Editor’s note: This article previews a feature in the winter 2022 issue of W&M Alumni Magazine about alumni who have been involved in developing the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. It was originally published on the W&M Alumni Magazine website.
Candice Malone Long M.B.A. ’96 first became interested in a career in health care while volunteering at a Northern Virginia hospital during high school. In college, she felt pulled toward business studies, leading her to attend graduate school at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason of Business and then to begin her career at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
As president of the Janssen Infectious Diseases & Vaccines division since June 2020, Long led the Johnson & Johnson team that introduced its COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. The company’s single-shot vaccine received emergency use authorization in February 2021 from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which authorized a booster shot of the vaccine in October. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended booster shots for those who received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine more than two months ago. In September, Johnson & Johnson announced that the company’s studies show a booster shot increases the effectiveness of the vaccine to a rate of 94% protection against COVID-19.
In this Q&A, Long answers questions about her responsibilities at Johnson & Johnson and how her time at William & Mary helped set the course for her career in the health care industry.
How has your job shifted or changed during the pandemic?
I moved into my new role as U.S. president of Janssen Infectious Diseases & Vaccines in June 2020, after serving as vice president of marketing for Janssen Immunology. When I first took my current role, our investigational COVID-19 vaccine was very much in the development phase and I was largely focused on the other part of our business — improving the lives of people living with HIV through innovative treatment. So that was a powerful and important shift in my role and today I focus on both HIV and vaccines.
Since taking on the role of president, I’ve been appointed as the executive sponsor to Janssen Cares, our employee giving program, and to Open & Out, an employee resource group that represents the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. Through the pandemic, we are continuing to make a difference in the lives of patients and in the lives of their families through both products and a range of services that support their journey living with disease. Our founder, Dr. Paul Janssen, once said, “Patients are waiting.” We live by those words, knowing we must act smartly and swiftly to make a difference.
What part did you play in getting FDA emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine?
Gearing up to emergency use authorization (EUA), my role was to lead and support the team that was preparing to introduce our COVID-19 vaccine, ensuring we were ready to answer the questions that vaccinators and patients might have, and that resources were in the right place to handle the volume of queries that come when launching a product with such wide utility. I have to emphasize that this was truly a team effort. I was impressed by all of the hard work that went into preparing for EUA and making sure that we were ready to move forward with the vaccine the moment we got the authorization from the FDA. Since then, we have continued research on our investigational vaccine with the goal of submitting a Biologics License Application (BLA), which will be an exciting milestone that will bring us one step closer to full FDA approval.
What was most challenging about getting a vaccine ready for distribution to the public so quickly?
In addition to developing a vaccine, we had to build a business from the ground up, which becomes especially challenging in the middle of a fast-moving pandemic where every second counts. Since the very beginning, our teams have been working tirelessly to put the right structure in place that will help us deliver potentially life-saving vaccines to those who need them, spanning everything from pharmacovigilance [monitoring the effects of medicines licensed for use] to manufacturing, and providing medical information to those who have questions about our COVID-19 vaccine. We are all learning every day. This is not a typical approach to building a business and it is most certainly not easy given the urgency, but I’m truly humbled to work with such talented teams playing such a pivotal role in addressing this global health crisis.
How did you respond to issues that arose with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, such as production problems and reports of rare instances of blood clotting and reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome? Are there lessons from those experiences that would lead you to do things differently in the future?
At Johnson & Johnson, the safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our No. 1 priority, and I am incredibly proud of how our team responded to the emergence of potential rare adverse events associated with our COVID-19 vaccine.
As with all our products, we closely monitor reports of adverse events related to our COVID-19 vaccine, and work swiftly with regulators, including the FDA, to update the product fact sheets for our vaccine as new data becomes available. This includes data relating to the safety of the vaccine, as well as its durability and long-term efficacy, with data continuing to be collated and analyzed in real time. We are also committed to educating health care professionals and the public to ensure rare safety events can be identified early and treated effectively.
In terms of manufacturing, the company has rigorous quality control processes, and it was these very systems that ensured we quickly identified a batch of drug substance in March that did not meet required quality standards. The batch was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process.
Our experience with the COVID-19 vaccine has reinforced the importance of the extensive quality control and monitoring processes we have in place for all our products.
