Read the Conversation

EF: Upon your appointment, what was your designated role, and what are your current agenda priorities? 

LS: As a pharmacist and biochemist, I proudly represent Brazil at Roche, where I have served for 23 fruitful years. Throughout my tenure, I dedicated two decades to diabetes care and diagnostics, during which I did a three-year global venture in Switzerland and a fourteen-year term in Brazil. 2017 I was relocated to Argentina, where I successfully led the business diagnostics division. In March 2021, I transitioned from diagnostics to pharma, and now, after two years, I find myself back in my homeland. This return bears a sense of transformation as I and the country have evolved, presenting us with novel challenges. 

Roche's paramount objective and vision for Brazil encompass expedited and cost-effective access to innovative treatments, with an intense focus on collaboration. It is imperative to acknowledge that access and innovation transcend the existence of novel drugs or regulatory approval. Although there are reimbursements for many drugs, ensuring patient access to innovation in an agile way involves dealing with numerous socio-economic and cultural challenges. Thus, our mission in Brazil revolves around collaborative co-creation in the health system. We firmly believe that effectuating the necessary transformations and pushing for change within our healthcare landscape is a collective responsibility shared by the public and private health systems and individual stakeholders.  

EF: Can you elaborate on Roche Brazil's footprint and the country's importance for your current operations? 

LS: Roche operates through three divisions: diabetes care, diagnostics, and pharma. In Brazil, our pharmaceutical division secures a commendable global ranking, standing sixth among its counterparts. Our overarching vision at Roche revolves around advancing healthcare accessibility. When contemplating Brazil's vast population of over 200 million individuals, it becomes evident that the prevalence of numerous diseases needs our expertise and solutions. This crucial factor underscores Roche's profound commitment to this country as we strive to impact its healthcare system positively. 

Amidst the impact of the pandemic, we have gleaned invaluable insights, like the imperative of co-creation and collaborative efforts. Facing the initial vaccine scarcity, our ability to convene and collectively establish policies and testing procedures proved instrumental. Additionally, the pandemic has unveiled the vast potential of digital tools, which we continue to harness and promote. Aligning these two key facets with the context of Brazil, it becomes apparent that we must unite in co-creating solutions tailored to our country's unique challenges. We can expedite and improve care provision by identifying and overcoming obstacles in patient journeys and healthcare access. To illustrate, I can share a promising data interoperability project that we are conducting in a Brazilian municipality called Pouso Alegre, located in the state of Minas Gerais. With the support of public partners and a technology company, we mapped all the systems used to manage health data in the region and were able to interoperate the data from three of them. With this holistic view of data, we were able to identify women within the target age range for mammography screening (50 to 69 years, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Health) and conduct an active search, reintegrating them into a preventive, screening, and, if necessary, treatment journey. In just a few months of implementation, we have already impacted 400 women, and we expect that the data generated from these interactions will also help us identify insights for more effective healthcare resource management in the region. 

Considering Brazil's vast expanse and socio-economic diversity, leveraging digital tools becomes pivotal in transcending infrastructural limitations and expediting healthcare delivery. We must foster collaborations with diverse stakeholders, promoting data exchange and leveraging collective expertise. Companies and the public sector must surpass their vantage points and actively contribute to co-creating a sustainable healthcare system. This entails an approach that transcends narrow silos and embraces the broader ecosystem with each stakeholder assuming a leading role. 

EF: What is the significance or impact of clinical trials in Brazil? 

The pandemic transformed the perception of clinical trials. The global crisis shed light on their immense value and significance. In Brazil, in 2022 alone, we invested R$ 440 million in clinical trials, encompassing an impressive array of 142 diverse studies. The benefits derived from these trials are manifold. Firstly, they offer patients access to novel treatments. Clinical trials provide a lifeline, particularly for those facing diseases with limited alternatives. Secondly, these trials serve as a conduit, fostering collaboration between Brazilian scientists and their international counterparts. By facilitating knowledge exchange and training, they contribute to the advancement of both scientific and local communities. Moreover, trials generate economic impact, as the funds allocated to these studies are invested in the country, propelling scientific development and benefiting patients. At Roche, we dedicate substantial efforts to sustain and expand these initiatives, ensuring their continuity and impact. 

Brazil's strategic significance emerges from its unique demographic diversity, which has captured the attention of regulatory bodies such as the FDA. With a sizable African population and the second-highest number of Japanese residents outside of Japan, Brazil offers a compelling mix of ethnicities. The country's vastness and population size contribute to its appeal, yielding mutual benefits for multiple stakeholders. By conducting clinical trials in Brazil, healthcare institutions can enhance their services while the trials themselves gain access to a more diverse participant pool. This win-win scenario fosters greater inclusivity than limiting trials to a handful of countries with homogenous populations. As a nation, our ongoing challenge lies in forging partnerships and diligently advocating for streamlined processes, reduced barriers, and improved patient access to clinical trials. 

EF: What are the most exciting developments in your current pipeline? 

