Read the Conversation
EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines; what do you think 2022 will be?
FP: It will be the year of recovering normality. Covid-19 delayed diagnostics and treatment initiations because the focus was on Covid. 2022 should be the year of regaining normalcy for patients who were impacted by their underlying diseases and Covid. This year, there should be normalization in the patient flow and recovery in treatment and diagnostics. The theme for the various aspects of our life should be the theme for the healthcare sector.
We have learned how telemedicine can facilitate interactions with patients and how we can take medicine to the patient's home to reduce hospital visits, creating benefits for everyone. Back to normal will also mean going back to a new world. The new future will be a hybrid of pre-COVID and the things we learned during the pandemic to give patients better assistance. It remains critical to optimize resources and improve the patient experience.
EF: From a managerial perspective, what would be your advice on managing through a pandemic?
FP: We have seen different phases throughout the pandemic. The first phase in 2020 was about getting employees ready for a new reality that required a change management process. At Janssen, we were technologically equipped to get through the pandemic, but we had to prepare our staff for the pandemic mentally. The second phase was managing the uncertainty. There were so many questions about the future. The last phase is returning to the workplace and managing the changing working environment.
A positive secondary effect is seeing managers and leaders become close with their employees. Future leaders should be more understanding of the work-life balance of their teams. Virtual communication has helped us understand how to help our employees achieve a work-life balance, and it has allowed us to be more flexible. Johnson & Johnson created more flexible work policies to enable employees to have flexible schedules and working times. We have adopted the hybrid model, a key component in working. Collaboration and returning to the office will be critical components moving forward. Managers need to personalize each employee's work experience. As I discovered in the last two years, no employee’s situation is the same as another one.
EF: Do you think collaborations are here to stay, and how will they impact the healthcare system's future in South Africa?
FP: "We are stronger together" is a well-known expression in South Africa. This saying also goes for collaborations; we are stronger together than we are alone. When we face the complexities of this world like the pandemic, no institution, organization, or country can overcome it alone. We have to fight against many non-communicable diseases like cancer and HIV. I hope we will continue seeing collaborations like those formed during the pandemic. The spirit of cooperation is more effective and efficient, and I hope it stays. It is more rewarding to work together on set objectives.
There is still work to be done on the vaccination rate in South Africa and the rest of the continent, but we will keep on playing our part. We have developed partnerships with multiple companies across three continents to help manufacture our COVID-19 vaccine, and we continue to seek out new partnerships. We have committed to creating an effective, affordable vaccine, and we delivered that promise. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that our vaccine provides protection when administered as a single dose for an efficient response to the pandemic and as a booster dose at least two months after primary vaccination to protect against symptomatic COVID-19.
The vaccine is affordable as it has been distributed on a non-for-profit basis globally. COVID-19 has shown us that individual health requires collective action with industry driving progress so that we can quickly and efficiently develop transformative treatments for patients. The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines was possible because of years of investment and expertise in advancing innovation by industry. In South Africa, we would like to partner with medical schemes and the health department to find the best treatments for all patients. All patients deserve to have the best treatments from collaborative approaches. I would like to see the same collaborative base to eradicate all diseases in the future.
EF: What role does Janssen have in South Africa regarding access?
FP: The vaccine is an example of our role in ensuring access. Johnson & Johnson and Janssen were built for times like these. For more than 20 years, Johnson & Johnson has invested billions of dollars in antivirals and vaccine capabilities. For the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, our vaccine leverages the AdVac® vaccine platform, a unique and proprietary technology that was also used to develop and manufacture Janssen’s European Commission-approved Ebola vaccine regimen and construct its investigational Zika, RSV, and HIV vaccines. Access to treatment for patients irrespective of their disease is more than COVID-19 or a potential outbreak at any given moment. Access affects patients all over the world. There are three A’s in access: accessibility, affordability, and adequate use.
