The world of healthcare has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Advancements in scientific research provide novel cures and deeper insights into fundamental biologic processes, with pharmaceutical companies harnessing the power of technology and data to accelerate drug development and improve patient care. The potential for revolutionizing treatment for some of the world’s most devastating diseases and conditions has never been greater.
For Ben Schwarz, working at the leading orphan drug company Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. affords him the opportunity to play a crucial role in improving patient access to medicines targeted to treat rare, life-threatening diseases. “The best part of working at a pharma company, and it really is a very meaningful aspect of the work, is knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”
Alexion, a recently-acquired subsidiary of AstraZeneca, has specialized in the development and delivery of orphan drug treatments for more than three decades. With five innovative medicines, the company has transformed the lives of patients — many of them children — with rare diseases that cause blood and metabolic disorders, kidney damage, and impaired calcification of bones and teeth.
As U.S. Commercial Counsel for Alexion’s Complement franchise, Schwarz supports various client groups, including U.S. Commercial, Global Marketing and U.S. and Global Medical Affairs groups for hematology/nephrology. A typical day finds him advising on FDA advertising and promotional laws and guidelines, anti-fraud and anti-kickback/anti-corruption law, regulation and OIG guidance, transparency/sunshine reporting, and the PhRMA code. He also assists with matters involving contracting, dispute management/resolution, and intellectual property.
Despite this full roster, he is modest about his role at the Boston-based company. “I wish I could say that I was one of the scientists who invented these medicines. Great things happen here, and I am certainly proud that the legal department takes an active part in facilitating the production and distribution of these medicines and protecting our patients from potentially negative aspects of the industry.”
Schwarz spent nearly seven years at Sidley’s Boston office, focusing on financial industry regulation matters, litigation, and white-collar defense, before making the jump to Alexion in 2021. While it was a hard decision to leave, he says he couldn’t pass up the chance to take on a role that would give him a first-hand appreciation of the importance of these innovative treatments and how they impact the rare-disease community.
He is humbled by the many deeply personal stories he has heard firsthand from patients. “They describe their initial symptoms and the journey from diagnosis to the uncertainty of having a known condition that’s hard to treat, followed by relief at the introduction to our treatments. It’s just incredible. They’re real people with real stories — one after another.”
Schwarz first developed an interest in law and the justice system while earning his bachelor’s degree in Talmudic studies at Beth Medrash Govoha in New Jersey, where he lived prior to law school. It was there that he observed the many similarities between rabbinical scholarship and modern legal theory. “Rabbinic studies involve the study of legalistic topics in a religious context,” says Schwarz. “I always had an interest in making things right in terms of people being entitled to justice, especially vulnerable individuals and populations with underserved needs. So, the more I read about the legal profession, the more it appealed to me.”
Determined to chart his own path, Schwarz shifted gears to pursue a more focused education in law. In 2011, he entered Harvard Law School, ensuring that he would have the necessary tools to “navigate right from wrong and become a valuable resource for people who find themselves facing difficult legal issues.” Prior to receiving his law degree, he spent several months as a summer intern with the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety and as a summer associate with a law firm headquartered in New York.
Fresh out of law school, Schwarz was dissuaded from settling down in New Jersey or New York City due to potential housing challenges and commuting stresses. Instead, he opted for Boston, where his growing family had settled, close to his law alma mater, and with the intention of working in private practice for a large multinational law firm. He applied to Sidley, which by happenstance had just opened a dedicated office in Boston the previous year. The firm immediately hired him on as an associate.
At the time, Schwarz says he was the seventh lawyer to join the firm’s Boston office. While there, he advised multinational financial industry clients on a broad variety of legal and compliance issues related to SEC, FINRA, and other self-regulatory organization rules. He also represented corporate clients on investigations by federal and state regulators primarily related to allegations of securities and Medicare fraud, as well as handled commercial business disputes in state and federal courts.
Schwarz credits his Sidley cohorts, specifically partners Jack Pirozzolo and Bob Buhlman, for making him feel welcome at the firm, adding that their support helped to enhance the reputation of the office and create a warm and friendly atmosphere. “Obviously, it was easy to get a lot of partner face time. Jack and Bob were excellent lawyers who had different styles and ways of practicing law, so working closely with them was a valuable experience and a great to start my career. Even as the Boston office grew in stature and headcount, we still remained a close, tight-knit group.”
Outside of work, Schwarz leads a busy life with his family and faith community. He also enjoys playing the drums to unwind from the demands of the day. During the recent pandemic, “When everyone started working remotely, I set up an office in my basement, where previously I’d only kept my drumkit,” he says. “If there was a silver lining, COVID made me a significantly better drummer.”
Published January 2024
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