The country president of AstraZeneca Argentina discusses the country’s patent laws, the work being done to bring innovation back to Argentina, and the challenge of a strong branded generics market for innovative companies.
Could you please provide to our readers a broad overview of the healthcare system in Argentina?
Although Argentina could easily be considered a developing country, its healthcare system is first class, and is frequently under-estimated. Citizens have access regardless of their employment situation. As the country manager of an MNC and a board member of CAEMe, I am very proud to say that the Argentinean pharma industry contributes a lot to this. We provide medicines to every provinces, city and town at the same price level, with very good discounts, partially covered by healthcare insurance, partially by pharmacies and partially also by the pharma industry. There are more than 600 healthcare insurance companies and more than 300 of them have already been signed by the pharma industry. We are trying to provide an open formulary with first class medicine at affordable prices in which the pharma industry contributes by paying a part of the cost of the final medicines that the consumer uses.
Could you explain how AstraZeneca operates in the Latin American context? What role does the Argentinean operation play for AstraZeneca worldwide?
AstraZeneca Argentina covers the all Southern Cone, working for Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Argentina itself is the third country in terms of importance in Latin America right behind Brazil and Mexico. Saying that, for AstraZeneca Argentina is a “full company”, we have a huge facility with a manufacturing plant and a complete clinical research teams.
Why was Argentina chosen as the headquarters for the Southern Cone region?
The productivity and the quality of the professionals in Argentina is very competitive. For instance, our track record made Argentina a good place to conduct clinical trials. AstraZeneca has here more than 470 employees with an extra 25 people working on clinical research. Those numbers speak for themselves.
Worldwide, AstraZeneca holds seventh position in the rankings while here in Argentina it is not in the top 10. Could you explain us why don’t we see AstraZeneca in the top ten, and what is your positioning in the Argentinean market today?
AstraZeneca currently holds 19th position in Argentina. Why aren’t we in the top ten? This is mainly explained because of the lack of patent protection. In a lot of countries where you have relatively new products in the top 20 best-selling products, here in Argentina you have products that have more than 25 years in the top 20. This is more a consumer-driven market that pays more interest to brands rather than new molecules. New molecules are easily copied by companies, which at the end requires an extra effort for MNCs like us. Products in the top ten in other markets have as many as 15 to 20 copies here in Argentina. The market here is very fragmented, with a large number of players – and for companies that base their sales on copies, it is a very attractive market. Nevertheless, I am honoured to say that there are also plenty of molecules that have been investigated and developed by AstraZeneca here.
Looking at the therapeutic areas, we know that Diabetes, cardiovascular, respiratory and oncology are very strong areas for AstraZeneca Argentina. How well does AstraZeneca’s product portfolio compliment the specific needs of the Argentinean patient and what have been the main growth drivers?
Our portfolio is fully represented in Argentina and it fits perfectly to the specific needs of the Argentinean patient. Market access in Argentina is outstanding: we are often among the first countries when it comes to new drug releases. There is a need to be first in the market and that is one of the principal business angles to focus on in “the land of fire.”
How is AstraZeneca deepening its footprint in Argentina outside of sales and marketing?
As I mentioned before, AstraZeneca has a top quality manufacturing site outside Buenos Aires called Haedo manufacturing plant, 23km far away from our office in the capital. At that manufacturing site we currently produce many injectables and everything related to the anaesthesia line, being leaders in that segment. On top of this, we produce different types of ointments and creams, and do all the local packaging for all our products. Moreover, we manufacture certain products via a third party, using local manufacturing facilities.
What do you think about Argentina’s potential to become a regional hub for clinical studies?
Argentina is well respected when it comes to clinical trials. Companies like AstraZeneca play an important part in clinical research here because of the quality of the professionals and the research centers we have in Argentina. Our scientist excellency is part of our signature. At the end of the day, we do a lot of work at our clinical research site, with products either at Phase II or Phase III. These and other initiatives have helped Argentina gain this reputation as an outstanding clinical research hub.
It is important to mention that our clinical trial organization here reports directly to AstraZeneca’s clinical research head. They are currently involved, as I mentioned, in Phase II and Phase III trials for products that will be launched in 2016-2020. We have a devoted team working very hard on that.
You employ a lot of people here in Argentina, more than 500 employees. What do you think attracts industry professionals here, and what makes AstraZeneca Argentina such a great place to work?
People want to join our company because AstraZeneca Argentina is a very vibrant organization that is full of energy, where it is possible to grow professionally as part of a team of highly qualified people in all areas. On top of that, we are a very competitive and strong team that works and cooperates on delivering high standards of excellence.
If you had the chance to spend five minutes with the Minister of Health, Dr. Manzur, what would you tell him as the country president of AstraZeneca Argentina?
To benefit the country we have to improve our patent protection system, as our patent protection model is very weak. Although sometimes it looks the MNCs want to patent everything, this is absolutely not true. The government has to consider and promote better patent protection conditions, given the huge amount of money that we are investing to enhance patient health with new treatments and new molecules.
On the other hand, this government has been doing a lot in order to repatriate scientists and is working very hard to enhance investigation in Argentina. Moreover, the government has been able to deliver an incredibly good and aggressive vaccines calendar, the best in all Latin America. In several senses, they are doing an outstanding job but when it comes to the MNCs, they are not giving the chance to the companies that are investing in Argentina and creating things. For instance, some investigators have to go to the US in order to be able to get patent protection to their inventions that are refused in Argentina, which, at the end of the day, is against the interests of the country, not just international players like us. The government has an important backlog and it is almost not granting patents at all.
How do you expect to see AstraZeneca Argentina in the next five years?
Based on the pipeline and the organization we have, AstraZeneca will be a top ten company. As we like to say, “Business follows science” and in terms of science, AstraZeneca Argentina is a leader. Everything we are doing in biotechnology and personalized medicine is top-top quality. For instance, the quantity of products with different mechanisms in our oncology pipeline is amazing. Definitely, the perspective that we have for AstraZeneca is absolutely high and bright.
What motivates you to come and work here every day?
I am a very competitive person. I love to have a competitive team and try to always give the best across the whole organization in all the countries I am working. We are actually doing very good things everywhere, especially in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. To keep the whole team very competitive, sharp and very aligned is one of the things that pushes and motivates me. On top of that, what we are doing is for the patients, bringing first world medicines in the fastest possible way into the countries of the Southern Cone. At the end of the day, we are providers of first class world healthcare. What else can motivate me more?
What is the most important thing that our readers should know about Argentina today?
The financial crisis that is looming over Argentina is obviously a hot topic here right now, but the Argentinean pharma industry, and what we provide to patients, is strong enough to overcome any cyclical crisis, and that is what is important. This is highly valued by the government, by health insurance providers and by patients.
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