Being accessible means being approved by regulatory institutions on time, and South Africa must work on this. Discussions regarding making medicines more affordable with medical schemes and the health department must occur. Medicines only deliver value when they reach patients who need them. We know it can be frustrating for patients to wait even a day for a new medicine when their health or life may be in jeopardy. That is why we work with government authorities, local payers and other decision-makers to accelerate the availability, as well as coverage and reimbursement, to provide access to our medicines as quickly as possible. We also engage in local pricing negotiations and make use of novel pricing models and agreements that often enable patient access.
The first two A’s of access were accessibility and affordability. The third A is adequate to use. Once the product is available in the country, it is about working together and educating the system on adequately managing the product. The COVID-19 vaccine is an example of what can happen if more medicines are accessible. If we did not do the groundwork that we did to ensure accessibility in the country, it would have never been affordable. We are proud of the work of our many industry partners and the collaborations we have developed to produce our COVID-19 vaccine. I hope to see collaborations like those we saw during the pandemic continue to increase, to enable the treatment of other conditions.
As executives in healthcare, we should have better alignment and better coordination in making the patient the centre of all our decisions. Patient-centricity is a critical component. If we want to transform for the better in South Africa, we need to have a shared issue as stakeholders, and that issue is the patient. The patient should be incorporated in the decision-making process, from signing a clinical trial to the triple-A access. Are the patients well represented and informed, and are they part of the decision-making process? Executives from the government and the public and private healthcare sectors are responsible for putting the patient at the centre of what they do.
EF: How do you adjust your portfolio to the healthcare needs in South Africa?
FP: As a global leader in healthcare, we focus our efforts and expertise on areas where we can make the biggest impact. No entity or organization can diversify its portfolio to encompass all the diseases that are out there alone. In our case, these areas are oncology, immunology, neuroscience, infectious diseases and vaccines, and pulmonary hypertension. The prevalence of some diseases is not the same in all parts of the world, but no country is free from diseases. We are committed to bringing innovation and transformation to the different markets and we have the privilege of having a strong public health vocation and vision.
We have been working intensively on treatments relevant to South Africa and Africa. One is multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. With bedaquiline, we have treated thousands of TB patients resistant to other medicines. The other is HIV with antiretrovirals. It combines the disease strongholds we operate in, with the public health component. We will continue bringing innovation to the market in long-acting, formulations of ARVs, and a more convenient and effective administration for the patients.
EF: What is the strategic role of South Africa in developing healthcare and accelerating access in the region?
FP: South Africa is a hub for many multinational companies. The investments of these companies have caused significant changes, and more will come in the future. South Africa is becoming an important hub for research, R&D, and manufacturing.
The quality of research and investigative centres in South Africa is quite high. Historically we have had infectious disease clinical trials running in South Africa. Because of the investigative quality, we are looking to invest and have clinical trials for other areas like inflammatory diseases, oncology, and haematology.
EF: Do you have an educational program that educates physicians and society to accelerate the adaptability of digitalization in South Africa?
FP: The impact of digital transformation can be seen across the value chain. AI is at the forefront of accelerating drug discovery and drug development. Fragile sequencing determines what disease a person might be a candidate for, using AI. Management and distribution of the products will improve with AI.
The possibility of using new technology and digital interaction to engage with peers globally is a given advantage. If someone plans an educational session on a certain disease and they want the best keynote speakers globally, it can be organized in a short period. Key speakers and healthcare professionals can easily be contacted through digital platforms. Digitalization is accelerating collaboration in the academic and clinical research areas. The optimization of educational programs is a reality. I mostly see the hybrid model used in most programs. The drivers of transformation will be the patients and not healthcare professionals. As an industry, we are here to help the patients drive the transformation.
EF: What achievement are you going to celebrate this year?
FP: Every day that a saved life or a cancer patient starts their treatment, I celebrate. I am privileged to be in a company that allows me to celebrate such things every day. In 2022 I want to celebrate better lives for patients. My team here in South Africa works tirelessly to ensure the availability of our products to patients and the appropriate usage of our products, which is why I can celebrate every day.