Now that vaccines are available, what do you see as the next big challenge in the fight against COVID-19?
There is still work to be done if we are going to end this pandemic. The availability of vaccines has allowed us to begin changing the course of the pandemic. However, we are still encountering vaccine hesitancy, which can impact the progress we’ve made so far. Our job now is to ensure that we are providing the information people need in order to make an informed decision about vaccination. This work includes connecting people to the information they need to make informed decisions about immunization, and how to protect themselves and their loved ones from this pandemic.
How did William & Mary’s MBA program prepare you for your career?
It was during my time there that I had a two-year internship at a local hospital, which solidified my interest in health care. At the hospital, I worked on a social responsibility audit, which showed how much the hospital gave back to the community, and I participated in a diabetes-focused committee that brought experts together to address disease-related issues and provide education. Through this collective experience, I had a greater appreciation for the different drivers of health care, and to the opportunities that existed to continuously strengthen the standard of care.
Then, Ortho Biotech, which has since become part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, came to William & Mary for onsite recruiting. I interviewed with both the sales and business development teams of Ortho Biotech, and was offered an opportunity for a sales role in the Washington, D.C., area. I’ve been with Johnson & Johnson ever since and have championed numerous brands and key strategic efforts across the company’s pharmaceuticals and consumer sectors.
At a company like Johnson & Johnson, there is an abundance of opportunity and being open to new roles, organizations and channels has been extremely gratifying. I’m grateful that these opportunities started through my experiences and the onsite recruiting at William & Mary.
What activities or organizations were most memorable for you during your time at W&M?
What stands out to me is that while an undergrad at the University of Mary Washington, my work was largely individually based, but in graduate school there was a strong team dynamic.
Through team-based learning at William & Mary, I became experienced in managing through a range of situations and working with others. And in a team environment, your skills and interests become clearer — what you’re good at and where there is opportunity for growth. My leadership style, which I think of as being purpose-driven, team-focused and innovation-oriented, began to emerge during this time at William & Mary. This experience has incredible application to my work today, as teamwork is essential to every part of my job.
How did the liberal arts environment of both Mary Washington and William & Mary help prepare you for a career that blends business and the sciences?
In a liberal arts environment, there is a great degree of openness to understanding different people’s experiences, opinions and perspectives, which is something that I value in my day-to-day life. I also appreciated the opportunity of experiencing new levels of diversity with people coming from all walks of life and with different backgrounds. These years gave me curiosity to try new things, adapt to innovation and explore new ideas, all of which are formative.
How do you stay up to speed on the latest scientific developments?
There are several ways I stay informed, including participation and attendance at clinical conferences where new data is being shared and discussed. I also learn from the conversations that take place outside of data presentations, internally with our medical and scientific experts and externally with disease-area thought leaders. Through these conversations, I strive to understand the relative importance of data and science. What are experts seeing in terms of research and caring for patients? These discussions are so important, and I always seek to understand “why” — why is this important and relevant? Why does it matter to people?
What has kept you grounded over what I’m sure has been a very stressful past couple of years?
During the pandemic, it’s been especially important to find ways to wind down and recover. I’m appreciative of the additional quality time I’ve had with my family; it’s been a silver lining amid the pandemic. At the end of the business day, I turn my attention to my children and supporting their activities and homework. My husband and I have taken lots of walks, and we’ll play board games, ping pong or cards with our kids. In addition, one of the best ways for me to detach is by exercising, and I’m very dedicated.
What is something about you that people might be surprised to know?
People may be surprised to know that I draw and I practice modern calligraphy. It’s a hobby that taps into a more creative side, and it brings me joy.
Do you have any advice for current MBA students starting their careers now, especially in health care?
First, I’d say that finding enjoyment in life plays an important role in our careers. I enjoy history, and it was one of my majors as an undergraduate because it challenges me in different ways. While the application to my career may not be linear, it exists more in the development of skills and passion. So, whether it’s history or hobbies, these activities inform my work by bringing a more complete, open and passionate person to the table, and I think that’s incredibly important in today’s work culture. I’ll also relay some great advice from one of my Janssen mentors. She said, “If you have experiences where you are learning and growing, you will have an impact.” This is some of the best advice I’ve received, and I’m thrilled to pass it along.