The company's US head for the cardiovascular portfolio is leading the effort to find new treatments for women living with heart disease, especially those in underserved populations.
Elena Livshina came to the cardiac space by falling in love. Not with a person, but through a new discovery.
Back in 2016, the US head of the cardiovascular portfolio at Boehringer Ingelheim was deeply involved in the diabetes market as senior brand director at a company developing treatments for diabetes care, obesity care, hemophilia care, and growth hormone therapy.
When study results showed that a diabetes drug that she had been working with for years also reduced the risk of heart disease, she says it was "shocking" to suddenly discover that the drug had more than one benefit.
Elena Livshina, US head for the cardiovascular portfolio, Boehringer Ingelheim. Photo courtesy Boehringer Ingelheim.
"It surprised us all to discover that the diabetes drug was actually good for people with cardiovascular disease," she says. "And that's when I fell in love. I have to be honest, that was an amazing time."
Livshina shifted her focus from diabetes and became immersed in the cardiac therapeutic arena, creating ways to educate physicians and patients alike about the benefits of using anti-diabetes therapeutics as a cardiac treatment.
She began by leading the launch of the diabetes drug as a cardiovascular drug, which was the first in its class to move in this direction. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce a new way of treating heart disease.
In 2021, Livshina took the reins of Boehringer Ingelheim's cardiovascular portfolio. A drug in that portfolio had been established as a diabetes treatment in 2014, but recently was approved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death plus hospitalization for heart failure in adults with reduced ejection fraction.
The newer indication prompted Livshina to take on her next mission: To close the gap in care for women living with heart disease.
Through study results, Livshina and her team identified a huge disparity between heart disease care for men and care for women, and a more prominent difference in care between white, Black, and Hispanic women. She and her team decided to tackle this discrepancy head-on by creating unbranded initiatives that would address underserved populations.
"We had to go deeper than just women," Livshina says. "We developed a campaign for Black and Latino women to see what they needed, and what we as a company can do to bring education and practical tools to these women and their care partners. Unless we addressed those patient populations' needs and developed programs specifically for them and by them, we would not be successful."
Working with the Lilly Alliance, Livshina's team created Hear Your Heart, a healthcare initiative that provides resources and education for women living with heart failure, especially Black and Latina women.
"We needed to raise awareness of the issues and explore how [we can] help patients in very different ways, because it's not just about the medicine," she says. "We have an obligation not just as an industry, but as a healthcare community, to do more."
The campaign produced an immediate effect within the women's heart health community.
"What surprised me was the impact that it made from the very beginning," Livshina says. "We produced brochures and the website, and just by starting that conversation we could see already a ripple effect. Our next step is to offer unbranded content to organized health systems and providers, because it's important to them. It's important to everyone, quite honestly."
The campaign has seen 19.9 million social impressions, 1.7 million video views, and 2,400 resource downloads.
"The campaign stands out because it is specific to addressing gaps in health inequality, and really going deep into particular patient population groups and seeing what can be done there," Livshna says.
Establishing leadership values
Livshina uses her 19 years of work experience and her passion to motivate her team members. Being a woman in the industry has its challenges, so she helps others, especially women, to step up and take on challenges that stretch their skill sets.
"I love mentoring women, because you know what? We can do it," she says. "A lot of times … we are our own worst enemy, holding ourselves back."
She says mentoring is one of the more rewarding parts of her job, especially when she witnesses others being courageous and successful in taking their career to the next level.
"That's something that is extremely satisfying for me," she says. "I get goosebumps just thinking about [it]."
Much of her strength as a leader comes from her personality, she says.
"What's critically important about me is that I'm an extreme extrovert, and I like working with people," she says. "I love working in teams. But another very important skill is being open to learning from others."
She creates a learning culture within her teams so that everyone, no matter the level, is encouraged to speak up and express their point of view.
"This is so critically important, because two heads are always better than one," she says, "I firmly believe that you don't have to be the most senior or the most paid or have the highest title to have the best ideas."
A global perspective
Livshina describes herself and her family as "global people." Born in Russia, she has lived in Denmark, Switzerland, the UK, the Czech Republic, Australia, Canada, and the US.
"I am a Russian who married a New Zealander and we have American children," she says.
Growing up, Livshina says she loved math, and decided to start her career in finance. However, once she started working in the banking world, she found it didn't fulfill her need for purpose. "My career switch was very intentional," she says. "I went back to school, and that's how I ended up in pharma."
The move to the US was strategic, because it presented the type of career opportunities she was looking for.
"I really wanted to get to the US because it was the biggest market in the pharmaceutical space and I wanted to get closer to the patient and physician." She says. "I wanted to get closer to the market. So we moved about 10 years ago to the US from Switzerland, and I will never regret it. We absolutely love it here. Professionally, as well as personally, we've had the most amazing experiences."
Livshina and her husband still love to travel, and when they aren't working they are exposing their American-born children to all the different cultures of the world.
"We really enjoy bringing our kids to different worlds because it gives them exposure to different cultures, people, and experiences," she says, noting the family has been to New Zealand and the UK this year.
“We have an obligation, not just as an industry, but as a healthcare community, to do more to close the gaps in women's heart healthcare.”
— Elena Livshina, US head for the cardiovascular portfolio, Boehringer Ingelheim
Robin Robinson is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.
Elena Livshina started her career in finance, but felt she wanted a more purposeful profession. When it was discovered that a diabetes drug could also treat heart failure, she jumped at the chance to lead the brand.
Livshina is a firm believer in creating a learning culture with her teams and the healthcare community, and she enjoys mentoring young talent.
Her goal now is to close the gap in care for women living with heart failure, especially those in underserved populations.