LS: Renowned for its presence in oncology, Roche continues to invest significantly in this field, conducting numerous studies and seeking novel solutions for patients. However, while oncology remains a key focus with continued investment and exploration of new options, Roche's diversification strategy seeks to uncover breakthroughs in rare diseases, targeting unmet medical needs. Roche is allocating substantial efforts to groundbreaking research in Neurosciences, for diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and multiple sclerosis (MS) and introducing innovative treatments in ophthalmology, for diseases with extremely high incidence, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular edema (DME). We are spanning diagnostics to pioneering treatment avenues within the broader neuroscience domain, including multiple sclerosis. Additionally, Roche eagerly brings forth the transformative potential of gene therapy, offering an alternative approach to disease management and instilling hope for a future where cures become possible.  

EF: What specific skills and talents do you prioritize when aligning the workforce at Roche with the country's needs and driving the company's progress? 

LS: In Brazil, diversity, equity, and inclusion hold profound significance, and access to healthcare hinges upon these core values. It is important to distinguish between these principles, as they each have distinct meanings and contributions. Diversity involves providing opportunities for individuals to join and participate. Equity seeks to create a fair balance, acknowledging and addressing diverse needs rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Inclusion focuses on giving voice to individuals and valuing their perspectives. 

In a vast nation like Brazil, where both public and private healthcare systems coexist, addressing equity becomes the crucial first step. Within our organization, fostering a deep sense of empathy and understanding is vital, as it allows us to bridge the gap between mere comprehension and genuine, empathetic connection. A poignant exchange with a black Brazilian colleague emphasized this point for me. While I could relate to her experiences as a woman, I could never truly empathize with her experiences as a black woman, as my appearance does not prompt others to see color differences when I enter a room. 

Roche Brazil is deeply committed to building a workforce that mirrors the diverse composition of our nation—recognizing that discussions surrounding healthcare, such as breast cancer or cervical cancer treatments, demand nuanced perspectives. We strive to include individuals who can empathize with and represent marginalized communities. We foster various communities within our organization, encompassing individuals of diverse backgrounds. This commitment is challenging as we confront broader social issues in the country, including educational disparities. However, as an organization, we are firmly dedicated to providing support, nurturing development, and amplifying voices. We recognize that individuals possess valuable insights and expertise that surpass our own in certain areas, and we are committed to respecting and incorporating their input. 

In this sense, our pursuit of leadership in personalized medicine also extends beyond diversity in clinical trials. To deliver comprehensive patient care experiences, we must consider not only the drug itself but the patient experience and follow-up. Tailoring our services to individuals' needs is crucial, considering factors such as age and generation, as the patient journey can differ significantly across demographics. By ensuring our staff comprehends and empathizes with individuals' situations, we can provide customized solutions and holistic patient experiences, aligning with Roche's core pillar of personalized treatment. 

While diagnostic services, such as mammography and biopsies, have significantly improved and no longer face delays, a new challenge has emerged. We observe that populations from small cities and rural areas hesitate to seek diagnosis due to fear. The current focus is reducing this fear and educating individuals about the importance of early detection for effective treatment. Understanding the perspectives and emotions of these women is crucial, as having the necessary infrastructure alone is insufficient if they do not feel comfortable seeking care. A similar situation arises with HPV screenings, where some individuals are reluctant to visit gynecologists. We can overcome a significant access barrier by offering self-administered tests that can be performed at home and sent for analysis. Diagnostics play a vital role in the life sciences, bridging the gap between our population and the diseases they face. However, many people lack access to these essential services, largely due to existing biases and limited healthcare information. 

EF: What essential elements must a healthcare-focused business have to establish a sustainable presence? 

LS: In addition to providing support for emergent issues affecting healthcare systems, Roche understands that to act as a true partner in the healthcare ecosystem, it is necessary to prioritize structural projects that help nations achieve more sustainable healthcare management, thereby enabling the delivery of the best care to patients. In this regard, in Brazil, we have identified four main pillars of action concerning public policies. We are, firstly, focused on collaborating to accelerate the entry of new technologies into the country as fast as possible. To achieve this, we need to collaborate in updating regulatory frameworks, and evolve how we measure the value of innovation in the country, among other actions that ensure our local processes keep pace with scientific advancements. Secondly, exploring innovative financial solutions, business models and financing approaches to improve the accessibility and affordability of healthcare. Thirdly, harnessing the power of data in health through digital tools to drive informed decision-making and improved outcomes. And finally, prioritizing the optimization of infrastructural capabilities to support these advancements. These four pillars (New technologies; Financial Solutions; Data in Health & Infrastructure) are critical for achieving our goal of providing faster, more accessible, and cost-effective treatments to those in need. By delving deeper into these areas over the next three years, we have the potential to catalyze significant transformative changes in the healthcare system. 

EF: What guidance would you offer to women aspiring to attain leadership roles? 

LS: I am deeply committed to my role and take great pride in my current position. Being the first woman to lead Roche in Brazil and the first Latin American in this role is a testament to the increasing space created for diverse perspectives and unique viewpoints. However, amidst these achievements, my primary focus is maintaining my authenticity and staying in sight of my true self. It may sound simple, but it is challenging as we often find ourselves conforming to predefined models based on male leadership patterns. I advise others and myself to embrace our distinct attributes and ways of thinking, for they bring invaluable contributions to the table. It requires courage to speak up, express our thoughts, and act without waiting for the "perfect" moment or complete certainty. We must be willing to experiment, learn from our mistakes, and try again. My main message is a reminder to stay true to ourselves as we navigate our professional journeys. 

June 2023