Read the Conversation
EF: What is your current agenda considering the changes there have been this year?
CT: Our overall strategies continue to be the same; we first and foremost present the value of innovation. There has never been a better moment for the world to understand the value of investment and of innovation, COVID-19 has made healthcare the center and focus. The need for systems to continue investing in health is not new, the UN and WHO have been saying for years that each country should spend a dollar per person for preparedness and having attempted that last year we have seen a cost-effective impact on the economy and we will continue working on that concept. We have all learnt that health is of the utmost importance, with health we have wellness and productivity. We also have ethics on our agenda everything must be done with the highest standards of ethics, understanding that we are part of society and that we must deliver support at a social level -a social agenda or reputation from an industry standpoint- doing what is right and not only because it looks good. With COVID our industry has had an admirable strategy and reaction, we have always had a long term vision on how to impact health with a sustainable development of goals for 2030, with specific areas of research attacking non communicable diseases and infectious diseases, although with the pandemic there have been setbacks at a world level in terms of dates -we might have to push back our 2030 deadline- as it will take us a year or two to recover from COVID. On the specifics of the crisis, we have taken various steps:
1. Lockdown: We were very quick to organize a lockdown and protect our employees by working from home using the available platforms, we adapted very easily as we had been using the system for the last two years but we assisted in getting other companies into this discipline. Virtual meetings can be challenging as there is a need for more discipline but we have adapted well to managing the agenda.
2. Strategic Industry: We have had business continuity, producing globally and selling. We understand we must help in this crisis and we do it through sustainability and delivery of our medicines for treatments for patients beyond COVID, this is a global strategy which in general has worked very well and we have worked with the authorities ensuring there are no problems at the borders, or with registrations, so medicines for cancer, diabetes, etc., continues to flow in for the patients. We support the government and the health sector; we have done a huge amount of donations and received donations globally for protective materials for the physicians and for nurses. The health sector is at the forefront of the crisis and always comes hand in hand with an economic crisis made worse by the fact that Mexico has a very large informal population that live on a day to day basis. Mexico has 4.7 million economic units and 94% is made up by small companies of 1 to 5 people that have been very badly hit after 60 days of no work. There is a need to support these companies beyond what the government can do by way of credits and loans. We are paying all our smaller businesses and suppliers in no longer than 30 days to help them in terms of cash flow in times of crises. We have found ways to deliver food to the Nutrition Hospital, bringing together two small businesses with the capacity to prepare healthy food according to regulations, giving them money to buy ingredients and prepare meals. Every evening we deliver 300 meals for the 7 pm shift for all the doctors, nurses and hospital workers, and it is a way of helping 50 families that work in these two companies as well as the hospital.
3. Opening of the Economy: once we get to the peak of the pandemic we must be ready to open in the safest possible way, yesterday we had the first meeting of a very holistic group of people who know what must be taken into account for the renewal of activities. We are collecting experiences from all our companies globally, taking into account the situation of Asia (China, Singapore and Korea) their successes for the opening of the economy, testing and tracking process. It will take at least a year to 18 months to have the new vaccines and in the meantime we have to understand this new world, find a way to work and operate, which sectors to open, how to give protection to our workers, how to test, etc., all of which will be critical as we open up the country. Our facilities are also integrated with the commerce in USA and if they start opening their business the factories in Mexico also need to startup. We have to align our operations taking measures to protect our people.
4. Communications & Ethics: Our sector is very dependent on face to face conversations with physicians and face to face interaction between physicians and patients and that will not happen overnight or very soon. Technology will initially be critical for communications as reps will no longer visit hospitals, or patients go to hospitals. We must look for the right platforms to communicate with all interested parties, doctors, patient’s reps, etc., to successfully interact while enabling a slow opening of business. We must understand the global experience and ethics involved because with new ways of working the ethics of this new reality must be considered and to this end we have brought in experts on the subject to be clear on what we can and cannot do and if necessary rewrite some of our sector´s codes.
5. Creating Alliances with other Groups: We have a prepared agenda with FUNSALUD to do testing and tracking and we plan on doing a lot of research, speak to doctors, looking to speeding up clinical research as we can’t keep taking 15 years to discover a new molecule, nor should it be so expensive. For the first time companies have got together to share their archives of information on vaccines, on Ebola, on SARS and with knowledge and experience combined we can accelerate and find new entities for clinical research. There are already 3 molecules in phase one and vaccines in preclinical. Because of the enormity of the pandemic our actions have speeded up. In the last three months this industry has put together more than 800 clinical research studies globally and aligned to find a gain for the world -this is not a competition but about finding a solution for the entire global population. Our manufacturing facilities are upgrading because we must be ready for whoever gets the vaccine; to this end J&J are upgrading their facilities. It is a business with billions of dollars at risk at the moment and the results must be equally distributed among the population. The first to receive the vaccine must be the medical community, then the vulnerable population by age and then the rest with equal opportunities for all. The WHO will have to offer specific guidelines to ensure equal opportunities and all this will open new lines of dialogue for the future. We have the groups in place, holistic teams that are working on phase 3 with experts from FUNSALUD who have a lot of experience in technology, experts from the internet association which supplies all the information to OECD, a person from ethics and compliance from CITIPHARMA and people from medical devices for testing who have all come together for the betterment of the sector.
