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EF: As these past years were the years of transitions, what will the upcoming years be the ''years of''?
CH: 2023/24 will still feel the long breath of the pandemic, we all know that this has been a stretch for the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare systems, and we still notice that. Now regulators and governments have implemented some legislation as well in Germany, after which we will see the results. We will feel the results in the industry now in 2023 far more than we did in 2022 or in 2021 during the pandemic. I believe that 2023 is still going to be a transitional year, although I see us moving forward and getting out there, I do not envision going back to how it was before the pandemic.
EF: What were the biggest lessons learned from starting with Organon in the German market in the middle of a pandemic?
CH: Prior to Organon, I managed the vaccines business for MSD Germany, one of the three most important vaccination players. I was attracted by Organon’s purpose and by building up a company that is purely focused on women’s health. The purpose here is to make the case for a certain type of healthcare, create something that isn’t there yet and provide for an unmet medical need. The second aspect that appeals to me is the idea of what I call ‘startup with diapers’, startups that have significant portfolios and a big pipeline. We didn’t have to start from scratch, and the aim was different enough to form a new start-up.
My biggest lesson learned from the pandemic came from putting different priorities into perspective. You don't need to be together in the same office every day, you don't need to spend time commuting and have people sacrificing family life to do a great job. You don't need to restrict yourself from a hiring policy perspective to a local level or a specific area. In the cluster that I'm responsible for it was voluntary to leave the main MSD Germany organization and join Organon. In the beginning, we had 30% of our workforce coming over from MSD Germany and we had to hire the other 70% externally. The pandemic allowed us to go for a talent-first approach. A leader shouldn’t care whether people live near the office, but focus on getting the right talent, and that’s what we did. From the first moment that we had this cluster approach, we’ve had people sitting in from across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. There wasn´t a moment where we had what I call the ‘proximity bias’ that favoured individuals in the office. Our office is a community space where we meet and get together, but it's not about where you must be to do a good job.
From an economic perspective, the biggest lesson was to not take anything for granted. The pandemic showed us that well-established, and highly sophisticated systems can pivot. An example is the supply chain process of vaccines during the pandemic: There has been a shift in how the economy, including the pharma industry, looks at globalization, and this has been one of the biggest learnings for me.
EF: Can you elaborate on your talent-first approach and how you keep your team effective?
CH: You need to find the people that have the right commitment to the mission of the company and buy into and support the purpose. This means living and breathing the founding spirit with a willingness to build on what has been given, this is what sets us apart in the industry. What sets us apart, from a workforce perspective, is that we measure the commitment to Organon every year. We have high engagement rates, that I could previously only dream about. It shows that our people are truly engaged in what we do. A part of this is that we give them the opportunity to still live their personal lives whilst also giving them the chance to participate in what we're doing. We also get a lot of great feedback from the market. This purpose is still resonating very well, and it is opening doors that I've never seen open before.
We have an incredibly high engagement rate among our employees, and our diversity is high as well, taking the example of individuals joining from different industries. It used to be the case that you needed to have experience in the pharma sector for 10 years. Now, we’re an example of a company that hires multiple profiles, with different backgrounds such as IT or consumer goods, to name a couple of examples. We have a very diverse and young crowd.
EF: How is Organon setting an example as a forward-thinking company?
CH: We must be flexible and fast because we need to seize every opportunity that is out there. Our focus is on women’s health, and I hope that there is a multi-billion product out there that will come to Organon and into the pipeline that we will then launch. It is important to be realistic and I believe that women’s health will be based on incremental changes and niche products, meaning that you need to be an agile organization that sees the opportunities as they arise. This is what Organon has been doing from the beginning. Our first acquisition, Alydia Health, is a medical device company and not a classical pharma organization, and that's what's appealing. This is an example of what sets us apart from others, our portfolio is more than big blockbuster compounds. It’s about living the purpose and being aware of what serves women and providing them with their needs.
Furthermore, it is also important not only to be a provider but also to develop Public Private Partnerships and be visible to raise awareness, which is what Organon has been doing from the start. We've been vocal about the role of women in society and about the healthcare choices for women. From the start, it has been part of my job to go out there, talk to politicians, talk to all stakeholders, and be there and lobby around this topic.
EF: What is your perspective on the role of digitalization playing a key role within Organon in terms of increasing awareness of women’s health?
CH: I believe that we will see the most imminent changes in the industry in matters regarding the role of AI in planning production. At the moment there are other industries that are light years ahead when it comes to using big data and analyzing products along the entire supply chain. I do see a movement in the industry, at Organon we are advancing on how we use this data and how we digitalize. Another aspect is in relation to research, with the fast developments in medical science, every couple of months medical knowledge doubles. From a research perspective, digitization will advance the pharma industry, and it will also help us in understanding real-world evidence of what we do with the products, as well as how healthcare is provided.
