The Czech Republic is home to Apotex’s oldest branch within a Europe, established in 1992. You yourself joined the organization in 1993. What has been this company’s growth trajectory in the market?
There is a very prosaic reason for our early establishment in the Czech market as Apotex’s oldest international branch. Under the communist regime in this country, many people were emigrating abroad, and many wound up in Canada. After the Velvet Revolution, some of them intended to return. The first General Manager of Apotex Czech Republic was such a person; he was a Czech origin that had immigrated to Canada, stayed in the country for 20 years, and ultimately decided to return to his home country. He believed that it would be a good idea for Apotex to establish its business in Europe. Apotex top management agreed that the opportunity was promising; however, at the same time, any long-term systematic plans were developed. The company decided to respond to the visible opportunity.
Hence, the business was established, and our first product was Apo-Ibuprofen. I was hired as the first Medical representative of Apotex Czech Republic. At the time, I had interviewed with about 8 different companies, and was given offers by perhaps 6 of them—we are speaking of the very early years of the modern Czech pharmaceutical industry. Almost no one had any experience in this business, except perhaps for some people that had done work for the government abroad. To find a Marketing manager or Medical representative was very difficult. Moreover, when I entered a physician’s office in these times, the physicians effectively did not know what a Medical representative meant! It was a pioneering time: in those years, physicians were very welcoming to the idea, as they were interested how this may develop their knowledge and improve level of scientific information.
I chose Apotex among those 6 companies because I admired the culture. You can always get a sense of a company’s culture, even through the approach of its General Manager. I felt that Apotex had a culture that valued people and their relations —a culture respects that without people, business is not possible. This is especially true in the generics business, where there are many competitors with very similar portfolios. The only way to differentiate yourself is with your team and approach to clients.
Since I joined Apotex in 1993, the industry has changed significantly. It is many times more structured, extremely regulated. In the early 90s, the framework was being built for the first time in post-communism: reimbursement, comparison of prices, IT solutions, benchmarking, etc. were practically non-existent. It was period of building a new system from scratch!
Within three years with Apotex, I shifted to different positions, including work in Regulatory affairs, and in developing our employee model. It was creative and exciting to build something from the early beginning. At a point, our General Manager changed, and because of a difference of approach to a business strategy, I left the organization for three years to work for Sanofi. This change was very interesting. After 3 years Sanofi was already a very well-developed company in Europe and globally. I learned much from my work with them.
In 1998, I was contacted by Egon-Zehnder Company and offered a position of General manager for Apotex Czech Republic which I finally accepted. At Apotex and at Sanofi, I had principally worked in Marketing and Sales. I did not have the true experience—really, at that time not many individuals in our country had the true experience—to be a General manager of the pharmaceutical company . Most GMs in the industry were expats at the time.
When I first joined as General Manager, APOTEX CR manager headcount of 16 people. Since then, we have grown, and developed a proper structure—we formed departments in Regulatory affairs, Marketing, Sales, and etc. Today, our headcount is over 100 people. We had 125 employees at our largest point, but the market forced us to downsize; you must keep ROI for shareholders and same time working very effectively in order to increase a headcount to grab the market opportunity if seen.
We always intended to be among the top generics players in the Czech Republic, as we have always believed we have the power and capability to do so. The only issue we faced was that for a long time, we were the only Apotex subsidiary in Europe. This created challenges in terms of Regulatory documentation—the North American system is quite different in terms of stability studies, bioequivalence standards, and etc. We were overcoming this issue, but for several years it held us in a lower market position than we could have attained otherwise.
We are currently in 7th position on the Czech generic market , based on IMS data and we plan to improve our ranking in future.
This is our first meeting with a generics company in the Czech Republic. How would you appraise the ease of doing business and the attractiveness of the environment?
We consider the market very competitive, consolidation and integration of the market now is large, and the regulations on price and reimbursement are much more stringent than ever expected. Anyhow our country follows global trends.
There is new part of legislation under development by government that will define and limit the conditions under which Medical representatives will be allowed to visit physicians. This too sounds politically pleasing, but if physicians will have a limited access to new information on drug therapy and latest outcomes of evidenced based medicine like for instance the new clinical studies , new products launches, indications and formulations, side effects, and etc, this will definitely not support their professional development. I would guess that majority of population would prefer to be treated by physicians who is aware of modern diagnostic and therapeutic approach which at the end leads to positive influence on health/social expense savings and effectiveness while treating a patient .