6. Longevity: today I participated in a longevity tele-conference which took place in London, a few years from now the largest group of people will be over 60 years old -a chronic population- and the conference followed this group with Artificial Intelligence as the market for services is huge. At the moment we are using all our human resources in the health sector with many getting sick and some dying from the COVID impact, patients are suffering depression and anxiety and research on how all this will impact the health sector and the society must be done, the doctors and health carers will need help after this is over. All the hospitals are 80% COVID attention so other treatments are being relegated; cancer treatments are being delayed two months so we must find ways of supplying those medicines. Homecare will start growing, we will deliver to the homes for patients to self-administrate medication and nurses will be in demand. There are thousands of people losing jobs so we could create new ones, train nurses to care for the patients at home. There is a lot to do and it must be done soon.
EF: The pandemic is stalling economy and development but it is also acting as an accelerant, the stress of the pandemic is showing up the healthcare system and other serious issues impacting today and creating all these different collaborations and focused interests in health which wouldn’t have happened but for the pandemic.
CT: You are absolutely right, there is good out of the pandemic, less emissions and cleaner air and after this crisis things have to accelerate. In our very recent past it felt impossible not to have face to face meetings, whereas now with no options virtual meetings achieve all they need to. Doctors are very conservative and prefer the face to face system but that will not happen anytime soon, so even they will have to adapt to the new way at least for the next year and a half and then like it or not some things will be changed forever once we get used to a different way of doing things. Technology was already critical but now it has become even more so and even though it will be difficult and complex we will have to change and adapt, learn and become more flexible at a corporate level, think in a broader more holistic way. Our biggest mistake was to think it wouldn’t happen to us but what is clear is that there will be acceleration due to COVID and we must be at the front of the line because our options are to get disrupted or be the disruptor.
EF: What lasting transformational effects do you think are likely to happen beyond Zoom meetings?
CT: With virtual communication, as opposed to face to face meetings one goes straight to the point, there is no time wasted, it is more disciplined, faster and a more efficient work routine, which doesn’t mean losing creativity. We will have to have a different segmentation of people’s health; some people will be working out while others will have to work from home. There will be a trial and error period till we find the best solution, using new tools to get there. We don’t have a public policy system where we can approve a new regulation if we are not all together present physically and this is where I am sure there will be a transformation. Some jobs will become obsolete but at the same time new jobs will be created in the health sector, for example people will be needed to track hundreds of thousands of people. We will have to improve our understanding of all the technological tools to replace the old way of doing things. And we will have to have cross sector learnings maybe we can learn from the airline industry or from the hotel sector that will be really affected by the lack of travellers. We have to be more integrated and create more data, the data we have in Mexico is very fragmented and we need local and global data as it is critical to artificial intelligence and innovation. We changed our status last year to start dealing with companies that work on innovation and health, and we have since approved companies like MEDTRONIC, JOHNSON MEDICAL, SIEMENS and FISHER who are in testing, and we are creating a separate group to become a bridge to the future because we need to prepare and build for what is coming. Last year we put mental health at the top of the agenda and there was opposition as some companies didn’t consider it as top priority but we did it so nevertheless because it is important to anticipate. As part of the bridge we are building of a inter industry collaboration with perspectives from all the players and because we are long term thinkers we are bringing new people to the executive board from other sectors to freshen up our ideas so as not to have the same people thinking the same things.
EF: Now that health is in the spotlight is there anything you would like to shine light on concerning the pharmaceutical industry or healthcare industry in general?
CT: We must define what success in healthcare means as there are different standpoints and how the results of success is measured. In my opinion politics must be taken out of the health equation, health on its own is a global driver and without it we have nothing. We have to accelerate value based healthcare by focusing more on prevention, on holistic medicines, looking at products in a more integrated way for the better care of the patients through home care. Instead of building more hospitals we should plan for taking people out of them as they are very expensive to upkeep. We need a plan of benefits or incentives for people to work on their own prevention. Age is also a factor, 3.2 million people a year die from tuberculosis and malaria and we need a combined global effort to eliminate them as with a sustained global effort in that department we could really make a change. With two or three basic actions at government level, 30% of the Mexican population could have clean water and with that remedied we could start with simple things like hand washing. We have to come up with simple innovative solutions for the general improvement of Mexico and globally as it is not a problem unique to Mexico. Every year seven million people die from climate change issues so we should reset the global focus and priorities, integrate and attack in a consistent way at a cost all countries could afford.
EF: That would be unprecedented but maybe exactly what is needed for a better future. Do you have any final message that you would like to share with our readers?
CT: This is an unprecedented moment in time where the industry is coming together to accelerate information and results, this is a clear message and one we all agree on! In only three months GILEAD already has a molecule and is promising results so probably a month from now we will have some medications that could be effective treatments in record time. We have better platforms for vaccines now and for the future, we have a better understanding globally of research and what it can do. AMIIF has always contributed to supporting the health system, the small businesses maintaining their operations the best we can. We are keeping our people and the manufacturing operation safe during this crisis and we are working on a plan for the day we start opening up. As part of the system and the society we aim to be a reference of global experience. I have to add that all the medicines used for clinical research globally have all been donated and we have shown commitment globally with funds for AIDS. Hopefully we can be seen as part of the solution and as a strong partner to governments and health systems globally in creating a more equal environment.