Working with a disease he knows
Fast forward to 2022. James is sitting comfortably in his office at Lundbeck Headquarters in Valby, Denmark. He is now Director and Head of Global Market Access, Neurology, primarily working with Lundbeck’s newest disease area, migraine.
The position seems logical for someone who has suffered from migraine all his life, but James Weatherall’s route here has had detours. Love brought him from Canada to Denmark, where he has spent the best part of the last 25 years. Initially as a tennis coach, then a labor economist with a Danish government agency before transitioning over to pharma for the last 17 years and now working with a disease he can relate to first-hand.
“It really means a lot to me to work with a disease I know. As Head of Market Access, it’s basically my job to remove barriers preventing migraine patients from getting the right treatment as quickly as possible. So, I have no problems motivating myself.”
From headache days to severe attacks
Since that first attack in New Mexico 31 years ago, James reckons he has had on average about two severe events and a significant amount of mild to moderate events a year, accompanied by many headache days. And he has learned to spot – and to a certain extent avoid – situations that trigger his migraine.
“For me, low blood sugar is a trigger along with bright lights, heat, and lack of sleep to mention the most important. It helps to be aware of the triggers but if you are ambitious at work, want to be involved in your children’s lives, and have a social life with wife and friends, it can be difficult to completely avoid situations that trigger the migraine.”
Text-book severe events from James’ back catalog include coaching his daughter’s soccer team in a tournament abroad and having to leave the girls mid-match. Or leaving his mother and five-year-old son to fend for themselves for 16 hours in Manhattan while he concentrated on dealing with the excruciating pain of a severe event.
“The helplessness of not being able to take care of your children and family adds an extra layer to the situation in addition to the pain and nausea. And after a severe event, there is also the uncertainty and anxiety that it can happen again any time – that has been psychologically quite negative for me in some parts of my life.”
Had he not majored in economics and worked in pharma, James might have pursued his tennis career even more aggressively. He won the NCAA Division 1 Big West 6 Conference Championship in 1992 while at university in the US, played professional tournaments back in Canada, and grew up playing with – and occasionally beating – players like later Olympic champion Daniel Nestor, later US Open winner Sebastian Lareau and later world no.4 Greg Rusedski.
He has retained his love of tennis – and also enjoys skiing, golf, surfing, and windsurfing. His passion for sports is shared by his children. His two daughters both play elite soccer in Denmark while his son plays ice hockey in the local hockey club.