for the prevention of Covid-19 in Canada, we were involved in clinical trials evaluating two of our products. Namely, we tested TAKHZYRO (lanadelumab) and FIRAZYR (icatibant) [which is also used to treat HAE] in clinical trials for the treatment of patients hospitalized due to Covid-19. And much of Takeda’s efforts in Canada are to support and provide online medical education programs to all healthcare providers across Canada about Covid-19 and its impact on the management of diseases such as inflam­matory bowel disease, cancer, hemophilia, lyso­somal storage disorders, HAE and immuno­deficiency diseases.

“The current pandemic we find ourselves in has created an inflection point and has required all industries and leaders to think differently.” 

How can Takeda’s success in Canada help strengthen bilateral ties?  

Our worldwide presence and scale — with lea­ding positions in Japan and the U.S., and a local country-centric organizational structure — create unique opportunities for future growth and collaboration. As we continue to build our presence in Canada, we leverage the rich history of Takeda in Japan while pursuing business and scientific partnerships where possible. 


Do you have any advice for women seeking leadership roles?  

Future innovation depends on having more diverse voices represented and included. As leaders look to the future of their organizations, we must create the circumstances that allow women to advance. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had support from men and other women along the way, at work and at home. I’ve had opportunities to work internationally and gain experience, while still having the flexibility I needed to raise and spend time with my family.

My advice for those who wish to be leaders is to define your passion and ambition and develop your own plan towards that. 

At Takeda Canada we believe in diversity and live up to it in many ways. We’re proud of our focus on talent development and of the high representation of women at all levels of our organization.