Market Access in Asia: Hiring Access Executives Early is Crucial & How to Get it Right


Robert Hall of Ardent Search, an executive search boutique specialised in the life sciences and healthcare sectors, highlights the five key points for recruiters and pharma companies to consider when hiring market access professionals to work in Asia.


Whether it is an established or a developing market, access is everything. Access determines a patient’s ability to receive a new drug, a doctor’s ability to prescribe it, and when the manufacturer can achieve revenue from a market.

Failure to execute a highly effective market access strategy can cost a company millions or hundreds of millions of dollars. Without it, a drug may have approval withheld, and full commercial potential will never be realized.

None of the above is new information. Yet, if this is the case, why do under 40% of healthcare companies have dedicated market access teams?

Of these companies, why is it less than half have regionally based dedicated market access talent?


In this article, we look at difficulties in hiring market access executives, in particular considerations for Asia, defining the role and what core skills are needed to succeed.


Larger healthcare multinationals have large established market access teams and heavily invest in their access strategies worldwide. This investment in access talent has been on a consistent upward trend for almost ten years now.

Over the last three years, we have seen a marked increase in investment in access talent by medium and smaller sized healthcare companies. Executive leaders are seeing the benefit of bringing much of that local access knowledge and capability in-house and leaning less on external support for such a critical role.

However, some senior healthcare leaders have stated that hiring experienced market access executives is more challenging than other functions, especially in the Asia Pacific.


The Challenges in Attracting Access Talent

Market Access as a dedicated function is relatively new compared to other traditional functions, such as supply chain or medical affairs. In companies that do not have dedicated market access executives, the local General Manager (GM) will usually take the lead on access for their country.

By the very nature of access being a non-traditional functional role, hiring for it can be challenging.

Firstly, there are not enough dedicated access executives in the market. As more companies see the benefit of having access talent, as appose to access being led by a local GM, competition for talent naturally gets tougher. It is a battle to get the best access executives to join an organization. They’ll probably have several options from other companies if they do want to move.

Secondly, the routes in to, and out of, the access role are not clear yet. Seeing how your peers’ have progressed from access to senior leadership roles important. Attracting talent to make a career change also requires showing that talent their future career path, post the access role. Other functions have well-trodden career paths to senior leadership, but what is the next step after access?

If a company is hiring externally and cannot identify an experienced market access professional, then hiring talent from another function becomes necessary. Indeed, that is quite a risk for a critical role, and which functional experience will work best, government affairs, sales, marketing?


Growing Your Own

Some larger companies are playing the long game when acquiring access talent by growing their own talent.

One such example is Novo Nordisk, who developed a European Market Access graduate program to grow future access leaders from early in their career. Other companies, such as Roche, are also investing in more structured training to develop future access talent early in their career. These efforts will grow the industry’s talent pool in the years ahead.

However, for small to medium-sized companies who plan to hire access talent in short to mid-term, ‘growing your own’ are not realistic options.


Market Access in Asia

The Asia Pacific market (APAC) has been a growth engine for many healthcare organizations over the last two decades.

Over the last three years, the speed of growth for healthcare in the region increased. The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) implemented much-needed reforms that cleared a backlog of drugs and devices awaiting approval. The route to approval in China now is much more straightforward. Therapies for severe or rare diseases are fast-tracked, and data from global trials will now be considered for new drug applications (NDA’s).

With the time and cost, and therefore the risk of bringing a drug or device to the APAC market reduced, it has made the region much more attractive for small to medium-sized companies. This reduction in risk has driven the need for more access expertise at those mid-sized companies.

Over the last five years, we have seen demand for market access talent in APAC, from companies large and small, increase year on year, for both growing multinationals and regionally headquartered companies. The most significant demand being for access executives in Shanghai, Beijing, and Singapore.

The issue is that Asia is lagging North America and Europe when it comes to the number of experienced access talent options. If a company is looking for talent with experience in a specialized access role, in the right therapy area, and country experience, the possibilities will be narrow.

Relocating experienced access talent from other regions could be an option, but they won’t have the right market knowledge, presenting a problem. The markets in the region are very diverse, with varied regulatory, population, and payer challenges. Understanding the nuances of these markets is vital to achieving success.

