Interview: Ileana Quiñones – President and General Manager, iPR-AstraZeneca, Puerto Rico

Ileana R. Quiñones, President & General Manager, iPR-AstraZeneca

Ileana Quiñones, president and general manager of iPR-AstraZeneca, discusses the clear strategy of the affiliate in being a leading manufacturer in Puerto Rico and the steps necessary to ensure their place in the country and within the AstraZeneca organization.

Where is AstraZeneca focused today and how does the Puerto Rican plant fit into the global strategy?

AstraZeneca is a global biopharmaceutical company with a focus on innovation and science and is committed to the discovery, development, and commercialization of new therapies. AstraZeneca focuses on oncology, respiratory, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, neuroscience, and cardiovascular and metabolic. At the end of 2014, AstraZeneca had invested $5 billion in R&D with 133 projects in the pipeline, 118 of which were already in clinical studies. Our Puerto Rico business and operations contributes to AstraZeneca in multiple ways, including the manufacture and global supply of Crestor, a cardiovascular drug that is AstraZeneca’s number one selling product.  We also manufacture some oncology products.

What are some of the key developments of iPR-AstraZeneca over the years?

iPR has been in Puerto Rico since 1986 (originally Imperial Chemical Industries, or ICI), and therefore boasts a wealth of experience as the company is now producing much more in terms of volume than in the past while increasing efficiency. This facility in Canóvanas is ten years old.  AstraZeneca is very proud of the work we do in Puerto Rico, and just in the last five years, this site has experienced a transformation to increase the output at this facility and become more cost-competitive while maintaining our very high quality standards. We are also focused on safety, which has been recognized not only within AstraZeneca, but also external groups in Puerto Rico such as PIA, who bestowed upon us an award for safety performance. The environment is also extremely important; we have invested greatly in minimizing our CO2 footprint and have continued to reduce this since 2010.

All of this has been accomplished through the leaders and talented staff we have in Puerto Rico. Our leadership in AstraZeneca is very committed to maintain these facilities here. The work done here is extremely important for the AstraZeneca network, and we are proud of that.

What is the relationship between iPR-AstraZeneca and the Puerto Rican government?

We have been working very closely with the government, with whom we have an excellent relationship. With Puerto Rico’s long history in pharmaceuticals, which represent 25 percent of the country’s GDP, the government’s commitment to maintain this sector is unprecedented. As leaders in the pharma industry, everybody working collaboratively is the key to success for the future of the Puerto Rican economy.

From the global perspective, Puerto Rico is more competitive as a consequence of learning to transform itself from a US supplier to a global supplier, especially given the importance of the rise of emerging markets.  Here at iPR-AstraZeneca, we have been developing expertise to work with different regulatory agencies, markets, and other stakeholders throughout the globe.

You came to this company in 2012 around the same time that AstraZeneca was experiencing its own transformation with patent losses and other challenges in the direction of the company.  What was your initial mission?

I have been very impressed by the work AstraZeneca is doing here. I joined in 2012 when there was a change in executive management, so I have witnessed an evolution in AstraZeneca, particularly in how the key focus areas are built into the values of the company and the employees. The corporation has a clear strategy, towards which everyone is moving and Puerto Rico is clearly aligned in that sense. The company remains focused on returning to growth and as a result of all the work we have done on transformation and the efficiencies we have built in operations, along with growth in some markets, we are seeing positive change and this has been very exciting.

What comprises your portfolio here in Canóvanas?

We focus on cardiovascular, which is extremely important as Crestor is AstraZeneca’s number one selling product.  We also manufacture some oncology products. Therefore, it is critical that we maintain focus on patient supply and that no supply disruption occurs.

With 29 manufacturing locations around the globe, how do you petition headquarters for Puerto Rico as a place to invest?

We have to make sure that we are the best. We have very clear priorities when we discuss our goals and objectives and we make sure that we are the best in Safety, Compliance, Customer Service, and Cost.  These are absolutely fundamental.  We must ensure our supply is reliable and on-time, as global customers and patients depend on it. 

In that sense do you feel that there is a rejuvenation of the industry in more recent years to become more focused on compliance as countries like Ireland and Singapore become just as competitive?

In the case of iPR-AstraZeneca, we were ahead of the times with this. It is all about continuous improvement, and how we can make things better every day. In terms of the rest of Puerto Rico, there are others moving in that direction as well.  It is amazing how, as a country, we make more products with fewer resources with the highest quality.

What makes AstraZeneca such a great place to work and how are you maintaining that?

It is important to have a clear strategy and frequent communication. That has been a big focus for me to ensure every employee understands the strategy and their role.  I make sure information is transparent and I regularly engage in formal communication as well as town halls and walk-through meetings, staying close to the people. Development of talent and capabilities is also very important. It is not something we are only doing in Puerto Rico but it is fostered throughout the entire company.

Given AstraZeneca’s strong positioning in innovation, is there a possibility for R&D to take place here?

We do have some science taking place right within our Supply Site Lab in Puerto Rico, where we employ scientists. We believe; however, that innovation can mean many things.  AstraZeneca innovates by finding ways to do things differently, such as gaining in efficiency or implementing better technologies. Some of this is being done here in Puerto Rico at this site, implementing those technologies as part of manufacturing.

What are the most important things you must consider when leading this organization?

We have a clear strategy at this site that is posted everywhere. There is a clear message with clear values.  If you make a decision, it is based on the strategy’s four pillars:  compliance, safety, supply and cost.

What are your expectations for the future of iPR-AstraZeneca?

The strategy focuses on the future so that we have successful operations in the years to come. We have the people and talent for that.  It is crucial in Puerto Rico and in other places to work outside of your facility and contribute to the Puerto Rican economy and our industry.  I am on the board of the Pharmaceutical Industry Association (PIA), where we also engage in community work. In this region of Puerto Rico, we do a lot of work with children and universities to sponsor students.  As an example, we recently led a donation for the American Cancer Association. In this sense, we have to be leaders within our own operations, our industry, and our community.

What does the international pharmaceutical community need to know about Puerto Rico?

It is important to highlight that in Puerto Rico there is 40 plus years of knowledge, experience, and capabilities in the biopharmaceutical industry.  It is also important for people to understand that Puerto Rico is a viable place for business for the biopharmaceutical industry as a whole.

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