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EF: Since you were appointed last November, a lot has happened. Have your priorities changed or adapted over these transition months?
CG: Our top priority in Colombia is to ensure patient access to innovative solutions in key therapeutic areas such as Oncology, Vaccines, and HIV. Thus, our priorities have not changed. As the pandemic arose, we adapted to keep our people safe first, to ensure uninterrupted medicines and vaccines supply, and to continue our clinical trials in the country.
EF: In practical terms, what have been the lessons learned from the pandemic?
CG: We have learned that working remotely is completely possible. As an organization during these challenging times, we had the capacity to adapt our way to communicate with all stakeholders. Even though it is harder to build a relationship remotely since it takes longer to build up confidence, we have had very positive interactions with key stakeholders in order to continue achieving our priority in Colombia, which is ensuring patient access to our innovative solutions.
EF: What would be your advice on managing chronic diseases in a communicable disease scenario?
CG: Patients with chronic diseases, especially the ones with diseases associated with higher mortality risk for COVID, should keep up with their health even more. Now, the main challenge is to recover lost time for new diagnosis as most of these diseases are silent and patients have stopped going to the doctors or doing lab exams out of concern of getting infected by COVID. Fortunately, the health care system has learned that when face to face visits are not an option, people can use telemedicine.
EF: Is digital transformation changing the way physicians interact with patients and is the adoption of digital solutions a challenge for physicians?
CG: Over this pandemic, the number of telemedicine consultations exponentially grew. In terms of physicians, most are well adapted and have been able to interact during the pandemic proving it does work. In our case, we started with digital transformation two years ago and when the pandemic arose, we were better suited to face the new way of doing things and to have a better understanding of the ecosystem for each one of our stakeholders. Even if we have physicians who are not totally at home with digital, we could find channels to help them communicate comfortably.
EF: 25% of all the clinical trials held in Colombia are done by MSD. Could you elaborate on your footprint?
CG: MSD is the leader in clinical trials in Colombia. Our company has been in Colombia for more than 70 years and we account for 40 years of experience in clinical research in the country. Currently, we have around 80 clinical trials ongoing in Colombia, most of them are oncology- related. This has helped us have a big footprint to the extent that now we have about 600 employees working in clinical research out of a total of 900 employees, including Human Health and Animal Health.
EF: What is your personal definition of access?
CG: Simply put, it is when patients can get their medicines or vaccines. As our founder George Merck stated, “we cannot rest until we find the way with our help, to bring our best achievements to everyone”. In the case of Colombia, even though access to medications covers an important part of population, we must keep working hard to open more room for innovative solutions.
EF: Pharma can sometimes be less attractive to young talent than the big tech companies, so how do you attract, retain, and build on your talent base?
CG: We have been chosen by EFY -Employers for Youth- as one of the top ten companies for young professionals in Colombia to work in. Why? Our young colleagues identify that MSD is a company that has a strong sense of purpose, bringing them a place where they can innovate, be heard, experiment and develop their careers. In addition to that, our company supports employee groups that promote all forms of diversity and inclusion. Therefore, we strongly believe in attracting young talent, looking for creative ways for saving people’s lives in Colombia while ensuring access to innovation, which is our higher purpose.
EF: Clinical trials are the backbone of access and innovation, without them nothing can move forward. How has MSD Colombia managed to become a hub and so focused on clinical trials at a global level?
CG: As I already mentioned, MSD Colombia is the leader in clinical trials in the country. We comply with the highest quality protocol standards and most rigorous processes in clinical research, supported by independent clinical research centers throughout the country. We truly believe that clinical research brings great benefit to patients by providing them access to innovative alternatives for highly prevalent diseases, having a positive impact on economy by means of fostering employment, especially for the clinical trials data collection and its accurate processing.
EF: What would you like 2020 to be remembered for some 5 or 10 years down the road?
CG: I would like it to be remembered as a year where health united us all. The year we worked together to manage and control the pandemic ensuring the safety of the world population.