In APAC and other emerging markets where hiring is challenging, once the role is defined, it makes more sense to look laterally across functions to identify executives with the right market experience. Adapting talent with the proper local knowledge, from different functions, has proven successful for both internal and external hires.


Defining the Market Access Executive Role

Market access is a strategic role that requires sound healthcare policy knowledge, the relevant therapy experience, and good cross-functional skills. Prior knowledge of the geographical markets in which the product will launch is essential.

The executive should be involved in planning clinical trials locally and demonstrate value and efficacy to the local market stakeholders. This type of critical work has a long lead-time, and therefore companies need to think about defining the market access talent required and put in place a hiring plan early.

The challenge is finding the right talent. Market access is not a traditional function, so the talent pool of executives with experience in a dedicated market access role is tiny in emerging markets. For many companies, until recently, market access was still a role only found at HQ.


What Skills and Experience are Needed?

If a company cannot hire proven talent with experience in an access specific role, there are still options for making a successful hire.

Market access professionals have an excellent cross-functional appreciation. They often come from commercial and regulatory roles and should have been involved in leading product launches from an early phase, ideally more than one launch.

There are examples of companies that have placed talent in access executive roles in Asia from other functions. One is J&J Medtech, their VP Market Access Lead came from a regulatory affairs role. Another is Boston Scientific, whose Head of Access APAC joined from a health economics role. Also, Roche, who hired a Market Access Portfolio Lead from sales and marketing.

Essential experiences are pricing approval process in relevant markets, using clinical evidence to determine value for payers and regulators, specific therapy market knowledge.

Candidates from sales and marketing with product launch experiences and broad cross-functional knowledge (clinical and regulatory) should work well. The experience of working well with a variety of subject matter experts is essential. They will need good health economics, be consensus builders, have political skills, adept at relationship building across internal and external stakeholders.

Candidates from consulting can work well if they have worked on product launches from an early stage. They should have developed stakeholder management skills, work with subject matter experts, have sound health economics, and good cross-functional knowledge.

Some examples are Takeda, whose Global Head of Access came from a senior consulting role at Booz & Co. The company also hired its South East Asia Access Director from Deloitte Consulting. Merck hired their APAC Access Director for Oncology from IMS Health. Roche also has a Regional Access Director who joined from IMS Health.

Consulting is a route to access executive talent that works.


Local Market Knowledge

No two markets are the same. In APAC, the differences are vast. Identifying and securing access talent with sufficient knowledge of multiple product launches across all regional markets is unlikely.

Candidates with limited or no prior knowledge of the local market will find the role much more challenging. In this circumstance, they’ll need to lean heavily on existing local expertise.

A growing company with significant plans for product launches across APAC should consider individual, local market access talent for China, ASEAN, Japan, India, and Australasia.

Local knowledge, understanding of the nuances of each country is critical in getting to market. Having the local access expertise in house will pay off for the company.


Start the Hiring Process Early

Having the market access executive in place at the early planning stage pays dividends. Getting access strategy expertise involved two or three years before a product goes to market is the right approach. The access talent needs to be setting strategy for the different payer groups, patient populations, and identifying any local barriers.

Having the access talent involved at Phase II trials, or potentially even Phase I, makes sense. Better planning of clinical trials, to meet the necessary goals for a given market, will decrease the likelihood of making amendments to plans after a trial is in process, which can be a costly delay that was avoidable.

Since the talent pool is small, identifying and securing suitable market access executives will take time. Demand for access talent outstrips supply, nowhere more so that the APAC region. The best candidates may have several options.

There is a real battle for good access talent, but it is a battle you can win with a clear hiring plan.


Five Key Points to Remember

  • Start the process early – getting the access talent on board early will pay dividends.
  • Prior access experience is not a deal-breaker – this is not essential. There will be relevant talent in other roles that are very transferrable.
  • Local market experience – prior understanding of a market’s regulatory, payer, and population challenges is critical.
  • Cross-functional knowledge – health economics, clinical, regulatory, and commercial are vital areas.
  • Product launch experience – prior experience of product launches is important

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