Portugal’s Potential as a Pharma Testing Ground


Portugal has forged a name for itself in terms of early adoption of new technology and ideas; making the country a prime destination for clinical trials as well as a market in which multinational pharma companies can trial innovative new treatments before rolling them out across the continent.

“We are a fertile ground for experimentation and a test-bed for tomorrow’s technology”
Ana Teresa Lehmann, secretary of state for industry

One of the first Western European countries to make e-prescriptions mandatory in 2011 and the second country worldwide after Canada to introduce an HTA (SiNATS); in 2001, in the face of a heroin crisis, Portugal became the first country worldwide to treat possession of small quantities of drugs as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal matter. This creative and out-of-the-box thinking nature manifests itself in the life sciences, where Portugal is the benchmark for healthcare digitalization in Southern Europe, and both the talent pool and the infrastructure combine to create an attractive setting for the trial of new ideas in a controlled, well-prepared environment that has adequate tools and flexibility to find solutions.

The industry and government alike have cottoned onto Portugal’s potential to be Europe’s laboratory, as Ana Teresa Lehman, secretary of state for industry explains: “We are a small country, but we are highly-developed and ready for new technology; indeed, we are a fertile ground for experimentation and a test-bed for tomorrow’s technology. Our crucial policy is to prioritize innovation through experimentation which will drive growth across the industry.” Moreover, for Novartis country president, Cristina Campos, “Novartis has the right ecosystem in Portugal for trying new models and approaches.”

Francisco del Val, country manager for Sanofi, articulates “in a small country such as Portugal, with has as little as four reference centers, and all the patients concentrated in one place, it is the perfect laboratory to conduct clinical trials, and the opportunity is a reality.” Del Val continues, “to effectively carry out tests; we need to monitor patient outcomes, we need a strong patient registry, real-world evidence, and a strong dataset; we find all of this in Portugal and therefore establishing these initiatives is more straightforward in Portugal.”

A fellow first-time country manager also hailing from Spain and therefore well qualified to compare and contrast operations across Iberia, Alnylam’s Alicia Folguera Lopez points out that “In Portugal, the system is incredibly centralized whereas Spain is renowned for its decentralized processes. Portugal is an exciting country to develop commercially because it is well organized in reference centers.”

Janssen’s managing director, Felipa Costa justifies that “more and more companies begin to see the value of testing out new and digital ideas because of the mitigated risk associated with our relative size and expertise in complex fields.” Filipe Paias, general manager for Baxter agrees, “Portugal is a fantastic pilot country. The way that we overcome these challenges can be the benchmark for bigger countries. We can therefore test and mitigate part of the solution in Portugal, a smaller market, before translation to larger economies.”

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