Read the Conversation

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines, what will 2022 be the year of?

ML: I see 2022 as the year of innovation and investing in artificial intelligence for the future.  

EF: Is this level of innovation and investment in AI something that will happen in South Africa?

ML: We can already see investment in innovation and artificial intelligence in the South African landscape; Siemens Healthineers has artificial intelligence, and However Guerbet is strongly positioned in diagnostic imaging in South Africa. We believe in delivering integrated solutions, with contrast media, injectors, consumables, software, and services. Advanced data analytics improves the workflow in radiology and reduces the reporting, compliance of processes and provides meaningful insights. We have a common ecosystem of related products called "the unique system". The analytic part of the unique system, the software solutions, is new, and we want to introduce it into South Africa this year to be available to our customer base. There will be a lot of investment going forward in South Africa.  There are some educational programs in Guerbet as a global company. Some Asian countries and France have provided knowledge transfer to South Africa for sharing best clinical practices and creating network cultivation within the healthcare community.

EF: How can we ensure physicians are prepared to adopt new digital technologies, considering they are the diagnosis decision-makers?  

ML: This issue often arises when physicians feel that artificial intelligence will replace them, but artificial intelligence solutions aim to improve radiologists' diagnoses; making diagnoses faster and better. Guerbet has a partnership that offers software solutions, extracting meaningful clinical information from scans of patients with multiple sclerosis, dementia, or brain injury to provide a better diagnosis. We also partner with IBM Watson to diagnose and monitor liver or prostate cancer patients. Here, the solution includes diagnostic tools that use AI to automate the detection, staging, monitoring, and eventually therapeutic solutions protections for patients with primary or secondary liver cancer. The doctors will not be replaced; their professional expertise is important to detect and identify lesions, diagnose them faster and more efficiently and make more informed diagnoses of conditions.  

EF: With partnerships and collaborations an integral part of Guerbet; how does the company determine partnerships, and what example does Guerbet set?

ML: As innovators, we spend about 10% of our revenue on R&D; we employ an additional 200 employees in different centres worldwide dedicated to innovation. We have the drive and ambition to offer our radiology professionals and patients safe and innovative solutions in drugs and medical devices to meet their needs. A safe patient journey is at the heart of all we do. As a company, we explore new techniques to deliver state-of-the-art technology to our customers with minimal invasive guided procedures, looking to digital and AI solutions to improve operational efficiency. We look for a shared vision, similar strategies, and the same clinical outcomes in our partners.  

EF: With a large range of products in diagnostics, scans and women's health, how do you choose your portfolio performance for South Africa?  

ML: Our portfolio performance focuses on diagnostic imaging; this year, we are slowly moving to interventional imaging and digital solutions that form part of the diagnostic imaging portfolio. We are doing an impact study to see if the environment is ready to accept these technologies. As physicians are trained and become familiar with the products, we can spread them to the rest of the world.  

EF: With the focus on diagnostic imaging on a wide scale, could you elaborate on the strategic importance of South Africa to the global company?  

ML: The strategic importance of South Africa for the company and, more importantly, for the African continent; is that we serve as a hub in Africa, supplying diagnostic imaging solutions both to neighbouring countries and other African countries. There is a lot of room for development in Africa. There is an opportunity to expand the Guerbet business and South Africa plays a crucial role in growing and providing innovative solutions to the continent.  

EF: Considering the wide macro-level technology, how do you see the future of South Africa's healthcare system? Do you see it improving access?

ML: New medical technology is coming to South Africa, but adding new MRIs or CT scans to hospitals is not always a possibility. Imaging diagnostics can answer many challenges, and Guerbet is uniquely positioned with injecting solutions, advanced informatics, and algorithms. With the new technology we bring in, we enhance the workflow procedure in a hospital, improving efficiency for doctors doing procedures and the turnaround time in diagnosis. The demand for imaging procedures is likely to drastically increase over the next decade because of the demographics and chronic disease survival time, and the extensive use of these modalities and checkups.

EF: Unlike most companies reducing their office space, you are moving into larger offices. What working models are you choosing to use?  

