In July 2011, Astellas celebrated its two-year anniversary in Brazil. However, we saw entry into Russia in 1992, China in 1994, and India in 2008. What was it about Brazil that made it attractive to enter, finally, as the last of the BRIC countries in 2009?
The answer is simple: great market potential. Brazil is the largest market in Latin America. Most of pharmaceutical markets in developed countries are quite stable and mature, increasing no more than 1-3% per year, while the Brazilian pharmaceutical market is increasing double digits per year.
Astellas aims to be a global category leader in areas like urology, transplant, infectious diseases and oncology, segments that will present a potential growth even higher than total market in our country.
Astellas already had sales through distributors, but would like to launch new products by ourselves, and with a rich pipeline, it was much more interesting to have an affiliate in Brazil rather than operate through distributors.
Over these past two years, what have been some of the most important milestones and achievements?
One was overcoming regulatory challenges and the other was how to attract talented people. Brazil is very interesting in terms of market potential, but our regulatory regime is very challenging. Therefore the main barriers to surpass are to have registration, prepare for launching, and consolidate the team. Astellas attracted talented people from large organizations. Two years ago, on July 20th, 2009, it was just myself and an IT consultant. In two or three months, we grew to 50 people. It was a challenge, inviting people from big pharma organizations, to motivate them to join us in order to build a company from stretch. The market is very tight and there is no chance to import people from other segments. You don’t see many people from other segments like cars, computers, food or shoes coming to work on pharmaceuticals and vice versa. Specially in marketing and sales areas.
Now we are on the right track regarding sales objectives, structural consolidation, and establishing a complete organization. We will have our own QC lab in a few months, and we will thus bring our complete structure to Brazil, and the start up process is already finished.
You mention regulatory challenges. We spoke with Mr. Barbano at ANVISA, who said when we speak about performance, we’re really talking about two things: rigor and efficiency. He was willing to compromise efficiency for rigor, but not the other way around. What’s your view on ANVISA’s performance?
Mr. Barbano is right regarding sanitary concerns and their rigorous evaluation. Some processes are under discussion in terms of improvements. I think there is a space for compatible rigor and efficiency.
I believe there is a strong interest in improvements, because ANVISA knows how important it is for new companies to have a good regulatory environment. In the first year Astellas suffered through delays, and new products were not approved as planned until the end of the first fiscal year. We continue to have bureaucratic issues regarding importation. We believe some improvements are possible for more investments in clinical research, for example.
You mention consolidating new brands, bringing in new products, and launching them. Could you share some of the best success stories or case studies?
Mycamine was launched in January. With just four months in the market, it has already been a great success. Pre-marketing activities were very well done by the team, and the preparation was fantastic. In one year and a half, this is the biggest achievement at Astellas. Now, for Vesicare, which was launched in July 2011, Astellas has learned a lot from the Mycamine experience, and plans for the same kind of success. In terms of marketing, these are both examples to be proud of.
Two years ago you came from another company to start Astellas. How was it starting a company from scratch during the financial crisis?
Starting a company was the only thing I had not yet done in all my 34 year career, from manufacturing, then commercial and corporate affairs, and three positions of General Manager. Therefore, the possibility to start a company led me to at least evaluate and analyze the opportunity. It was a calculated risk. I came from a good position. What motivated me was to put my footprint on a company, and organize it, because we had nothing and had to do everything, logistics to marketing to human resources – Company presented to me a consistent long-term view.
In another words, the long term vision at Astellas, the possibility to form a team and a complete infrastructure from scratch and a great new step in my career were definitely big contributing factors to the decision I made.
What will be that footprint, or that mark you hope to make, in the organization?
That’s a difficult question, because all the things here, in a way, I participated in. One important aspect has been not only hiring talented people in the beginning, but keeping them here, believing in Astellas consolidation. After two years we have more than 90% of our people still in the organization, a big achievement. This helped me a lot to consolidate the company and build the level of sales and respect we now have. The footprint considering all this is that Astellas is the company with the best image amongst urologists, just few months after being established in Brazil, even against big, well-established competitors. This was confirmed by independent institutes and studies, and is certainly more than we expected after only two years.
We talked about the Japanese time horizon extending to 2015. Without extending quite so far, what are your ambitions for Astellas over the next coming years?
Normally we don’t make projections, outside of Vision 2015, which means Astellas consolidation as global category leader and we will do the same in our country.