Read the Conversation

EF: What are the main priorities on the diagnostics agenda in Roche, Brazil?

CM: Even in markets facing substantial economic pressures, maintaining our position as the most innovative company is our foremost priority. As a family-owned company, Roche has successfully merged increased investment in innovation with acquiring some of the industry's finest professionals. This combination consistently delivers exceptional outcomes within the healthcare domain.  

Our unwavering commitment to innovation is exemplified by our substantial investment of approximately 16 billion Swiss francs globally, positioning us as the largest R&D spender in the previous year. The trend of prioritizing innovation has persisted over the past 10 to 13 years, resulting in Roche being consistently recognized as one of the most sustainable companies worldwide.

It is precisely in such challenging environments like the Brazilian market that we thrive. Due to the consistent investment in R&D, our innovation pipeline is always growing. To demonstrate this, we must effectively communicate our strategies, including the transformations we need to go through to ensure our visibility and success in the marketplace. To achieve these goals, we have implemented specific tools known as VACC, encompassing the visionary, architect, catalyst, and coach roles. These four skill sets are crucial for leading our business and maintaining our position as the epitome of innovation.  

Another priority lies in leveraging our innovation to benefit Brazilian society by improving access to healthcare. Brazil is one of the world's largest and most pragmatic markets, with 70% of the population lacking the means to afford insurance plans. Roche Brazil is a company that can ensure a very solid healthcare insurance plan for their employees. The Roche “family” in Brazil includes approximately 1,300 individuals who benefit from our sustainability, quality healthcare coverage, and well-being programs.  

More than half of Brazil's total population of 220 million people lack access to healthcare. Among this significant portion, around 90 to 100 million people reside in remote areas far from major healthcare centers, hospitals, or family clinics. Barriers to access range from financial constraints preventing transportation expenses to other societal factors. A recent study explored the possibility of providing tests and medication at no cost, which could benefit a certain percentage of the population. However, the challenge lies in reaching the largest segment who needs help accessing the products or solutions offered physically. This issue demands attention and effective strategies to address healthcare disparities. In Brazil, our unwavering commitment revolves around not leaving any patient behind. We forge partnerships, provide products, and strive to make a positive difference in Brazilian society.

Our aspiration extends beyond the practical implications. We aim to enhance our reputation as one of the most innovative companies while delivering a tangible impact and fulfilling our social responsibility pillar. This pursuit encompasses navigating the perception of costly solutions and reimagining perspectives. Ultimately, it all converges on the overarching priority of fostering a healthy population.

Today, over 60% of the healthcare budget is allocated to reactive services, such as internalization, hospitalization, and emergency care. This approach is significantly more expensive than investing in proactive measures, such as initial sequencing tests, to determine personalized treatment options for complex diseases like cancer. By adopting the concept of personalized healthcare, we can optimize therapies for individual patients, resulting in more effective and cost-efficient outcomes. The alternative of trial-and-error treatments, often accompanied by unfavorable consequences, serves neither the patient, the healthcare system, nor the companies involved. This situation highlights the importance of adopting a fresh perspective that prioritizes proactive measures for the betterment of all stakeholders involved.

The repercussions of delayed treatment extend beyond the patient, impacting the overall cost, the burden on the healthcare system, and the country's economy. This reality is evident in Brazil, where major healthcare providers have reported significant negative results in the last quarter. The excessive use of healthcare services has led to payments falling short of the costs incurred. Although the pandemic initially resulted in substantial profits due to reduced hospitalization rates, the failure to save and prepare for future circumstances has left these entities facing the consequences. This is a valuable lesson in financial prudence, where reserving funds for future uncertainties is vital.

EF: What pillars are essential for establishing a sustainable healthcare system in Brazil?

CM: There is a pressing need for increased alignment in healthcare systems worldwide. The demand for healthcare consistently outweighs the available supply, indicating an imbalance that needs attention. Governments should adopt a more cohesive and enduring approach to address this issue. The volatility witnessed in Brazil over the past years underscores the importance of a sustained healthcare strategy that encompasses both the public and private sectors. It is vital to incorporate long-term solutions that address the pressing challenges and ensure improved healthcare accessibility and quality for all.

Enhancing alignment between the supplemental private health sector and the public system is crucial, and public-private partnerships offer a promising avenue to achieve this goal. By leveraging these partnerships, governments can address specific regional healthcare management needs, benefiting from the expertise of private entities. However, it is important to equalize the quality of the healthcare services across multiple health plans to avoid compromising patient care. A well-aligned strategy requires a president, a Minister of Health, and dedicated individuals prioritizing patient well-being and collaborative action.  

A proactive approach prioritizes managing health rather than solely addressing sickness. Over the next 5 to 10 years, increased investments in healthcare and digital technologies hold the potential for substantial advancements. Brazil, particularly in the private sector, is strongly inclined to adopt digital technologies. For instance, personal health monitoring devices, such as wearable sensors, empower individuals to gather comprehensive data on their sleep, activities, and sports performance, enabling self-improvement. Embracing patient empowerment and fostering health literacy can effectively prevent and address health issues. Individuals with resources and information can proactively manage many health concerns themselves.  

EF: How do you see Brazil advancing in the field of digital transformation?

