Israel Garcia, general manager of Spain for Almirall, discusses market access issues in the company’s home country and highlights the affiliate’s commitment to internal R&D.
What was the reason for moving from Almirall’s Mexican affiliate to its Spanish one, at a time when Spain has recently endured a severe economic crisis?
Tackling the Spanish market was the perfect challenge because this affiliate represents a very significant part of our business. Almirall is internationalized primarily in Europe and North America, but as our home country is Spain, trying to change the trend of the company is a great opportunity. Almirall is a leading company in Spain, so maintaining this leadership is a very nice challenge for me. The market is extremely taxing, so being delegated to manage a company like Almirall in a demanding environment is actually quite attractive. It was the right moment to say yes.
What have been some of your other priorities in addition to maintaining strong market leadership?
We significantly invested in our portfolio in 2013, in a very tough environment for the pharmaceutical industry. We need to rebalance the resources we are devoting to the Spanish market to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us, which can indeed be a challenge. We have been doing that for the last few months, rebalancing the resources we devote to the Spanish market and restructuring the company, placing our focus in the areas in which we have the most significant opportunities to continue growing as soon as possible.
What are some of the biggest challenges regarding market access in Spain, and does being Spanish provide an advantage in terms of communicating the needs of the Spanish people to regional health authorities?
Spanish companies need to be more appreciated by the federal and regional health authorities in the future. Almirall devoted €127 million in 2013 to R&D, which represents 18.3 percent of net sales in R&D. We produce and consolidate our results here in Spain. So when you have an R&D product on top of all the wealth that you create in a country because of your research presence there, you are contributing significantly to the GDP of that country because the company’s worldwide sales are consolidated there. Almirall is thus contributing very significantly to the GDP and to the commercial results of imports and exports of Spain. That should be taken into consideration more seriously by both sets of health authorities.
Almirall is a company of almost €1 billion, consolidating figures and primarily producing in Spain. Significant data indicates that Almirall is the fourth company in all sectors in Spain investing in R&D, and is the 31st pharmaceutical company in Europe. I think it is very important to transmit that to the Spanish authorities: we are a Spanish company, 31st in Europe, producing and creating jobs in Spain, consolidating results in Spain, and contributing to Spanish GDP. Our turnover alone is already a very significant contribution.
Of that turnover, Spain represents 30 percent. Is that figure where it should be, or is there room for improvement?
I think it is possible to do better with a lower relative weight into the overall company, and I think this is the strategy of the company: continue growing internationally and in Spain, while being realistic. Almirall controls three percent of the Spanish market, so if we do things properly, we will grow faster abroad than in Spain. But it is possible to both continue growing in Spain while decreasing the relative weight of the Spanish affiliate into the group.
2013 was an important year for Almirall; what is your expectation for Spanish growth, and what is your plan?
During 2013 and early 2014, we rebalanced resources and restructured our organization in Spain. Now we are focused on our growth platforms for the future. We are structured in three business units: primary care, healthcare, and hospitals. Our main platform for growth in the future is our respiratory franchise with aclidinium bromide and its combination. We have submitted registration approval at the end of 2013 in Europe. Almirall has dermatology as the second growth driver for us in the Spanish market, and we complement this growth with important licensing agreements. We also have products in the diabetes and gastroenterology arena with significant licensing agreements.
Spanish R&D represents 18.3 percent of its total research investment. Do you think that Spain’s ecosystem allows for Spanish companies to innovate well?
We have physical proof of this, as seen with Almirall’s R&D center here in Barcelona, in which we can design, develop and implement the full process to develop a new product. Similar opportunities should be available for the entire country, as it is proof of the country’s innovative potential. We need to remember that Almirall created Almotriptan, the first fully developed Spanish product approved by the FDA, and aclidinium bromide was the first respiratory product to be approved by the FDA in its first submission.
Investment in R&D will maintain our growth in the mid to long term. That requires a huge commitment on behalf of the country, society, patients and doctors. When you invest in R&D you need to plan long term since researching a molecule takes many years. We want to do it as a company, and top management transmits to me as a general manager of the Spanish affiliate, that it is absolutely clear that is the way and I share this vision with them.
Could there be more done to create a better R&D environment in Spain?
I think the government should be very clear in outlining paths for growth in the future for Spain. If R&D is one of them, they will need to provide some competitive advantages to the companies who are investing in R&D. But this decision falls with the government; I simply adapt to the rules they create. Almirall believes that R&D is our way to reach our future.
What concrete outcomes will we see from the recent protocol between Farmaindustria and the Ministry of Health, and what role will Almirall play?
Almirall has played a very active role in Farmaindustria in that our president is a member of the board of the association and has been the president of Farmaindustria several times, as well as the president of EFPIA. Undoubtedly, through Farmaindustria we have an active role with the Ministry of Health. However, we need time to determine if the protocol will work; it is still very early days. Every manager of a pharmaceutical company wants stability to plan business, and I want stability create a predictable business plan. If we can achieve this as a country, managers of pharmaceutical companies across Spain will be happy.
You have had the opportunity to work in Portugal, Mexico and now Spain under Almirall. Have you noticed any difference in terms of culture or management style between the three countries, or does the Almirall culture transcend any of this?
Our culture is very present as a company in all affiliates. Our perception of the business and how we contribute to society through our work is very present. Independently, the markets and rules are of course very different in each country, as I have seen in three affiliates. But our culture is very homogenous. Our mission, vision and values represent how we want to work, and this does not change.
What are your objectives for 2020?
Our objectives are very clear. We presented our plan 2014-2019 at the beginning of March and I think our plan is evident. If you come back in 2020 you will find a leading company in the Spanish market, particularly in the respiratory and dermatology fields, as well as a company with licensing agreements which can maximize agreements for the benefit of patients of the Spanish society. And of course you will find a company contributing to Spanish GDP, to the commercial import/export balance of Spain, and creating a very significant amount of jobs in the country.
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