Read the Conversation
EF: In the post-Covid times, executives have to handle a complex world. Do you visualize 2023 as a challenge or an opportunity? What does 2023 have in store for Psicofarma?
AO: The market will always surprise you. When seeking growth for a company, there will always be challenges and opportunities, which holds true for Psicofarma and Mexico.
Probably the two biggest challenges during COVID were the supply of raw materials and APIs in general and the forecasting of demand. Gladly in this post covid times, supply has been normalizing. However, this challenge has helped us to create better business continuity plans, where a broader spectrum of suppliers and direct contact with them are drivers in such a strategy. In this sense, new business opportunities arise not only as a buyer but as a supplier for other markets. Here lies one of our most interesting opportunities for 2023 and the years to come: the nearshoring policies undertaken by the USA.
Mexico could again become an important API source as it once was and supply other components for the pharmaceutical production processes. So, we are preparing to supply the USA final dosage forms and APIs from Mexico. We already have experience within our domestic market. However, we are strengthening our strategic position through conversations with companies in Asia interested in partnering with us as well as through the many pathways offered by the US government.
EF: To better understand Psicofarma, could you elaborate on your Mexican footprint and portfolio?
AO: Psicofarma’s story is an exceptional one since its creation was driven by the eagerness of doctors to help patients. Therefore, a group of psychiatrists almost 50 years ago started to operate a company fully devoted to mental health. Efren Ocampo acquired this amazing company almost 30 years ago with the goal to stop stigmatization and increase the therapeutic options provided by the company.
Throughout all of these years, the portfolio has grown, providing what the patients and physicians need. It is a unique company that has been open to understanding the epidemiological opportunities and challenges and creating specific portfolios for specific patient needs. We have a wide range of almost 200 products for the central nervous system; our sole focus over the years has been to create various products so that mental health does not remain solely in the psychiatry field. Furthermore, many years ago, we expanded our focus to Neurological diseases so that PSICOFARMA could be a company focused on Central Nervous diseases.
Psicofarma has grown not only in terms of its portfolio but also in the physicians we reach out to and the message we deliver. I can proudly say that Psicofarma has held the mental health flag in Mexico, raising awareness of the importance of treating mental diseases in the country. We reach out to general practitioners, cardiologists, and other specialties for them to better understand the different stages of human life and where mental diseases can occur.
In this evolution, we have also made manufacturing with quality our passion. Therefore, we have built new facilities with state-of-the-art technologies where all those who are involved in our process undergo constant training and certifications.
EF: Could you elaborate further on Psicofarma's role in raising awareness and educating physicians and patients? What sort of programs do you operate?
AO: We have been committed to central nervous system diseases for decades. Our many efforts have been directed mostly to health practitioners since they are the main support for the diagnosis and treatment of patients.
Working with as many physicians as possible to contribute to their constant efforts in medical training has been our role in increasing central nervous system disease awareness and treatment. Nevertheless, we have also supported many NGO efforts to raise awareness and also for providing pharmacological and nonpharmacological treatments.
Since the pandemic, there has been an exponential increase in the visibility of mental diseases. People did not become sick because of the pandemic; they already had a mental condition, but many factors brought it to the surface or worsened it, such as isolation.
PSICOFARMA will continue to contribute to the aim of ending the harmful stigmatization of mental diseases. Even in this century, people are not stigmatized for having pain or diabetes, but mental health has been stigmatized throughout history.
Some of our work has been done along with many wonderful psychiatrists that have helped us to create educational programs for general practitioners and family caregivers. This work has produced many books, magazine articles, clinical research and also apps, websites, and many other tools. All of them are directed to create awareness, improve diagnosis and treatment, and help the patients and their loved ones.
Our work with GPs and other very important medical specialists has been very rewarding, for the diseases they treat are usually linked to a mental condition, generally to depression and anxiety.
We have helped create two websites for patients, "Contigo en Mente" and "Mentalizarte.” Both attempt to be an ecosystem where people can go if they think they might have a mental condition and to understand different aspects of it.
A mental disorder does not make a person abnormal; we are all the same, just with a brain biochemical different needs.
EF: The government of Mexico recently announced its support of three pharmaceutical plants with an investment of 800 million pesos, one of which is the Psicofarma injectables plant in Coyoacan. To what extent will this contribute to the capital's economic growth? What does this mean to you as a company?
