Pills and thrills: Alex Thrower, Teva

As legal affairs director of the biggest supplier of drugs to the NHS, Teva’s Alex Thrower believes that, when it comes to practising law in-house, prevention is better than cure.

Pills and thrills:   Alex Thrower, Teva Not many people have heard of Teva – which is perhaps slightly surprising when you consider that many people owe the company their continuing good health.

Teva makes generic prescription drugs – typically those whose 20-year patent has expired – and acts as the biggest single supplier of drugs to the NHS globally, supplying eight billion tablets a year.

Taking the facts even further, that apparently equates to enough pills to fill six double-decker buses (although how they worked that one out, we will probably never know).

The company counts patients as its end-users and works like a manufacturer and wholesaler, designing, producing and delivering drugs, with a specialism in respiratory medicines.

Israeli-headquartered Teva has nearly 2,000 employees around the UK, nearly all of whom will be ­moving from their current home in Leeds to new premises – a site five times larger – in Glasshoughton, West Yorkshire, by the end of year.

The legal team, however, is based on London’s Fleet Street and run by the UK company’s youngest director in the form of Alex Thrower. She was ­formerly senior legal counsel for Ivax Pharmaceuticals before it was acquired by Teva in 2006. Thrower, who also acts as company secretary, became legal affairs director for the UK and Ireland.

Now 33, Thrower has built a young team, all ex-private practice, to cope with the wide variety of issues that arise in this ultra-competitive market – not least from competition laws that dog the market, with ‘brand’ companies battling against the (on average) 15 per cent discount that generic companies offer.

Although recently Thrower’s focus has been on the inevitable array of contracts surrounding Teva’s move to a new base, this serves to ­highlight the wide variety of work that attracted her to working in-house when she joined Legal & General in 1998.

Such variety, Thrower says, refutes the idea often heard in private ­practice that in-house equals an easy life. “I haven’t had a quiet day in five and a half years,” she says. “Moving in-house you’re much more involved with the business and every day there’s something new to work on.”

Thrower’s efforts to help her department work more closely with the business, and her comparative youth compared with her peers, earned her a nomination for In-house Lawyer of the Year at this year’s The Lawyer Awards.

Her achievements centre on ­turning the legal function into a ­business development team, involved in deals from the very start. The team is flexible, but each lawyer is assigned to a business unit.

The intensely competitive generic pharmaceuticals market puts Teva in conflict with brand drug companies. In a bid to improve employee knowledge of competition law ­compliance, Thrower has introduced an online training module that uses ‘real-life’ scenarios to explain ­situations that could land people in trouble and finishes with a test.

This ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach extends to a programme of seminars for 20 staff at a time, hosted by lawyers from external advisers or members of the team themselves.

“We have to be really flexible to get closer to the business,” explains Thrower. “The face-to-face training improves the way they work with us. We don’t want to be a department that they only go to when something goes wrong.”

When not using her eager team, Thrower instructs SJ Berwin (litigation), Wragge & Co (commercial), Charles Russell (property), and Shepherd and Wedderburn (competition), with large projects going to tender.

In a market that throws up complex issues, such as research and development disputes, at a moment’s notice, Thrower says this outside help can be useful. But the in-house model is designed to enable the team to react quickly from a position of readiness.

There is no office dress code and Thrower makes it clear that open communication is always welcome. But this relaxed attitude belies an ethos of ‘no surprises please’.

As Thrower puts it: “Some legal departments get a bad name because people go to them at the end of a ­contract negotiation when they find out there’s a lawyer on the other side of the deal. Legal teams don’t hold up deals if they’re introduced right at the start.”

Name: Alexandra Thrower
Company: Teva UK & Ireland
Industry: Pharmaceuticals
Reporting to: John Beighton, managing director, Teva UK
Company turnover: $9.4bn (£5.36bn) (globally)
Number of employees: 27,000 ­worldwide, 1,890 UK
& Ireland
Total legal capability: Four
Main external law firms:
SJ Berwin, Wragge & Co, ­Shepherd and Wedderburn, Roiter Zucker, Charles Russell

Alexandra Thrower’s CV

1993-96: History & Law LLB Hons, Keele University
1996: Inns of Court School of Law
1997: Called to the bar
Work history:
1998-99: Contracts specialist, Legal & General
1999-2001: Group commercial contracts business legal manager, British Telecom
2001-03: Assistant, Berwin Leighton Paisner
2003-present: Legal affairs director, Teva UK & Ireland