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EF: A recent headline in El Universal read, “Novartis: the goal is to continue making investments”. We know you have investment plans for 50 million dollars; how are the investments going to be allocated and what do you hope to achieve here in Mexico?

AL: Three years ago, in 2015, we committed investments in Mexico for $50 million US Dollars in over the course of 5 years. Two weeks ago in Davos, our CEO had a meeting with the Sub-Secretary of Economy, Mrs. De la Mora, and they talked about the investment—$30 million of which has been already been invested—and to renew our commitment of continued investment over the next two years with the remaining $20 million.  

Our investment is focused on several areas:  

1. Shared Services Center: we installed this centre some 3 years ago here in Mexico, it is a strategic investment for Novartis since there are only four other Shared Services Centers in the world. This is tangible proof of how important Mexico is for Novartis. When we installed it in Mexico, our workforce grew 50% and it was done taking advantage of the infrastructure we already had and attracting a lot of talent. We plan on continuing attracting certain services, for example, back-office services, HR services, finance and IT, from Mexico to all the Americas including the US and other countries of the world. Our idea is to continue growing and I am delighted that it is a great way to keep attracting and developing Mexican talent.

2. Clinical Trials: We believe there are great opportunities in Mexico for clinical trials. As a country, we have a great area and opportunity to capture more investment devoted to clinical trials, especially if we compare it with other countries of similar characteristics where growth has been huge. The investment flowing to South Korea, for example, has increased 30% whereas Mexico grew only a 3%. That is the size of the opportunity here. Investing in clinical trials also means investing in a noble cause as it not only involves the development of molecules, but also the development of scientists, infrastructure, innovation and centres of excellence. We are strongly committed to investing in this area since it is a win-win all around.

3. Access: we see ourselves as an ally of the public health system and we have one of the most robust pipelines of the industry, with more than 200 molecules in development. The molecules that we are putting on the market in other parts of the world are also coming to Mexico, and it fills me with pride to know that we will continue bringing breakthrough innovation to my home country. Not only are we bringing molecules, but we are also driving comprehensive health solutions to improve the access of the population to them. 

EF: It is one thing to have the molecules, and another to actually get access to them!

 AL: Absolutely, and to achieve that, we must continue collaborating with the authorities to find new ways to offer comprehensive solutions to patients, from diagnosis to treatments, to follow-ups and at best, to recovery. In this day and age with the existing innovations and technology, personalized medicine is possible and Novartis is a pioneer in this area. We have the capacity and the commitment to yield health results and we must push for an agenda in which sustainable business practices, such as outcome-based models, are the priority. We are beginning conversations with the new administration in this aspect, hoping that the regulatory and legislative framework will allow us to arrive at innovative models that already exist and work in other parts of the world.

EF: You mentioned being a strategic ally of the government regardless of which party is in power but, we are in a transition right now so how can you start off on the right foot? What are you doing to set the groundwork for the next 6 years? 

AL: The new administration is just 60 days old, and I was excited to hear them refer to health as a priority issue. Through different associations and the Chamber, we have already been in contact with the new actors and stakeholders and have been delighted to see their openness and willingness to build on the things that work well and of course, to tackle the existing barriers that slow down patients from receiving the correct treatments quickly. On our side, we hope to continue to be their strategic ally, bringing innovative solutions and doing so with a high social commitment. We have many years and experience working in this sector and we have always put the patients first, so we have the common objective of improving the health of the Mexicans. We also understand that it is the beginning of a new administration and the implementation of new policies and mechanisms of action can take some time, so we will remain eager to work together to transform the healthcare system for the benefit of the Mexican patients.  

EF: It is difficult to talk of innovation without mentioning technological innovations in digital health; the director of the WHO has talked about this as has the global CEO of Novartis. How are you embracing the digital era and how can that dovetail with your goals here in Mexico? 

AL: It is very exciting to see how our CEO, who has been in the position for only a year now, established right away that going big on digital and data is a new priority of the company, driving our future success.  This cohesiveness of company actions has been important for us in Mexico and the Latin American region. In Mexico, we had already been making an effort in building digital capabilities, so this new objective bolsters our belief in digital transformation.  On top of being a pharmaceutical company, we are also a digital and data science organization, embracing early new trends, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things. 

Using AI and algorithms, we can better understand how we can help patients in their journey, not only in their treatment but in the early detection and so be more efficient in their health results. I would summarize it as an in-depth understanding of our patients, getting clearer insights to offer better solutions to the system. This improves our business model by allowing us to build tailor-made health solutions. We are fully embracing digital transformation, not only in Mexico but globally.

We are also looking for partnerships beyond pharma since we are aware that in these new times we are living, we must innovate not only in our products but also in the way we do business, like partnering with start-ups or with technology companies. Our Transformation & Innovation team is devoted to this task. 

We have another team dedicated to analyzing “Real-World Evidence” where we are investigating how we can measure data generated in real life. With all our years of experience and existence, Novartis has a huge amount of data and we have to make sure to make the most of it for the benefit of the patients. These insights will enable better and more personalized medical treatments, and could potentially discover new leads that we had never thought of before.  

EF:  What are the different products you have in Mexico and what is the ground reality? 

