Interview with Michael Himmel, General Manager, Takeda Colombia

In three months you will be celebrating two years as the head of Takeda Colombia. Your two major objectives were to set up the Andean cluster (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela) and leading the takeover of Farmacol as a door opener to Colombia”. Where are you standing today and what have been the main developments since 2011?

Takeda (former Nycomed) opened a Venezuela office in 2009 and, when I took over responsibility for the Andean region at the end of 2010, that was my only market. The second step was the set-up of our Colombian business as a regional hub for the Andean Region. We started our operation with the takeover of Farmacol in April 2011, which enabled us to get a solid foothold in the country. Takeda opened an Ecuador office in September 2012 and Peru in the end of February this year, completing the setup of the Andean region. Establishing our business in three new countries within two years has been an extremely exciting experience for me.

At the same time, Takeda started the roll out of its Rx out-of-pocket portfolio, with a strong focus in gastroenterology, respiratory and pain treatments. We also used our local production capacities and the acquired gastroenterology and cardiovascular generic portfolio to successfully enter the institutional commodity business.

The third step was entering the over-the-counter (OTC) consumer health business with locally developed brands.

The fourth step is still in a development phase. Takeda has a really promising oncology pipeline which we are planning to launch within the next two years.

Until 2015 we will participate in all four main market segments, retail Rx and OTC, institutional commodities and specialty medicine.

Takeda is a relatively new player in this market, entering the market through the acquisition of Nycomed / Farmacol. What is Takeda’s footprint in Colombia and how do you want Takeda Colombia to be perceived by Colombian stakeholders including the health industry?

Takeda Colombia will become a major player in its key therapeutic areas – gastroenterology, respiratory, cardiovascular, diabetes and oncology. The organization will be perceived as an important multinational pharmaceutical company, one that is highly committed to providing innovative medicine for Colombian patients and being a trusted partner for physicians, health-management organizations (HMOs) and licensors. Underlining our commitment to the country is our local production site which plays an important role by enabling us to make cost-effective tailor-made products for the Colombian OTC and institutional markets. This generates additional direct and indirect employment.

Are you planning to introduce some Nycomed or Takeda products into the production process here?

We are evaluating a variety of transfer options that will enable us to use our local capacities for other Latin-American markets as well as Colombia.

In September 2012 we saw the appointment of Alejandro Gaviria as the Minister of Health, who has been very active in reforming the health system. How do you assess the current status of the local industry and what are your key suggestions to ensure access to these innovative medicines for Colombians?

Colombia has by far the highest healthcare coverage in Latin-America. Nearly 100% of the population has direct access to free health services and medicines, including innovative, patented specialty medicines and biological to treat cancer, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and other severe diseases. Around 50% of the US$ 5 billion pharmaceutical market is managed directly by HMOs.

Despite significant price cuts for specialty medicines during the past two years, the whole healthcare system is in an extremely critical financial situation and several former private HMOs are now under direct government control.

Real structural reforms are needed urgently to ensure the financial survival of an exemplary healthcare system.

How does Takeda Colombia fit into the company’s regional and global structure in terms of priorities, sales, and future strategies?

Our business in Colombia is still relative small at the moment, but Takeda is already the second fastest growing pharmaceutical company in the country. We intend to leverage our growth with the introduction of new products and by broadening our presence in additional therapeutic areas.

Colombia is an extremely high priority for Takeda, based on its solid macro economical, political and healthcare environment, and as a regional hub for the Andean Region.

Our objective is to become a major player in our key therapeutic areas

What are the products with the most profitability here in Colombia?

Takeda Colombia is still in its initial building phase.

More than 60% of our sales are generated by products launched or re-launched within the past 18 months.

Our short-term performance will depend on the success of the recent launches of Alevian Duo® and Tecta® in gastroenterology, Alvesco®, Omnaris® and Pinavalt® in respiratory, and OTC brands such as Api-Folt® and Vasoton®.

The mid- and long-term success, as well as the sustainable growth of our business will depend on the new generation of Takeda products in all key areas, – Dexilant® in gastro, Daxas® in respiratory and even more on the Edarbi®- and Nesina®-line in cardiometabolics and Mepact® and Adcetris® in Oncology.

We are also actively searching external growth opportunities such as in-licensing projects in our key therapeutic areas.

You are a German manager working in Latin America for a Japanese firm – a very challenging scenario for most of our readers around the world. Nevertheless you seem to have outperformed all your tasks…. what keeps you motivated and driven after so many years in the industry?

After several highly successful years developing established businesses for different companies throughout Latin-America, thanks to Takeda, I now have the exiting opportunity to build pharmaceutical businesses from scratch in several countries at the same time. In that way I feel like the “founding generations” of managers in the 1960s or 70s. This unique opportunity is incredibly motivating.

You are now a few months away from celebrating your two-year anniversary as the head of Takeda in Colombia. What have been the main lessons throughout the integrations? What has it meant in terms of company culture?

The main lessons have been the same in both mergers – the local Farmacol acquisition by Nycomed and the global Nycomed acquisition by Takeda. Transparency, openness, and constant two-way communication right from the beginning are vital to gain employees´ trust and to motivate all team members to accompany you through all the required changes.

The company culture of Farmacol, a small, family-owned company, was already extremely respectful and integrative towards its employees, but obviously somewhat different from Nycomed´s corporate culture. The scale of the Takeda operation and the complexity of managing an area out of Colombia make teamwork and empowerment even more important than they have been in a single-country, family- operated environment.

You have managed affiliates in a variety of Latin American markets. How would you compare and contrast your experiences and what are the key takeaways that you find applicable to Colombia?

Differences exist in market structures, regulatory environments and certain competitive landscapes. The common denominator, however, is that you must work very closely with physicians, to clinically differentiate your therapeutic options and to lead a science-driven organization. Regional differences between people and customs enrich this experience, but in terms of a bottom line the management of an ethical pharmaceutical business is very similar across the countries. The difference between Colombia and other Latin American markets basically lies in the dynamics of the healthcare structure, as well as in the comparative de-centralization of key customers over the country. Being successful in Colombia means being able to adapt to this structural and geographical reality. The fact that Colombian healthcare practitioners are professional and very well prepared makes this task manageable.

What are your plans and your vision for Takeda in Colombia over the next three to four years?

Within a few years, Takeda will be known throughout the country as an extremely successful and highly innovative pharmaceutical company, committed to Colombia and the health of Colombian patients.


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