Despite these changes, Apotex does not plan to be a passive —conversely, you mentioned that you plan to improve your position on the market. What do you believe it takes to be successful in the Czech pharma industry today?
One important factor is a longtime presence. Apotex has such a presence. Of course, we have not been here as long as Zentiva or KRKA, but we came quite early, and we have not had strong fluctuations at the management level. We believe, Apotex Czech made a positive footprint in developing a Czech pharmaceutical market in many sense.
We are also known as a company that strives to do something positive for society, and as a company that is actively involved in CSR (company social responsibility). We believe in APOTEX added value: such as Kolecko – a foundation focusing on injured children, on co-operation with Czech trauma centers, social and culture activity (drawing competition etc…) among pediatric patients.
APOTEX delivered numerous variety of inspiring educational programs such as PACE (Pharmacy Apotex Continual Educations) -program focused on professional long term development of pharmacists —again, this is a program that has been imported from Canada and attuned to the Czech market. PACE is now being modified for majority of healthcare professionals plus patients.
I am myself Czech, and I wish to see our country have a truly high level of healthcare services. I feel an urge to participate in this process. Perhaps it sounds naïve, but if every person does his or her part, we might change the system into extremely effective one.
Apotex last year developed a partnership with the Czech organizations WAKE and the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry to distribute the original Czech product Hemagel. At the announcement of the collaboration, you were quoted as saying that this was Apotex’s way of “supporting Czech innovation.” Why was it important for Apotex to take this step?
Hemagel is an absolutely outstanding product. Using a patented mechanism of action, this gel extracts oxygen radicals from a wound, and heals the wound about 50% faster. I have tried the gel on my own kids, and it truly is very fast, while limiting pain.
Perhaps the most striking example is that of a 22 year old woman who suffered extensive frostbite on her hands and legs while trying to
rescue a person from a crashed car during the winter. On arrival in hospital the doctor on duty decided that it was necessary to amputate all the fingers on both her hands. Precisely because of the hopelessness of the situation and also the young age of the patient the doctor later prescribed HemaGel to treat her right hand, while applying the standard procedure to the left hand – a treatment with the Betadina agent, anticipating a subsequent amputation. While redressing her hands on the fourth day, doctors noticed to their surprise that the tissue on the right hand was already slightly perfused, prompting them to also apply HemaGel to the left. The results were simply stunning. Contrary to the previous expectation that all the fingers on both hands would be amputated the girl eventually lost “only” one and a half finger sections on her right hand and half a section of a finger on her left hand. It has been demonstrated that HemaGel has a much wider range of applications. It
not only very successfully and quickly heals surgical wounds but also cuts, hacking wounds, lacerations and bites. Positive results have also been demonstrated with anal fissures and breast and skin cracks.
We find this product very unique, and very originally Czech. We will be distributing the product internationally: we are now waiting for registration in Mexico, and Poland and discussing further possibilities. Markets are different, and the product is unique. Our goal is listing Hemagel application on the wound in surgery guidelines that after operations. The interest coming from the market on Hemagel is growing.
You mentioned Apotex’s strong culture at the beginning of our discussion. How is this culture proliferated throughout the organization?
I was attracted to Apotex 20 years ago because of its culture. It is always interesting to me to see potential job candidates speak in an interview about their former employer—whether they speak of them negatively or positively, the environment at other companies always seems very different. Apotex executive s have always been a highly professional leaders in our headquarters, which truly support us in developing our own culture as a important condition of a successful business. We feel like partners, respectful relations and professional development are of the highest importance. I believe that every professional company operates this way—and we in the Czech management treat our staff with the same respect. Company culture is area where APOTEX really cares.
After nearly 20 years with Apotex, what continues to motivate you about this role?
My carrier with APOTEX is truly long, but the fact is, I enjoy my work indeed and maintain my strong self-motivation. My motivation arises not only from the performance of the company ,but also from witnessing professional development of our managers and continuous inspiration coming from Canada executives side in our specific mentioned culture. I appreciate new challenges to drive the business forward and think our whole company feels the same way. We enjoy bringing new ideas, education and other added values to our local Czech environment.