ML: We have room for expansion in South Africa; we have grown from 10 to 15 employees over the last eighteen months, with one more position in June. We are moving to Waterfall, the business hub for pharmaceutical companies in South Africa, for more visibility, being able to provide in-house training and to create brand awareness. We have a home office policy, but my employees want to work from the office, and the majority of the time, they come into the office. I prefer employees to come to the office; the connection enhances collaboration and makes for a faster turnaround time in projects. I find people have better contribution and emotional stability when interacting with colleagues.  

EF: 90% of multinational pharmaceutical companies use South Africa as their regional headquarters. What is South Africa's role as a healthcare hub?

ML: South Africa is more advanced than other African countries, making it easier to bring in new products, especially pharmaceutical products. There are collaborative registrations which means we can get registrations in a few other African countries at the same time. We import a product to South Africa, and distribute it to other countries in the continent and use the South African labelling on the products. Those markets, in general, are smaller than the South African market, so it is a way to leverage and supply medicine to them. It would be challenging to specifically label products for each country when the volumes are small. The countries can leverage the South African resources to educate their healthcare professionals. We can provide additional resources, medical education, and clinical studies also the reporting of adverse events that happen in South Africa. South Africa is a good example of collaboration between countries to improve the supply of medicine and medical technology in Africa.

EF: Could you share your perspective on universal healthcare coverage in South Africa?  

ML: NHI and its demand in the future is a very hot topic in South Africa. I believe universal healthcare is important and access to proper healthcare for everyone, this is the main pillar that drives the NHI initiative. Its creation will impact South Africa in years to come. The big question is how to create sustainable universal health coverage. After Covid and the recent challenges, we must focus on creating a sustainable healthcare system that provides value-based healthcare and will empower our healthcare professionals who give access to the South African population. The project's turnaround time, the reimbursement models, and how the private and public sectors collaborate are big questions to be considered in a sustainable implementation of NHI supported by economic growth.

EF: How do you see the integral relationship between the public & private sectors going into the future?

ML: I believe there should be a strong relationship between private and public partnerships going into the future; both have different strengths and capabilities that can be leveraged to reach success The private sector and the pharma industry have players and resources that the government can utilize to find models that can contribute to good collaboration and the supply of medicine and the sustainability of NHI.  

EF: What would be your advice to women interested in taking up leadership roles within the industry?

ML: Self-belief and contribution are essential for male and female employees interested in leadership roles. Being a woman makes us no less compatible in our contributions to the business. You must believe in yourself and your strengths and do the best you can. Preparation is the key to success.

EF: In the changing scenario, what is the new skill set you look for when hiring talent?  

ML: A collaborative mindset is imperative for future employees. The talent should be agile, resilient, and have excellent synergy with the team for the company's success. I want my employees to believe in our products and be passionate about what they do. It is a good foundation to create a relationship and build trust, which builds a business.  

EF: How do you maintain the engagement and workplace culture?  

ML: Guerbet is committed to respecting the quality of our products and our employees. We pride ourselves in knowing we have excellent outcomes for our customer base. Through COVID-19 and the pandemic, we created a purpose: "At Guerbet, we build lasting relationships enabling people to live better," and it has been the driving force of our actions and the source of our inspiration. All the new initiatives and innovation projects and the shared energy support our company's growth and sustainability. We completely understand and can prove the quality and efficiency of our products and the added value it gives the patients' lives by improving their quality of life.

EF: What achievement would you like to celebrate by the end of 2022?

ML: I would like to invest more proactively in interventional imaging in South Africa because it is the new growth driver of our transformation model. Guerbet has existed for nearly 100 years, we have a long history of innovation, and we are subject to some risks at a global level in terms of generics and price pressures that could impact the global company. We need to diversify our business and invest in new fields. I am working hard to proactively invest in interventional imaging to contribute successfully. Secondly, get a reference site for digital to begin bringing in digital solutions to South Africa, at least for Contrast & Care to have a more balanced spread of products in the country, something I would happily celebrate. Moving forward and growing the business has been a wonderful experience. I am proud of creating a sustainable environment for our employees and that I can secure their livelihoods going forward. We have many reasons to be proud of what we have accomplished. We are contributing to building the future of medical imaging; something Guerbet has done for the last nearly 100 years. I hope the journey will continue, becoming a valued and trusted partner for the healthcare environment.

May 2022
South Africa