Read the Conversation

EF: You were recently appointed, what was the mission you were given. 

OL: To understand my mission, it is important to understand I am the Mexico Country Lead, and as such, I am in charge of the external engagement with other parties, I’m responsible for the Neurology Business Unit, and the Access component for the company.

UCB focuses on cross-collaboration among the functions, which means that employees need to work as teams, and have a full perspective around the business. The first assignment that I was given was to keep ongoing our existing operations and build on top a team behind to ensure continuity and growth.

The decision process at UCB is done with a leadership team, which is composed of 6 key people in the organization, that is overseeing the whole operations and performing risk assessments based on common goals. When working as a team, if done correctly, the stress created by the discussions helps to make better decisions. Therefore, I believe this is the correct approach, as six brains think better than one. In addition to the operations in Mexico, we cover Latin America Business as well, which adds an extra layer of sophistication when it comes to making decisions. In the other hand, another priority it’s to start shaping the company for the new launches we will have in 2-3 years for now. In this sense we need to anticipate how the future could look like in terms of opportunities and challenges and then prepare the organization to address such.

EF: How do you see the Pharma industry evolving over time?

OL: It has been traditionally said that big fish eats the smaller ones in the Pharma industry. You can see a lot of M&A of small biotech startups. However, I believe this is shifting with time, I see that faster fish are eating the slow ones, regardless of size. This is why companies need to adapt to this situation if they want to survive.

I have been working in the Pharma industry for almost 20 years. When I started, we used an old organizational model, with a silo approach to our structure. Then, we shifted to a Business Unit model; we are now in what we call integrated go to market which makes you, as a company, exercise to continuously reshape and readapt the organization towards a patient-driven approach.

Learning is a means to growth. In order to continue growing it is not enough to learn, we also need to learn how to unlearn. When things are not working as expected, we need to review internally and get rid of what is not working anymore. Then, learn a new way and therefore develop the muscle. The Pharma industry is constantly shifting, and it is important to stay agile in order to be competitive. In this direction, I decided three years ago to become a healthcare professional, and now I am finishing up my studies to have a Bachelor of Psychology. This Bachelor has been eye-opening for me, as I have an engineering background and this, after my MBA, helped me to develop my soft skills to complete my profile.

EF: UCB is known for their innovation, and innovation is not only manifested in products. How are you also driving innovation?

OL: As a Company, we are taking the integrated go-to-market approach, which up to some extent is agile. We have what we call “customer tables”, where we use a single point of contact towards external stakeholders, but we have an internal team, working on solving specific issues for them, which in the end impact directly on the patient. 

EF: Pharma is an industry that is constantly evolving over time. How do you manage diversity?

OL: We need to consider the diversity within the company. And not only gender diversity, but also generational diversity. We have professionals that are Baby Boomers, which are very knowledgeable, but we must balance them and ensure synergy with the new generation of professionals. This is one of my biggest challenges, to create conditions for every single one of our team members to work collaboratively, succeed on their jobs and remain motivated. For this, I need to align our common objectives and my teams´ motivation. That’s the reason we conduct different company climate surveys to evaluate how we are performing and looking forward for external recognition such as “great place to work”. One type of diversity we didn’t pay much attention was the “ways of thinking diversity” but now it’s becoming more important to have a more integrated approach when we are creating solutions for the patients. One example it’s the HBDI to understand your personal style and the ways you learn. This is key to supporting our team and enhance communication.

EF: How are you managing the operations in these times of transition, in terms of strategic, tactic, and opportunistic approaches?

OL: Because the planning processes within Pharma take a long time, we already have one for this year, and we are drafting the one for next year. Of course, we need to adapt it and be flexible, reading the market in real-time, to make sure we are going in the right direction. We are a very regulated industry, and we have a big impact on people’s lives, so we need to work smartly to do things correctly the first time.

Our operations in the world are divided into three big markets: Europe, the US, and then the international markets. We are part of the latter one. UCB is known as one of the leading epilepsy companies in the world, and we are proud that in Mexico and the Latin region we are the leaders in the space. We account for one million patients within the three therapeutic areas. “Established brands” is the biggest one, then followed by neurology and immunology. 

