What Remdesivir teaches about leadership in Covid era


Gilead Sciences will give 4,50,000 vials of Remdesivir to the Indian government till the domestic production there was scaled up, the biopharma company’s chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day (in photograph above) said.

The Foster City, California-headquartered Gilead Sciences, Inc holds the patent for Remdesivir, used in treating Covid-19 patients. The drug is in short supply in India, which is reeling from the worst second wave of the coronavirus pandemic with nearly 4,000 new deaths and 400,000 new cases being officially reported every day.

Appeals for Remdseivir are common now on Indian social media, as are pleas for oxygen and hospital beds.

O’Day was the keynote speaker on Day 2 of the three-day TiEcon 2021, this year’s edition of TiE Silicon Valley’s signature event for the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The Gilead CEO participated in a discussion moderated by entrepreneur Rich Karlgaard on how and what Gilead has been doing in the Covid era and beyond.

O’Day mentioned how the company had the drug ready to ship to the world on time when the pandemic started spreading.

“I’m proud that we reached out to the world to ramp up right away as we heard about the pandemic,” he said. “When you see such human suffering, you are struck by humility.”

Karlgaard asked him what persuaded him to join Gilead. “The level of science is extraordinary here,” O’Day said. “It has had a strong impact on humanity. It is a major contributor to launching critical drugs that extend life of cancer patients. This is Gilead’s legacy, which is completely science driven, for the betterment humanity.”

Our journey is staying purpose driven, and I’m a big believer of it,” O’Day said. “I saw it last year how each and every employee at Gilead was working around the clock facing so many challenges they had at home trying to deal with that pandemic, while focused on getting the drug approved by the FDA.”

He noted how it was important to invest in and support employees, citing Gilead’s own “who gave everything last year to make Remdesivir, a lifesaving drug, hit the market on time.”

Asked about what changes he had to make in his leadership because of the pandemic, he said that technology helped them big time.

If we didn’t have the technology to allow us to work in our team-based environment retreat in such an effective and efficient way, there’s no way we could have done what we did,” he said.

Answering Karlgaard’s question on adapting to the new normal, O’Day said: “I get to understand what’s going on in your organization at all levels. I get to express some of my opinions to folks and be open toexchange different ideas. In the absence of being able to do that in person, we tried to do that virtually. We’ve done a lot of different sessions where we bring different groups of employees together to share their insights and take things as we go.”