With the global coronavirus pandemic still ongoing and teleworking having become the new normal, pharma executives from across the world are giving us their insights into how they are managing in the age of confinement to ensure continued employee welfare and the safe supply of medications to the patients and doctors who need them.
Mouloud Boukhachab, Head of Africa Middle-East & Turkey at Pierre Fabre on the long-term impact of the confinement on Pierre Fabre’s business and potential key learnings.
“The most obvious [impact of confinement] is that it will reinforce the utilization of digital tools in the workplace. It has been an accelerator of the adoption of digital solutions to communicate with the HCPs. Many companies will come to the realization that some of these solutions really work, and it will most probably change the way we do business in the long run.
“At the same time – although it sounds somewhat contradictory – I think that while reinforcing digital communication, it also highlights the value of face-to-face communication and the need for strongly connecting with our customers overall.
“I am also very happy to see that this crisis has shown the capacity of our company and of our industry to be extremely flexible and agile to adopt change in a very efficient way.”
Sara Montero, Managing Director of Lundbeck Mexico, Central America & Andean Countries on taking guidelines from HQ and adapting them to local realities.
“The entire world is facing a terrible situation. As a global company, we have guidelines from headquarters that we must follow, but we also have to adapt locally. For example, in Mexico we are entering phase two of the outbreak, so we are following guidelines from the authorities here. Since I oversee a region which includes more than 17 countries, we need to adapt to the decisions of each local authority.
“We have to take into account the fact that since mid-March COVID-19 has been advancing very quickly in LatAm. We have already begun to put in place remote working for all our employees and starting from the week beginning 16th March we have been implementing this measure in LatAm region and beginning 23rd of March in Mexico. This will last at least until May.
“We have assembled a COVID-19 committee to analyze the situation that includes all of our teams: from medical professionals to communications, human resources, distribution, and commercial. We are conducting daily meetings to evaluate the situation in each country. We are trying to show our commitment to our employees and explain the importance of taking care of themselves. More than ever it is important to adapt and work remotely. We are evaluating the purchase of masks and gels for our employees when governments begin to advise them to leave their houses.”
Jingsong Wang, Chairman & CEO of Harbour BioMed, China, on the impact of COVID-19 on the global pharma industry as a whole, both negative and positive.
“Given the spread of the pandemic and the impact on all of our everyday life, I believe there will be a negative impact on pharma companies big and small across the world. Recently I hosted a Drug Information Association (DIA) global webinar about the experience of Chinese pharmaceutical industry on running clinical trials during the COVID-19 outbreak, which attracted more than five thousand colleagues around the world who registered for the event. Such high interest in the sharing of our experience in China reflects the fact that other regions will eventually experience the same disruption. In addition, the disruption of clinical trials in China also has global impact because looking across the world, one in five global clinical trials today have China sites and China involvement.
“On the positive side, this ordeal has emphasized the importance of delivering therapeutic solutions to patients during moments of crisis. We have seen the flexibility of regulatory systems globally to open the window for such innovations where necessary, for instance, in terms of the rapid approvals of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and clinical trials. From that perspective, what has been positive is the ability and flexibility of healthcare systems to welcome and incorporate such innovations in order to truly bring value to patients in global societies as quickly as possible. The value of biotech innovation is clear.”
Americo Garcia, Managing Director, Latin America for Apotex on shifting to working from home and the importance of maintaining the supply of essential medicines.
“America in general is part of a later wave of outbreaks than Europe and China, but in terms of operations, we have coped well so far. It was a huge shift for us to work from home. I like to go to the office and talk to people directly. We reacted quite quickly and had enough computers for our staff to be able to work from home, but had to set out a business continuity plan in terms of how we can continue to bring drugs to patients that need them.
“Pharmaceuticals, like some other key industries such as food for example, has to continue its operations in a time of crisis. We established protocols to screen all the people working in our factories. If the scanners at the entrance to the facility detect a high temperature or other symptoms, the worker will be sent to a doctor’s office next door.
“We are hoping to continue throughout the crisis. Especially as we are manufacturing chloroquine [primarily a treatment for malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, but currently being studied to treat COVID-19 – Ed.], we have to. We have an API facility as well, which is not under my responsibility, but I am working with my colleagues to potentially ensure that more independence from suppliers in India and China. We are trying to establish strict protocols – even simple things such as giving alcohol gel to the employees so that they can take it home and take care of themselves as they commute. Keeping consistency of messaging is also important to reduce the exposure of our employees to risk.”
Ali Besri, General Manager Morocco & North Africa Cluster Lead at Pfizer on developing new, increasingly digital, modes of interaction
“This is an unprecedented time with great challenges for the communities, the authorities and the economic players. As a company, in order to support global health priorities and contribute to impact patients’ lives, you need to have a strong and comprehensive preparedness plan.
“This involves protective measures for our colleagues, assessing implications to our patients, in-kind and monetary donations to impacted areas, diligent monitoring of our global supply network and deploying resources – both people and financial – in the race to develop antiviral therapies and coronavirus vaccines.
“The other key aspect is the communities’ and the company’s engagement: Social and economic solidarity are becoming critical to support sustainability for individuals and institutions.
Nevertheless, today we are witnessing a turning point in the way we are operating, and our sustainability very much depends on our ability to implement new ways of interactions: It is all about connectivity and digital transformation.”