EF: You mentioned you have two other hats: In charge of Access and Neurology. What is Access and Could you share some facts and figures on the neurology numbers in Mexico?

OL: Access to me is connecting the correct patient with the right solution at the right time. Our biggest challenge is how to deliver the asset or the solution to the patients.

Without getting into Politics, I believe that Access is limited to how the law is framed. I think that in order to increase access, it might be worth reviewing the law that describes procurement processes. Today, the law is generic and does not account for the complexities and nature of the Pharma industry. We have worked with other procurement models in Latin America where they have weighted variables, in order to procure better.

Our job is to make strategic assessments of the possibilities within the region. We need to find the right product fit. The next step is to gather real evidence with local data to define the access strategy, this is the reason why we have patients from Mexico, Colombia, and other countries as part of our global studies. This puts us in a good position, as we are elevating standards.

The research center in Mexico has the same level of compliance capabilities as any other in the world, because they are global studies, and these must be consistent and follow the protocols in place to be comparable.

One of the projects in UCB that I like the most is one we have in the immunology therapeutic area, that uses an affordability model. It is a program to support people that don’t have coverage in the public sector. These medicines are usually expensive because they are very specific. What we created is a subsidy model where the company evaluates each patient, and depending on their socioeconomic situation, they would enter a specific tier that allows them to get the medicine at an affordable price. This is a very sophisticated evaluation, and allows patients to get up to 75% discount, depending on their status.

In terms of numbers on the Neurology therapeutic area for Mexico, we are serving more than 20.000 patients. We are mainly focused on epilepsy, with 3 assets:  Keppra, Vimpat and Briviact. Still, we see that there are a lot of needs to be covered in this area. Up to 30 percent of the patients do not achieve an optimal outcome from current treatments, and this is a problem that needs to be solved. Because there’s a reason, UCB is developing another molecule, that aims to cover for this gap, and they are in different stages of development. Also, we have a treatment option for PD (Parkinson’s disease) Neupro that comes as a patch to provide a continuous product delivery. 

EF: What kind of leaders does the new Pharma industry need in the future? 

OL: I don´t think we should limit ourselves to Pharma. In general, I believe new leaders should have integrity. I´ve been a Scout since I was 15 years old, and growing as a Scout taught me about integrity, humility and teamwork, those learnings prevail within my values’ scale, and that is the foundation of my leadership. Being approachable and humble are the other two keys to a good leader. At UCB, we shifted the way we are using our offices. My space as a country lead is no different from the workspace of an intern. I believe this creates more synergy in the organization and creates a healthier workspace and makes senior management more approachable. Additionally, leading by example is the best way to manage a team: “Las palabras mueven, pero el ejemplo arrastra”. So, having this new office setup allows our employees to be valued.

We also need to invest in our human resources and trust them. For example, we have an employee under a special program, she went to Cleveland Clinic to get a specialization in epilepsy. We are proud to sponsor her training, this will increase the standard of care for people living with epilepsy, as this person would be one of the few certified specialists in epilepsy in Mexico bringing her knowledge along and will continue with her clinical practice. Also, will increase, as UCB employee, our capabilities to better understand the disease and the patient journey to better deliver value for them. We love investing in people because it is the only sustainable differentiator in the future and in medicine. 

EF: How are you leveraging in your career in consumer goods and skills gained in that industry into the Pharma Business?

OL: In Coca-Cola, as a consumer company, one of the key things was to understand customers’ needs. 20 years after leaving Coca-Cola, and after an MBA, I found out that what was true for the consumer industry is now a need in the Pharma industry. We need to better understand our patients. This is how we figured that diseases don’t come alone, and we need to provide solutions for the whole problem. There is a big need for support in the psychosocial aspect, and this is why we responded with Patient Support Programs.

These programs consist of healthcare professionals that engage directly with the patients and the caregivers in the psychosocial aspect of the disease. In these programs, we do not discuss any treatment options, instead, we talk about their lives, and we hear their concerns from a social standpoint. And this is true for both Epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, that is the other therapeutic area we work on. Something important to notice is that we work with the whole family group on this aspect, for example, a mother who has recently been told that her child has epilepsy. Listening and been empathic to our customer-patients’ needs is key for us to deliver value for them and impact their lives with positive experiences. 

March 2020