AO: It is a very exciting project because of the complexity of sterile production and the opportunity there is worldwide for its production, for there is not a great supply of steriles. These products require more complex and validated processes, regulations, and better-trained human resources. Steriles are more challenging than orals, creating an opportunity within the pharmaceutical forum, which is why we decided to tackle the project.
We will be able to manufacture three hundred million vials or ampoules per year, allowing us to supply the domestic market and sell to the US market. We are in conversations with big pharma companies to create alliances to speed up our pipeline so we can go to the market with a bigger and broader portfolio both for Mexico and the USA and other highly regulated markets.
EF: How do you assess Mexico's potential to become an innovation powerhouse rather than a production powerhouse at a Latin American level?
AO: Innovation in the pharma industry is one of the key elements that has helped to increase life expectancy and quality of life. It is an exciting and challenging endeavor but requires a lot of investment.
Companies in Latin America, as well as those of countries with similar economic development, are mostly focused on generic production. These very well-renowned companies have achieved quality and productiveness; nonetheless, innovation is still a goal to pursue.
In our case, we have done innovation; for instance, we have a product, Transcript for cutaneous lymphoma for T cells which has had very good results. The product was done with the UNAM and the Institute of Cancerology in Mexico (INCAN), all guided by Ph.D. Alfonso Dueñas.
The possibility of products such as this becoming a worldwide success would require broader access to capital as well as closer support of regulatory processes. In our case, we believe in R&D done in Mexico. We are planning to take this product in the future to the US, which will mean making alliances with companies interested in investing in clinical trials for that market and getting the patent to other countries.
There are many possibilities for Mexico to become a more important player in this field. Still, coordinated efforts among the government, academia, and the private sector (local companies) will be needed. Also, to team up with local and international investors so innovation efforts will not just remain at a local level and these Latin American innovators can find a path to access bigger markets through alliances.
In our case, we are into innovation and will continue trying to build bridges with companies and NGOs that can help us with clinical trials and commercialization in highly regulated countries.
EF: From a mental health perspective, how do you assess the current access to treatment in Mexico, and how can it be enhanced?
AO: To better answer this question, I would start with awareness, and I dare to say that still, many efforts need to be made for people to understand what mental health is and also to destigmatize it. Afterward, in order to understand access, we need to have more prepared healthcare professionals to treat these conditions. Mexico is below the standard set by the WHO in terms of the number of psychiatrists per inhabitant. It also is important to have physicians prepared to diagnose and provide treatment.
I would say that another important part of reliable access to mental health treatments is to have a national production of these products. Worldwide there is a fluctuating supply of these products, especially those in the controlled substances taxonomy. Therefore, allowing national companies to work on this important contribution to health is essential.
Finally, I would refer to innovation again and say that more and new treatments are necessary to fulfill the ever-changing challenges of mental Health.
EF: When you look back at this period in your professional career, how would you like your tenure to be remembered?
AO: I would like to follow the company’s current path of supplying high-quality products at affordable costs. In this aspiration, I aspire to include other therapeutical classes in order to supply the patients with the care and passion we have tried to give to those in our current work.
My biggest goal is to internationalize the company successfully not only within Latin America, which is where companies in this part of the world usually go because it is the most natural market to cross over due to language and regulations. In our case, we are taking active steps to go to the United States. We are selling three mental health products in the United States. And have successfully manufactured controlled substances and hormones under more strict regulation. For the years to come, I will work to achieve a successful operation in the United States to leave the company with international processes set up.
I would conclude by saying that Psicofarma has been very successful within Mexico, covering all critical areas; lean manufacturing, top-notch quality standards, and commercial procedures. But PSICOFARMA was born to serve patients, so another one of my goals is to improve our ability to deliver more value to doctors and patients since I am passionate not only about delivering products and services but also about helping people that have a CNS condition.
EF: Is there any final message that you would like to share?
AO: As I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, it is a very exciting moment for us with the nearshoring or reshoring, which requires a different quality level from Mexican companies. Mexico already has very high standards, but we are stepping into a bigger regulatory framework and are prepared to pass a more complex set of regulations to become more competitive. To end, I would add that social responsibility is very important in the company; there is a place for young people and women to play important roles.