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EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines. What do you think 2022 will be remembered for? 

DS: Several fundamental changes occurred in 2022 such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising inflation as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All of these factors combined have had a severely negative impact on supply chains which is why I believe that 2022 will be remembered as the year in which we rediscovered the importance of supply-chain resilience.  

The current geopolitical climate has not only exposed the fragility of the global supply ecosystem – which for pharmaceuticals is extremely complex – it has triggered the need to reassess how and where we produce and trade. We now have the opportunity to build genuine resilient supply chains that foster long-term value-creation by striking a balance between growth, sustainability and consumer demands.  

On a positive note, I do believe there is increased recognition of the need for constant collaboration and dialogue between all relevant stakeholders globally and locally to strive through these tough times together. At Bayer, our company purpose is “Science for a Better Life”, which shines a light on topics that drive us and which consequently can help patients and consumers to lead a better life. With this in mind, we also aim to further build up resilient supply chains through innovative solutions to ensure even better patient care.    

EF: What mission did you set for yourself, and what lessons are you excited to bring over from Japan to Germany? 

DS: When I came back to my Bayer Germany roots, it wasn’t so much about setting a mission for myself; it was more about crystallizing a mission for our employees. Together with my Management Team, we want to better understand our contribution towards Bayer’s highly-inspiring vision '"Health for All, Hunger for None".  

At Bayer, we are extremely proud of our 160-year-old heritage and also of our almost 100,000 worldwide employees who help to drive our vision. Here in Germany, we strive to ensure that the right therapies and services reach the right patients at the right time by being patient-focused in all processes and solutions. We drive innovation in fields from medical research and governance to marketing, sales and customer interaction.   

EF: What message can showcase the importance of innovation?  

DS: If I may, I would like to highlight two key messages. The first is that there is no innovation without collaboration and the second message is the importance of investing in innovation today to help patients tomorrow. Let me start with the importance of collaboration. Although innovation is deeply engrained within Bayer’s DNA – and we are extremely proud of our successful legacy in researching and developing therapies that address high unmet medical needs – we are also aware that no single organisation can achieve Bayer's vision of "Health for All, Hunger for None". For this reason, a core part of our Bayer strategy is to complement our in-house expertise with external partners focused on technology and expertise that can accelerate and expand our innovation capabilities.  

In recent years, Bayer has invested more than seven billion USD in biotech acquisitions and managed 60 strategic and ongoing alliances.  

Between 2019 and 2021, for example, Bayer acquired companies including BlueRock Therapeutics, Asklepios Biopharmaceutical (AskBio), and Vividion Therapeutics. These companies share our vision to leverage new technologies and develop urgently needed therapies for patients by embracing breakthrough innovation. Vividion, for example, boasts a breakthrough chemoproteomics platform that enables Bayer to expand its own drug discovery capabilities and unlock traditionally undruggable targets of the human proteome. BlueRock meanwhile is a pioneer in stem cell engineered cell therapy, which is advancing its pipeline of therapies for treating patients with neurological, immunological, cardiovascular and ophthalmic diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease.   

This brings me to my second innovation message which is the need to focus on the future today to help patients tomorrow. At Bayer Vital, we recently created a new hashtag #ForTheNextGeneration. Looking at the bigger picture in Germany, this country is a perfect base to further advance innovation for the next generation of therapies, particularly when you consider its ecosystem and close links between research, development, hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry.  

In fact, Germany has the potential to lead the global bio revolution. To do this, however, we would need the right innovation-friendly environment which understands the need to invest today for tomorrow’s patients from a political, regulatory and funding perspective. This unfortunately is currently not the case in Germany.  

Take for example studies into cell therapies against cancer. According to a 2019 Report by the Expert Commission for Research and Innovation (EFI), China led with 228 studies into cell therapy against cancer, followed by the U.S. with 203 studies. In Germany meanwhile only 14 studies took place. One reason for this is that the current research landscape is fragmented and characterized by a multitude of local cluster initiatives.  

