Kenneth Tan has been President for Asia Pacific & Japan at cancer-focused medical device player Varian since February 2019. In a recent conversation with PharmaBoardroom, Tan shared how an early passion for healthcare has blossomed into an impressive global career in pharmaceuticals and MedTech, why a multidisciplinary, collaborative and patient-centric approach to cancer care is vitally important – especially in emerging Asia –, and how Varian is leveraging big data and AI to create better outcomes for cancer patients in the region. Tan also touches on the significance of Siemens Healthineers’ recent acquisition of Varian – the fourth such M&A experience of an extraordinary career – and how the combined company is well-positioned across the entire cancer care continuum to do more for cancer patients
US-headquartered Varian, now a Siemens Healthineers company, has been in cancer care for more than 70 years, developing, building, and delivering innovative cancer care technologies and solutions for clinical partners and contributing to the treatment of millions of patients globally each year. Varian and Siemens Healthineers have been working together in many of the key global markets, offering a complete suite of cancer therapy focused diagnostic imaging and radiation oncology solutions, and the combination of these two companies strengthens this partnership and brings about the creation of more integrated and holistic oncology solutions that accelerate the path from diagnosis to therapy, and survivorship. This is especially relevant for Asia, the world’s most populous and dynamic continent, as well as the fastest-growing region for new cancer patients.
Diverse Experience & A Call to Cancer
After starting in the pharma industry as a sales rep in his native Singapore at Pfizer, Tan then moved into his first commercial leadership role at Novartis before transitioning into medical devices with Boston Scientific. During his total of almost 13 years at Boston Scientific and then Covidien (later acquired by Medtronic) he had the opportunity to gain experience in many global markets and high-growth therapeutic segments like Interventional Cardiology and Minimally-Invasive Surgery. Before joining Varian, he held various Asia Pacific leadership roles at Covidien/Medtronic based in Singapore and Thailand. Since joining Varian, he has been drawing on his experiences in these very different markets to manage what is probably the world’s most diverse region.
Speaking about what drew him to the healthcare industry initially, Tan states that “healthcare has always been a calling that captured my curiosity from an early age.” This calling was further foregrounded by a family tragedy in 2002. Tan notes that losing his mother to cancer has meant that “cancer holds a special place in my heart” and makes his switch to the cancer-focused Varian in 2017 even more significant.
A New Paradigm for Cancer Care
Now with oversight for the large and diverse Asia-Pacific region including Japan, Tan identifies several areas in which Varian – with its broad cancer portfolio across cancer treatment planning and delivery, as well as care management and analytics – can help drive better outcomes for patients. He feels that the biggest opportunities for Varian and where it can have the greatest impact are beyond APAC’s most developed economies. Unlike Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, for Tan, “the emerging economies of Asia Pacific are where the biggest opportunities to truly impact cancer care are.” He continues, “Cancer care capacity is in its infancy there and many patients are simply not being treated.”
The emerging economies of Asia Pacific are where the biggest opportunities to truly impact cancer care are
To capitalise on these opportunities for more patients to access quality cancer care, Tan would like to see a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach between care providers, payers and patients. He also – like many of his peers – emphasises the crucial importance of screening. “We must screen early, diagnose early, and treat early so patients have high survivability and can continue to live a high quality of life,” he proclaims. “This will require a great deal of collaboration with all stakeholders.”
Additionally, Tan points out that “as cancer becomes an increasingly manageable chronic disease, patients will have to engage with the healthcare system regarding their treatment for several years.” This engagement will see patients become more active participants in sharing information and making treatment decisions; a trend that Varian is attempting to position itself at the forefront of. “Patients will soon have a proliferation of tools which empower them to become more active and engaged members of the care team, bringing about greater health equity, thereby reducing the fear and uncertainty” he reveals.
This new paradigm of cancer care is not limited to greater patient engagement. “Cancer care is becoming more ‘intelligent’ through the use of biomarkers, personalised drugs, precision radiotherapy and proton therapy, and targeted immunotherapy,” discloses Tan. “Technology can facilitate the flow of information and remove some of the silos that currently exist between care specialists and primary care physicians. The overall goal is to share information, bridge skills gaps and create workflow efficiencies, improving treatment quality at lower costs.”
He adds, “Big data and AI will allow us to deliver better outcomes for cancer patients. We are using software and automated processes to help oncology professionals globally collaborate and develop more precise and personalised cancer treatments, making cancer care easier to manage and deliver.”
A Bright Future?
With the recent announcement that Siemens Healthineers has paid around USD 16.4 billion to acquire Varian, Tan is keen to highlight how this major new development positions the company to continue serving cancer patients and care providers. While “the Varian brand will remain in place, and our vision of ‘A World Without Fear of Cancer’ remains steadfast” he stresses that the combined company will have “stronger capabilities across the entire continuum of cancer care.”
Himself a veteran of three other M&A deals, Tan is optimistic that Varian, while preserving its own unique identity, focus, and purpose, is “uniquely positioned” for the global fight against cancer. Together, Siemens Healthineers and Varian now have a highly integrated portfolio boasting imaging, diagnostics, technology-enabled services and multi-disciplinary software solutions that will harness the power of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, as well as the global heft of its parent company to leverage, meaning that the future looks bright, both for Varian and for cancer patients and care providers in APAC.