CM: In the private sector, Brazil excels in leveraging cutting-edge technology, including automation, AI, and machine learning, comparable to mature markets in Europe and the US. Approximately 10% of the population enjoys access to these advanced services. The challenge lies in extending these capabilities to the rest of the people, particularly in personalized healthcare, such as genetic sequencing tests. The solution is achieving economies of scale through increased production and reducing manufacturing and logistics costs. This, in turn, enables greater affordability and utilization, driving additional investments in research and development for even more advanced and cost-effective technologies.

Brazil is embracing proactive healthcare measures, evident in the increasing adoption of telemedicine. A large hospital in São Paulo conducts over 3,000 telemedicine appointments daily. Personal experience confirms the effectiveness of this approach, where a swift diagnosis of a sore throat and prescription for antibiotics was promptly provided via a brief teleconsultation with a medical professional. This encounter highlighted the potential and convenience of telemedicine, offering a cost-effective alternative for numerous conditions while empowering patients to play an active role in their healthcare decisions. Though certain situations may necessitate in-person consultations, the scalability of telemedicine holds immense promise, fostering positive change and long-term improvements in the healthcare landscape.

EF: What is the most promising contribution that Roche Diagnostics anticipates making to Brazil?

CM: With the introduction of our comprehensive range of new molecular biology systems and an extensive menu of reagents, we have expanded our portfolio to include the cobas 5800 series, complementing our existing cobas® 6800 and 8800 offerings for integrated in-vitro diagnostics. This expansion represents a significant step towards decentralized diagnostics and increased accessibility. Through a recent partnership with the Brazilian government, we have established collaborations with 82 laboratories nationwide, enabling decentralized molecular biology testing. Our diverse range of tests covers crucial areas such as viral load monitoring for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, we contribute to women's health by offering preventive measures for cervical cancer through the HPV papillomavirus panel, among other services.  

We are on the brink of an exciting breakthrough as we prepare to launch a game-changing technology predominantly utilized by leading laboratories worldwide. This technology, which operates within a highly specialized and labor-intensive environment accessible only to Ph.D. experts, will be integrated into routine laboratory practices. By doing so, we aim to revolutionize the field, offering faster, more cost-effective, and higher-quality results while automating the traditionally manual and time-consuming processes. Brazil will be the first and, currently, the only country to experience the launch of this technology, anticipated by the end of next year. Recently, we showcased this technology to great acclaim in Europe, and we are set to exhibit it to major laboratories worldwide in upcoming events.

Moreover, we are actively involved in developing sequencing panels, focusing on comprehensive genomic profiling. By obtaining a deeper understanding of a patient's genome through targeted sequencing, we can significantly enhance our ability to provide precise diagnostics and tailored therapies rather than relying on trial-and-error approaches.  

Being part of this endeavor is truly fulfilling because it offers an opportunity to create a significant impact and make a tangible difference in the lives of a larger population. The prospect of positively impacting more individuals is immensely rewarding and is a compelling reason to be deeply engaged in this pursuit.

EF: How does Roche approach the required skillset for the future of diagnostics, and what initiatives are in place to attract talent to the company?

CM: In Roche, we refer to HR as "People and Culture." The critical role of HR is ensuring long-term sustainability by implementing effective strategies for hiring the right talent, fostering their development, and establishing a solid succession plan.  

One concrete example of our commitment to excellence is our significant focus on after-sales service. A substantial portion of our organization supports implementing and maintaining our diagnostic machines. These machines, ranging from small to large-scale, process millions of tests annually. Last year alone, Roche delivered 29 billion tests worldwide, equating to four tests per inhabitant of the planet. Service technicians and engineers are pivotal in ensuring these systems' smooth operation and reliability, assuring timely and accurate results for patients.

Roche actively fosters a more inclusive workforce by investing in diversifying the talent pipeline.  Especially in the service field, most professionals have traditionally been men, as they often come from engineering backgrounds and naturally gravitate toward our organization. However, recognizing the importance of gender diversity, we launched targeted campaigns at universities in Sao Paulo and across Brazil to engage young women pursuing engineering courses, and the response was remarkable. For us, it is crucial to challenge the male stereotype of a technician and make engineering careers equally appealing to women.  

Our collaboration with universities goes beyond talent acquisition, as we value individuals who have diverse skills and perspectives. Talent comes in various ways, whether it be someone with a systemic view, a strong commercial acumen, or a pragmatic and simplified approach. Recognizing the significance of diversity, we have started several programs and initiatives within our organization that drive organizational innovation and progress. For instance, the OPEN (Out Proud Equal Network) group focuses on supporting sexual orientation minorities and incorporating their unique contributions. Furthermore, we are actively working on initiatives to welcome and empower transgender individuals, acknowledging their distinct perspectives and transformative impact. It is important to note that our commitment to talent and diversity extends beyond Brazil, as we operate as a global network.

Lastly, we have undergone a significant transformation over the past five years, becoming a more agile and interconnected organization. Though the process has had its challenges, the results are evident. We witness increased employee engagement and anticipate positive outcomes from the ongoing Global Employee Opinion Survey (GEOS). The energy and enthusiasm within our teams validate the progress we have made. We are proud of our significant strides towards becoming a better organization.  

September 2023