At Bayer, we recognize this and are therefore collaborating with the biggest hospital in Germany, the Charité Berlin, and the state of Berlin to build a cell and gene translation centre in the heart of Berlin. The goal here is to create an ecosystem that accelerates cell and gene therapy's translation, development and commercialization in Germany and Europe.  

In essence, innovation and collaboration are both critical to helping overcome some of the biggest challenges of our time. This is why Bayer invests continuously in research and development – with over 5 billion euros each year. This sum also reflects our confidence that we can truly make a difference today and tomorrow.  

EF: How is Bayer driving digitalization, AI, and technology to promote doctor education awareness? 

DS: Digital technologies, including AI, play a key role in education and innovation at Bayer. We use it, for example, in research and development, supply chain, forecasting, marketing and sales. In marketing, the healthcare professionals we speak to all have different information needs, and they all fall into various sub-segments. Digitalization helps us better understand and satisfy their information needs We accomplish this by optimizing our communication channels and messages to better resonate with doctors and their requirements. All the information we package is based on facts from different clinical trials that are tailored according to the professional’s needs – and of course, provide a balanced view of the efficacy and safety of all our products. As within most industries, the pandemic positively catalyzed how we digitally interact with stakeholders, including doctors. Virtual meetings are now a common tool to reach out to doctors and healthcare professionals. Two years ago, our pharma representatives used to would mainly visit physicians in person. Now we have adopted the hybrid model because some doctors prefer to meet us in person, and others virtually. Another specific area in which we are pioneers in the healthcare industry is the use of new blockchain tools to further foster education and innovation. For example, we are one of the first pharma organizations to introduce Proof-of-Attendance-Protocols, POAPs, and digital certificates that (as the name suggests), prove attendance at meetings or speciality training.   

EF: Can you elaborate on how Bayer uses AI and machine learning towards research and development and how you see it as a disruptive tool for the industry? 

DS: At Bayer, we are leveraging the power of digitalization and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in many ways, including enhancing R&D efficiency. Together with our partners, we are using AI, computer modelling and simulation to catalyze in-house drug discovery. Through our collaboration with Schroedinger, for example, we are using machine learning to design many new molecules, predict their properties and discover promising new drug candidates.  

AI is also used in other parts of our business, for example within radiology. Many radiologists turn to Bayer as a partner of choice providing holistic solutions for their specific needs. One challenge, for example, is the increased workload of radiologists – the ever-increasing demand for medical imaging often leads to time pressure and stress, which can contribute to diagnostic errors. With such trends in mind, Bayer recently expanded its radiology portfolio to launch a new platform that provides radiologists with access to digital applications, including AI programs for medical imaging that can help increase efficiency, and efficacy and reduce workload for radiologists.  

Bayer believes that digitalization of the healthcare system, the application of digital technologies and access to health data are key to boosting research and development into innovative treatments, medical devices and diagnostics.   

Within clinical development, there is also an uptake in virtually decentralized clinical trials in which software and sensors are used to monitor patients virtually. Within Bayer, we have an entire team dedicated to researching and looking through different digital platforms for information and solutions.  

The biggest challenge we face currently is the digitalization framework and data regulation. Europe is a leader in data privacy, and while high data protection standards are necessary, we should avoid that over-protection of data hinders access to research and innovation. There needs to be a happy medium, such as a safe space for the secondary use of data, where researchers can generate the power of health data whilst protecting it. An example of where data could help us is the AI algorithm we are developing for patients whose cancer is likely to be due to a specific genetic variation. These patients can receive targeted drugs specifically designed to treat their type of cancer, creating better health outcomes for them and increased benefits for social security systems.  

The pharmaceutical industry is such a fascinating industry with so much room and potential for growth and development to address patient needs. There is so much insight to be captured yet.  

EF: How does Bayer attract the best talent, and how do you keep your employees engaged? 

DS: Firstly, working in life sciences is fascinating. Many bright minds are inspired by our vision of "Health for All, Hunger for None" and they also are attracted by our Bayer slogan Science for Better. We were just talking about data science – and on my team, for example, I have an astrophysicist who is an absolute wiz in forecasting models, AI and machine learning. Researchers join us because they are curious and want to specialize and discover the one thing that would make a difference in people’s lives. Our data scientists truly desire to use data to create new insights for the industry. We have medical doctors and pharmacists who are intrinsically driven to help improve the lives of patients. Marketers, salespeople and other talents come to Bayer because they want to channel their creative and communications skills into purpose-driven work. 