AL: As close allies of the system, we have always followed and been aware of health priorities in Mexico. Diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular system complications and different types of cancer are at the very top in terms of public health. As you can see, these are all non-communicable diseases, which represent the heaviest burden for the public healthcare system, and Novartis is present in all of these therapeutic areas through a quite robust portfolio. 

In oncology, we are bringing breakthrough innovation to treat breast cancer and pediatric leukaemia. We also excel in neuroscience, immunology, respiratory system, and ophthalmology. We have gone in-depth into these therapeutic areas to be able to bring the maximum amount of innovation in each one, and I am proud to say that Novartis will be leading the way in the future in terms of new launches. 

It is also important to say that we also have a leading business unit of Generics and Bio-similars, called Sandoz. It recently launched a new line to treat HIV with medications of the highest quality, efficiency and safety. We have a varied portfolio that covers the priorities of Mexico’s health.  So as you can see, Novartis is not only bringing disruptive innovation to Mexican patients but also taking affordability very seriously.

EF: Could you give us a case study of an upcoming launch and the success you hope to have?

 AL: Of course, my favourite topic! We will launch products for asthma, ophthalmology and mental health, among others. Let me refer specifically to the latest because Novartis will be launching a great alternative to treat migraine. I love to talk about this launch because it is a molecule that will make a big difference for patients who suffer from this illness. If you know somebody in this situation you know how bad it is for them, how they are impeded to work, even if they look like they are okay on the outside, it is impossible for them to carry on with their normal lives and this could affect them many days of the month. This molecule will reduce quite significantly the number of days the patient is affected by the migraine. It has already been launched in other markets with a lot of success and we want to launch in 2019.  

EF: You rank among the 100 most powerful women in Mexico—congratulations! Could you tell us more about the famous anecdote of “raising your hand” back when you first started with the company?

AL: It refers to one time when I was working at Novartis Spain. Everybody gathered in the auditorium to listen to a regional manager, which is quite an important position in the organization. So I was sitting in the front row when he asked who would want to have his position in a few years, and I innocently assumed that a lot of people in the audience would also raise their hands. I never thought I would be the only one, but when I turned my head, I saw I was the only one with a rising hand. So this manager, who was the Head of Region Europe, immediately came over to me with a microphone and said ‘Very good Ana, so tell us what you would do if you were me?’ I gave my answer and that was the end of it.  

After that moment, he mentioned my name to someone in our headquarters in Switzerland and that single anecdote led to me taking on an important role with global reach in Novartis. I like to say that my stars aligned, but maybe it was also due to my very honest reaction that day.  Mostly we don’t admit things like that especially in front of a big group of people, but if we don’t speak up about our dreams and aspirations, nobody else will do it for us. So, it really is down to each one of us and this is my lesson learnt from that situation. Luck does exist but it is always a good idea to help it along.

EF: You are the head of an organization of around 1500 people, what would you hope they say about your best qualities? 

AL: Authenticity is maybe the most important and it is the basis that has permitted me to be where I am today, a genuine passion and belief for what I do which is, I believe, contagious. A commitment to development on a human basis so that others can also have access to the opportunities I have had and I would like to be seen as somebody who is willing to help promote and encourage other peoples careers and to bring out the best of them. I would also like to be seen as somebody totally committed to Mexico, as an active actor in improving the lives of Mexican patients.

EF: You also run marathons... 

AL: I did! I should have objectives there and I don’t at the moment.  Normally the first year in a country is hectic and I have been here a little over a year now.  I am still running, but without a goal for the moment. So, I must do 2 things: first find a team to run with because it’s the best way to run and second, establish an objective, half a marathon or a triathlon but here in Mexico City, it is not as easy to run through the city as it is in other countries. 

EF: When you raise that glass of tequila or champagne for 15 years in the company, what would you like to celebrate?

AL: Just to be able to celebrate in Mexico is gift enough! The Mexican team has done an incredible job, but to be able to speak about my legacy in Mexico would be the best way to celebrate it.

EF: If you were to come back here in two or three years what would you hope the organization would be like, and what are your goals going forward? 

AL: In two more years, the $50 million investment plan should be complete so I would hope to have commitments for new investments because it is something of a luxury to have an institution like IMSS with 70 million beneficiaries.  The huge amount of patients and data gives us huge opportunities to take advantage of, all the information of clinical studies, new ways of access, etc.  We have a genuine intention to continue investing in Mexico, and if I see you in two years, I hope to tell you all about our new plans. We are one of the best companies to work for, and I would like even that to be stronger, bringing the best talent possible to work with us. Moreover, in terms of innovation, I am very proud of the fact that we have brought all the molecules that we have successfully launched and will continue to launch, that our efforts in digital will be consolidated, no longer be in the pilot phase, but fully on to another level.  

EF: What would be your ‘pitch’ to HQ when you need to attract more investment?

AL: I would say that Mexico is a hub of great talent. I would also say that continuing our investment in the Global Service Center is the right way to go—although they don’t need any convincing from me as they already know that. Working with the authorities, we have set up a mechanism to expedite the approval of clinical trials and we have an important area of investment so it should be very easy to bring investments here once the ball is rolling.  And if the conversations we are having with the authorities progress in terms of innovative models, that should also result in important investments. Novartis is working in this area in other countries as well and Mexico should not be the exception. 

February 2019