Read the Conversation

EF: Tell us about your journey in the healthcare sector. 

CN: After graduating from medical school in Mexico City, I practised medicine for a couple of years in Mexico. Then I got the opportunity to join Boehringer Ingelheim in 2009, and I’ve never looked back. This year marks my 14th year with the company. It’s a journey that has taken me across North and South America, Europe, and recently Dubai, where I was heading the company’s cardiovascular therapeutic area for the India, Middle East, Turkey and Africa region (IMETA).  

When the General Manager for Southern Africa position opened up, I leapt at it. This opportunity will focus on unlocking access to innovative medication for the patients who truly need it in South Africa. At Boehringer Ingelheim, our mission is to positively impact as many lives as possible, whether they are humans or animals and with this unique opportunity I want to ensure that me and the team live our company's purpose of transforming lives for generations. 

Heading up the Southern African operation also involves a major focus on our people. We aim to nurture our talent, giving our people every chance to be the best version of themselves. We embrace a strong company culture based on our values of agility, accountability, and intrapreneurship, and aim to create a solid and sustainable business that will thrive for generations to come. 

EF: How does Boehringer Ingelheim’s product portfolio land in the South African market, and how do you see the different therapeutic areas evolving? 

CN: We’ve been in South Africa since 1962, with an extensive portfolio that spans both human pharma and animal health. Our portfolio in human pharma aims to make a significant contribution to the country’s healthcare system by focusing on medical conditions which are not fully addressed.  

We’ve traditionally been strong in the cardio-metabolic therapy area, which includes hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart attacks. These areas will remain a key focus in South Africa for the foreseeable future. Our second focus area is specialty care and interstitial lung diseases, with a specific focus on pulmonary fibrosis, systemic sclerosis interstitial lung disease and progressive fibrosis. With patients as our focus, these therapies will remain at the forefront for the next five to six years.  

On the animal health side, we provide the best possible healthcare solutions in the three major areas of companion animals, ruminants and poultry.  

EF: What role does Boehringer Ingelheim play when it comes to enabling broader access to medication in South Africa? 

CN: National Health Insurance (NHI) is top of mind for most people in the local market. That’s why it’s more crucial than ever for the government and the pharmaceutical industry to work closely together to determine the role of innovative R&D companies, payers, private hospitals and pharmacies in creating greater access to medical services and treatments for all South Africans. Our departure point is simple: as a pharmaceutical company, it’s imperative that we partner with the government to ensure the best treatment options are available for the patients that need them.  

EF: What is Boehringer Ingelheim’s strategy for human pharma at this stage?  

Our current strategy for human pharma focuses on two main aspects: innovation and patient-centricity. We’re committed to discovering, developing and delivering breakthrough therapies that address unmet medical needs and improve the lives of patients. To achieve this, we invest heavily in research and development and foster a culture of innovation and collaboration with external partners, including academia, biotech companies, and other industry partners. 

At the same time, we put a strong emphasis on patient-centricity, ensuring the needs and perspectives of patients are at the core of our decision-making process. This involves engaging with patients, healthcare professionals, and other stakeholders to better understand their needs and incorporating their insights into the development and delivery of new therapies. By combining the latest research with a deep understanding of patient needs, we aim to create a sustainable and competitive human pharma business that contributes to better health outcomes for people around the world. 

And finally, a critical element of human pharma is to educate patients, caregivers and the general public on disease awareness and prevention. We do this through partnerships with community-based organisations, NGOs, patient associations and social media channels.  

EF: You talked earlier about talent being a key focus. How does Boehringer Ingelheim attract and retain talent in a competitive marketplace?  

CN: We focus on building a culture that fosters innovation. When you have the right culture, people notice it, spread the word, and the right people express interest in working with us. This is what is happening now at the company: we’re seen as a place where people want to work and grow. 

I believe in creating an environment where people thrive and feel empowered by supporting and interacting with their colleagues and peers. Knowing how and when to empower people is a key part of building a great culture. We’re also 100% committed to looking after their well-being and safety, both in their personal and professional lives. Having that feeling of safety is key to keeping and attracting the best people. 

Our core values of respect, trust, empathy, and passion guide our approach to employee engagement and satisfaction. We offer competitive compensation packages, comprehensive benefits and a healthy work-life balance to ensure employees feel valued and motivated. Additionally, we invest in the professional growth of our workforce through continuous learning opportunities, mentorship programs and career development initiatives.   

In Africa specifically, we believe we have a responsibility to the continent and the broader IMETA region which is home to almost one-third of the world's population. Here, we’ve seen how having innovative products and life-saving medications in our pipeline – and the opportunity to make an impact in the lives of others – is a huge boost to our ability to attract potential employees. 

EF: What makes you confident that there will be continued growth in the human pharma division in terms of access? 

CN: At Boehringer Ingelheim, we’re driven by the desire to improve human and animal health. By aiming to make significant contributions to healthcare, we focus on unmet patient needs. We have already made significant progress in accelerating the delivery of our portfolio.   

Our priority is to deliver the full value that medicine can bring to patients, their families and the society they live in, beyond commercial success. 

Despite the numerous challenges facing healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, we’re confident that our commitment to innovation drives the development of novel therapies and solutions to address unmet medical needs. Our strategic partnerships and collaborations with other industry leaders, research institutions and healthcare providers further enhance our ability to expand market reach and improve patient access to life-changing treatments.  

Additionally, our focus on entering emerging markets in Africa and adapting to evolving healthcare landscapes ensures we remain at the forefront of the industry. By consistently prioritising innovation, collaboration, and market expansion, we’re well-positioned to achieve sustained growth in the human pharma division and improve access to our therapies for patients worldwide. 

EF: Could you share some examples of partnerships that you are working on? 

CN: Boehringer Ingelheim's partnerships with NGOs and patient organisations play a crucial role in enhancing our commitment to care and patient well-being. These collaborations, known as 'beyond the pill' programs, focus on supporting patients throughout their entire treatment journey, not just by providing medication but also by addressing their physical, emotional, and social needs. 

For instance, in the case of stroke treatment, timely intervention is critical. We work closely with healthcare providers and partners on the ground to raise awareness of the importance of getting patients to the hospital within four and a half hours of when they were last seen walking and acting normally. This rapid response is essential for patients to receive the most effective medication and minimise the risk of long-term complications. 

Our partnerships go beyond the initial treatment phase by emphasising the importance of post-stroke rehabilitation. By collaborating with rehabilitation centres, therapists and support groups, we help ensure that stroke survivors receive the necessary care and resources to regain their independence and improve their quality of life. These programs demonstrate our dedication to a holistic approach to patient care, fostering stronger relationships with patients and healthcare providers while enhancing the overall treatment experience. 

EF: Tell us a bit more about your Sustainable Development for Generations initiative. 

CN: The initiative is all about our ongoing journey to develop better therapies, enable better healthcare solutions and contribute to a better world for this generation and those to come. In real terms, what this means is to continue to work to address unmet medical needs, for humans and animals alike.  

In Southern Africa, we focus on underserved communities, where people and animals live in environments of inequality and face clearly demonstrated barriers to access to healthcare. We forge partnerships to address barriers to healthcare access through education, prevention, screening and diagnosis, treatment and adherence.  

Going beyond developing pioneering solutions for today’s challenges, we actively look to address future health challenges, including the threat of non-communicable diseases that we face across the world. That way, we’re one step closer to closing existing and emerging healthcare gaps of today and tomorrow and providing healthcare for all. 

August 2023
South Africa