I personally was captivated by the pharmaceutical industry because we truly make a difference. What is more rewarding than working in an industry that positively changes someone’s life or that of your loved ones? I believe this is the key driver that leads many people to join the industry. 

We have spoken about talent attraction, yet another critical topic is engagement and retention. On this front, Bayer now boasts a new function called Integrated Talent Experience, the goal of which is to be recognized as the best life science company that develops and accelerates the impact of talents. We are doing this by creating a fertile base to develop meaningful and brilliant future leaders. One example is our move towards helping our employees to “lead with a coaching mindset”. It is crucial that leaders engage with their people and allow them the freedom to operate and harness their creativity and potential.   

In Germany specifically, Bayer has launched a new “Gesamtbetriebsvereinbarung” which – under the motto Future Strategy for Germany – aims to secure sustainable employment growth in Germany from 2025 onwards. With this program, we are also leveraging our network of external scientific and governmental partners, building up an e-commerce hub, strengthening internal re-skilling and attracting external talents for digital and R&D roles in Germany.  

And of course, several other factors are critical when it comes to retaining talent, such as Inclusion & Diversity, for example. With our recently launched 2030 I&D commitments, we focus on goals such as gender parity throughout management, striving for an adequate representation of nationalities, sexual orientations, generations and disabilities within our workforce. I personally am also a sponsor within Bayer Vital of GROW, a Bayer Resource Group which is focused on Women’s Leadership. I truly believe that the more diverse the team, the more you can look at a project or problem from different perspectives and create out-of-the-box solutions.  

EF: What key factors should companies pay attention to become sustainable? 

DS: When I joined Bayer in 2009, I was the Head of Sustainability Strategy. Bayer began working and strategizing on sustainability in the 1970s. We committed ourselves to tackle climate change decades ago when we still had bigger chemical plants. As we work towards our vision of "Health for All, Hunger for None", having sound KPIs is a key success factor. In this sense, we are resolutely committed to our highly-ambitious sustainability goals that are dovetailed with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These include a science-based target to decarbonize and a net zero target, including our supply chain, by 2050. By 2030, our goal is to meet the needs of 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries for modern contraception each year. And by 2030, we also aim to support 100 million people in economically or medically underserved communities each year with self-care solutions. 

Bayer is also being recognized for our progress in driving these goals. For example, in the 2021 benchmark report CA100+ investor initiative, Bayer scored best among 166 companies evaluated. And the ESG rating agency ISS ESG praised Bayer as a “Climate Outperformer.” 

Bayer is additionally recognized for leadership in corporate transparency and performance on climate change by the global environmental non-profit Climate Disclosure Project, recently securing a place on its annual ‘A List’. 

Despite our progress, we recognize that this is a journey which we are committed to continuing together with our worldwide partners.   

EF: What do you want to celebrate with your team in 2023 as you celebrate 160 years? 

DS: In 2023, I hope various stakeholders will continue to highly appreciate the purpose-driven work of the pharmaceutical industry. We want our work to be recognized and appreciated as a strategic investment that generates new therapy options for patients. We are also generating new jobs, paying taxes, and making a significant contribution towards the healthcare industry in Germany being at the helm of innovative countries worldwide. I do believe the success of our industry is dependent on our creativity and our capacity to keep innovating as we work for the next generation of health.  

Within Bayer Vital, I want to celebrate 160 years strong with the hashtag #ForTheNextGeneration. Our key role at Bayer is to continually invest in the further development of our products and services – and ultimately leverage the full potential of science and technology – so that patients and people all over the world can lead better lives today and tomorrow.   

The upcoming years are exciting for the industry because there is a fundamental change in how we approach the development of new therapeutic options.   

With all these key treatments and exciting developments, we must prepare the market innovatively and partner with local stakeholders to not only shape the future of healthcare but to also create increasing acceptance of pioneering pathways that move us from treating to potentially curing disease.  

February 2023