It is also a differentiator because healthcare apps are increasingly being used by women. Its impressive adoption rate is due to the benefits it can bring such as tracking. This is a field that will bring a push to Women's Health. Devices such as smartwatches offer tracking and measurements on health matters such as running, temperature, and ovulation. Digitalization will bring tremendous changes to particular areas of how healthcare is understood and provided, especially regarding women’s health. It also enables fast access to information, the more knowledge and comprehension there is around healthcare, the more we can do and find out what needs to be done to have better compliance.
EF: In relation to these digital changes, how will the digital data privacy situation need to adapt?
CH: Healthcare data is sensible data. If you know the healthcare status of a person, then you hold a vast amount of knowledge. We need to find a way of meeting both demands and protecting sensible information, whilst on the other hand using the potential to advance science, security, and access. We work on small aspects and incremental advancements, rather than on a huge strategy claiming to pursue big healthcare digitalization efforts, although the use of data and digitalization provide the opportunity to save in healthcare expenditure.
We don’t need additional aspects such as applications, we need the right ones, and we need a strategy on a European level. This would be my hope for the next couple of years.
EF: What are some of the priorities regarding women’s health in the German market?
CH: The biggest one is not only for Germany but applies globally: Women’s health needs to be understood as a general and accepted important field as well as a missed out and neglected market and healthcare segment. Up to now, women’s health has been seen as an individual woman’s problem, or even worse, it has been seen as normal. I always say that if men had endometriosis, we would have the best drugs as generic. Women's Health needs to get the visibility that it really deserves, and be understood as an important field, leaving aside the stigma around many women's health conditions. Very often it's been dismissed, ignored, normalized, and marginalized - this needs to stop.
This is not just because more than 50% of humans are women, it also has an economic impact. As women are a pillar in the workforce, women’s health has a strong economic impact.
On another matter, contraception is not lifestyle medicine, it has a huge impact on societies, and we need to increase awareness of this. More than one-third of pregnancies in Germany are unintended. This has a significant impact on women’s careers, family situations, and economies as they are out of the workforce. Whilst we have a social support system when it comes to daycare, we do not have family situations where elderly relatives look after grandchildren. Taking Germany as an example again, our society is over-ageing which impacts the workforce and fertility as an incentive that could aid. The amount of women in medical or pharmaceutical professions is increasing, they want to be great physicians, and they also want to have a family, perhaps at a later stage. Therefore the view on fertility needs to change as well.
From a governmental and policy perspective, because again this is not lifestyle-based, it's really about the freedom of choice. It is about helping women with conditions and ensuring that they know they are not alone and that they are not stigmatized. We need to collaborate and bring their health to the spotlight.
EF: How important are initiatives regarding contraception?
CH: We do have contraception in a small segment that is reimbursed at a young age, but beyond this, it is the responsibility of the woman to pay for it. Other countries such as France reimburse contraception up to the age of 25 which is a great step in the right direction, the same as the access to fertility. As a married couple and dependent on age and the state in which they live, there are different levels of access to fertility and reimbursement in Germany. This is not an acceptable condition and just one of two aspects, the other concerns are the myths around the lack of knowledge about female contraception. A lot of effort must be made in education for all stakeholders.
EF: How is Organon setting a new standard in the way healthcare is seen?
CH: What Organon has been doing since the beginning is that we've been listening to women's needs all around the globe, what are they looking for in healthcare, and what are they missing. This guided our pipeline build-up. I would say that's a differentiating factor for Organon, not just going where the biggest revenue bucket is but instead staying true to the north star and purpose, and at the same time listening to the ones who need this. Patient centricity is increasing in importance. To be successful with new drugs with new compounds, you need to prove that you bring in an additional benefit. For me, this is another aspect of holding the patients’ interest at heart. It's about bringing scientific advancements and better patient outcomes, and that's what the German system is looking into.
EF: When Organon celebrates its two-year anniversary, how will you be celebrating with your team?
CH: What I really would like to celebrate is everything that I mentioned around our purpose and how we're perceived as a company inside the industry. We are a company that's out there, is open, and is transparent. I see us getting this credit from the stakeholders and this is something we need to celebrate, and we’re not what the outside world has been expecting. Whenever there's a conference around how to advance healthcare, pharma is allowed to pay, but it's not part of the panel, but that's what we somehow shifted. That is a significant thing to celebrate.