After an international career spanning 25 years, Demet Russ returned to her native Turkey to lead the Janssen affiliate during a tumultuous time and is aiming to give back to her country by improving patients’ access to life-saving therapies.
For Russ, what began as a consultant role at McKinsey across a variety of industries, including infrastructure, financial services, high-tech transportation, and healthcare, turned into a decades-long career in her true passion: the healthcare and pharma sector.
Having benefited from the public education system, I have always felt indebted to Turkey, so I am happy to be here to bring Turkish patients access to innovation
After working abroad for Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, including over four years as Chief Financial Officer for Janssen in EMEA, Russ returned to Turkey to lead the Janssen affiliate as managing director. “Having benefited from the public education system, I have always felt indebted to Turkey, so I am happy to be here to bring Turkish patients access to innovation,” she told PharmaBoardroom in a recent interview.
Her new professional challenge is everything but a straightforward task, both because of market conditions and the company’s ambitions, but she contends that her expertise in both finance and R&D operations has proved to be a great asset when managing a volatile and price-sensitive market such as Turkey. “I made my latest career move because I wanted to work more closely with patients, and I am proud that we touched the lives of more than 60,000 patients with our core products in 2020,” Russ explained.
Janssen’s Turkish affiliate has been around for 22 years, and the country is considered “a major strategic healthcare market” for Janssen globally. To comply with Turkey’s localization requirements, Janssen produces around 70 percent of its local demand inside the country and is currently working on localizing two new products.
In line with Turkey’s Vision 2023, the organization has been betting heavily on R&D through an investment of USD 50 million in the last decade to bring in clinical trials. Janssen Turkey is a top five company in the country in terms of R&D expenditure and has 47 clinical trials in over 200 centers, a growth of 50 percent in the last three years. “We are playing a critical role between society and innovative treatments with our increasing clinical research investment. The organization knows that its role is to bring innovative medicine to patients but also support the development of an innovation ecosystem,” she says.
To support the affiliate’s objectives, she also serves on the board of AIFD, the Turkish Association of Research-based Pharmaceutical Companies, where she sponsors the Innovation Policies Workgroup. “At AIFD, we believe that the country can increase the clinical trial volume by three times to enter the global top 10,” she contends. Last year, together with IQVIA, the association conducted a study and prepared a report with a roadmap that includes 12 major areas of focus, including creating an essential patient database, creating a researcher network that can collaborate improving R&D regulations, and giving incentives to companies so that they can conduct more clinical trials.
The COVID-19 pandemic proved to Russ that the Turkish healthcare system is sufficiently resilient to withstand a crisis, and she is optimistic about the future of the market. According to her, Turkey is well-positioned since it has a strong healthcare infrastructure and universal health insurance coverage that provides accessible, high-quality healthcare services for over 95 percent of the population.
However, Russ believes that the authorities should look at healthcare as an investment, rather than a burden on the public budget: “A recent analysis shows that every dollar invested in healthcare creates a return of two and a half dollars for the economy.”
For her, a well-established innovation ecosystem is critical if Turkey is to attract more healthcare investment, and pricing and reimbursement decisions should not be considered in isolation. “A predictable business and regulatory environment are also required… We should reconsider policies that allow efficient use of funds across the whole system so that innovative treatments can reach patients with unmet medical needs,” she insists.
“I have three concrete goals: helping patients in Turkey access state-of-the-art innovation; developing every member of my organization to their highest potential, helping them achieve their dreams and goals; and contributing to establishing an innovation ecosystem in Turkey through direct investment, such as clinical trials, and collaborations with the industry.”
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