AstraZeneca’s General Manager in Poland discuses AstraZeneca’s strategic realignment to become a highly specialized biotech company after 20 years of presence in Poland. He stresses the importance of the affiliate’s role in clinical trials and how Poland will allow them to develop the molecules of the future.
AstraZeneca is experiencing a transition phase on a worldwide level. Could you tell us about the implications of the group’s strategy realignment for the Polish affiliate?
AZ is in fact at the end of a transition period globally and this means that this is the case here as well. We are moving from a very successful primary care focused entity to a science-focused, specialty-orientated company with a new pipeline, portfolio, mindset, strategy and leadership.
Moving into a much more specialized organization is a new challenge; however we see this tendency in our industry. AstraZeneca can be proud of its transition and in addition of its pioneering role of introducing new customer- and patient-centric channels of communication and engagement.
What are you referring to when stating that AstraZeneca is leading alternative channels?
This means that we have been highly successful in communicating with thousands of physicians in Poland respecting their time, needs and evolving role of our medical representatives.
Bringing value to physicians and medical community is part of our mission, but at the same time a challenge. Understanding their needs, their patients’ needs and how our products can respond to all these needs is very important to us. At AstraZeneca we focus on bringing very high quality information to our customers and patients, differentiating between products that require highly specialized education and medical exchange versus those that require less education of physicians, but perhaps more tools for education of their patients.
We implemented highly scientific, not necessarily product-, but therapy area-centric educational sessions called AZ Academy, introducing modern technologies and bringing education to hospitals including video-recorded expert’s lectures and cases. At the end of the day, patient wellbeing is the ultimate goal.
AstraZeneca is ranked seventh worldwide yet only 15th in Poland. How would you explain this gap?
Our product portfolio in Poland is much different than the one we have in other countries. Firstly, the patent cliff in Poland appears faster as in the past patents were often not granted. Secondly, many of our products that are reimbursed in other countries have never been reimbursed here in Poland. We are looking forward to introducing new products, being extremely proud of our pipeline. Today it is considered as one of the best in the industry. We have projects in three major areas: oncology, respiratory and cardio-metabolism. Even when we assume that only one third of our new molecules will become products – we will have plenty of work and opportunities to help Polish patients and in consequence moving AZ up in the ranking in Poland.
And what have been the main challenges in bringing new products onto the reimbursement list?
Even though over the last few years we have not had many products in the reimbursement process, we managed to make some of them reimbursed, mainly in oncology.
We have been however in the long reimbursement process with our open market (hence significant payer’s budget impact) products in diabetes and our CV flagship Brilique, which demonstrated significant mortality benefits over existing standard of treatment – clopidogrel in ACS patients. Brilique is now reimbursed in almost all European countries but unfortunately not yet in Poland.
With our collaboration and win-win mindset we are confident to eventually bring those products to Polish patients, sooner rather than later.
We are also preparing for registration and reimbursement process of our first in class PARP inhibitor Olaparib, which will fill important treatment gap of patients with ovarian cancer and BRCA mutation.
Later we expect more breakthrough medicines in Oncology area, which is one of the priorities in Heath Policy in Poland, so our prospects are very positive.
AstraZeneca is diversifying its portfolio and now is a real player in diabetes. Could you tell us more about this decision?
AstraZeneca has recently acquired rights to all alliance’s (AstraZeneca and BMS) diabetes portfolio and this makes us the true leader in terms of innovative oral treatments. New products are very exciting, but as I mentioned our challenge is to make them available to polish patients through reimbursement. We have 2,5 Million diabetics awaiting for new oral therapies and so far none of the new classes managed to obtain public funding. We are working hand in hand with the authorities and medical community to assess which patients need our products most and how to make them available, at least initially, for well defined subgroups. The good news is that recently, we received positive HTA Agency recommendation for our once weekly GLP-1 agonist Bydureon (exenatyde), which is eagerly awaited by specialists dealing with diabetes.
AstraZeneca built a global clinical operational center in Poland. What is the strategic importance of this center for the group?
Our clinical center is our pride. Having this type of R&D investment in Poland is a real accomplishment and even more so looking at number of clinical trials being coordinated, number of skilled employees and speed of capability building in this area. There are only three centers of this type worldwide, so being part of this group with Sweden and China really shows the importance of Poland. Bringing R&D investments to our country is essential and considering the quality, potential and talent of local researchers, these resources are in the right place. Our clinical trial center opens-up opportunities to collaborate with different innovation clusters, universities and medical centers. This is natural environment for innovation to be born. We have already signed couple of collaboration agreements with leading universities and are glad to share our know-how.
The Polish economy has been doing extremely well, especially in comparison to other European countries during the crisis. However, for Poland to reach the next level, it needs to drive innovation. We hope we can support this in the area of clinical trials. There is no reason why Poland could not expand towards earlier phases of drug discovery. This will take a while, but we would be proud to support this transition.
Today, does Poland count as an on-market growth platform?
Considering macroeconomic criteria (population, GDP growth, and higher living standards) Poland should be considered a giant and a European super star, however answering your question these conditions are insufficient without putting health high on the country’s agenda on its journey to economic success.
What Poland has achieved in the last 20 years is truly outstanding, however significant more investment is required to keep Poles in good health, taking into account phenomena such as ageing population, higher standards of living and how these factors influence our economic competitiveness and growth. There are promising signs and I expect that soon we shall see a significant change.
And in this promising Polish landscape, what can we expect from AstraZeneca Poland by 2019?
Firstly, we will be a key player in our key areas: oncology, respiratory and cardio-metabolism. By 2020 we will bring 10 new products to the market. We are focused on our growth platforms, growing globally 15 percent in this segment in Q1, 2014. Secondly, our collaboration with the authorities and medical community will be fundamental to our growth, we will be recognized a scientific leader in our priority areas. Lastly, I would like to stress that Poland is the right place to do business and at AstraZeneca we are proud to be here. We have been present in Poland for more than 20 years and we will continue to push the boundaries of science to help patients in need.
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