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EF: You have been appointed 10 months ago as head of BIIB Colombia* during the pandemic, what was the mission you were given?
PF: BIIB Colombia* operations in the country are 2 years old, although we were previously present through partners. Our priority is to work side by side with the system, to find solutions to make sure our innovations reach our patients.
Therefore my mission coming to Colombia was twofold: firstly to consolidate the team in Colombia and secondly to work in the reimbursement program for rare diseases, which is one of the therapeutic areas we specialize in, together with neurological diseases. Colombia does not have a clear path for the reimbursement process for rare diseases, which makes access difficult.
EF: What attracted you to BIIB Colombia*?
PF: There are several factors: our product portfolio and our product pipeline are some of the biggest ones. We have a very strong pipeline for the next few years, which I am convinced will make a huge impact in society; it is a big inspiration to me how BIIB Colombia*is working in bringing new solutions to the countries, to ensure access to the latest innovations. I remark the Biogen’s mission, which is being recognized as the leader in neuroscience. We work where nobody else wants to go: our innovation is focused on some of the most rare and difficult diseases, and I am filled with passion for what the future may hold and how we can impact the lives of the people we serve.
Last but not least, I identify with the culture fit, BIIB Colombia* is a company that is very close to its employees and everyone within the organization is close, everyone is aligned to working towards the same objective of serving the patient.
EF: As this month BIIB Colombia* is celebrating 2 years in Colombia, we can agree you are a remote-first pharma company in Colombia. What advice would you give in leading remotely?
PF: Two pieces of advice come to mind. The first one is that there are ways to be close with your employees even if you are not in the same location and finding that common space is extremely important. During the Pandemic, we've seen an overflow of work. Problems you would normally solve during a ‘coffee-break’ with a colleague, now require finding a space to meet, and this can be very time-consuming. People forget that you need a common workspace to streamline job tasks.
The second piece of advice is to invest in technology capabilities and its adoption trough change management process. One should not take for granted that people are going to adapt and be comfortable. You need to ensure there is a smooth transition through the digital transformation and have a strong strategy in place to achieve this. Nobody was prepared for this Pandemic and accompanying your team in this change management was crucial.
Innovation comes as a critical capability that needs to join the digital transformation. It's not about bringing innovation to products. It's about bringing innovations to solutions and processes that you manage with people.
EF: ‘No one teaches you how to manage a Pandemia’. If you would have to design an Executive MBA, which course would you include?
PF: Foresight and Scenario Planning. We need to enhance our capacity to imagine and visualize what the future will look like, and then to plan different scenarios and how they will impact reality. One of the things I've learned is that anything can happen. People don't prepare for multiple scenarios, and it is very important to know how to act in different circumstances. Coming from a consumer goods background, I see how we need to have better capabilities in assessing future trend insights.
EF: Could you elaborate on the footprint of BIIB in Colombia?
PF: We currently work in two diseases. The first one is Multiple Sclerosis, which is the core of BIIB Colombia*today and I'm very proud of our portfolio because we have the most robust portfolio in MS, covering every phase of the disease. We made great work, and we are having a huge impact, not only with patients, but also in societies, physicians, and other stakeholders. The other therapeutic area relevant for us is spinal muscular atrophy. SMA is the main genetic rare disease present in infants. This disease can appear before infants have their second birthday. We're very proud that, after our work, we have now a reimbursement program approved for this disease. We are working now to deliver to patients these products in a timely manner. In regards to our pipeline. I am thrilled as we are bringing options to a neurodegenerative disease that has no alternative today. It is very exciting to see changes of this magnitude, as this is when you see the true value of innovation.
We are committed to be present in Colombia, and we are here for the long run. We are bringing solutions that are going to change the lives of many people, that before they did not have an option.
EF: As ‘Access’ is critical in bringing innovation to rare diseases, how would you rate the level of ‘Access’ to rare disease innovations in Colombia?
PF: Here in Colombia, when it comes to rare diseases, ‘access’ is unclear. Unfortunately, there is a lack of a tailored approach to rare disease management.
This happens at different stages, from the approval process from the regulator to the ‘how to pay’ for this treatment. Colombia approved a regulation in March 2020 which is called Techos ( Ley 1955 de 2019 el artículo 240) . This regulation is basically a grant from the government to HMOs in order to pay for treatments that are not included in the compulsory disease list. However, there's not a clear path on how they're going to pay for new products in rare diseases. We still need to work all together and see how we're going to include ‘rare diseases’ in the reimbursement program.
‘Rare diseases’ are being assessed with the same methodology as regular diseases when reviewing their approval. Robust investigation and clinical studies in ‘rare diseases’ are different from a regular one, because of its nature, being rare. From a clinical trial perspective, for example, a rare disease cannot have 3000 patients in a study group. There might be 300 patients, and this would be a high number. I believe there has been progressing, but we need to keep on working on raising awareness.
EF: What is your approach to increase awareness of rare diseases?
PF: When it comes to rare diseases, education is a big challenge. A physician may see in their lifetime one or at most two people with a rare disease, but it is important that when they come across them they diagnose it at an early stage. Now, our education program is digital and we see a larger number of physicians involved. They are learning how to quickly identify the disease because identifying a rare disease early can really make a difference. We have also developed specialized education programs with centers of excellence and have been working very closely with the government to create awareness.
EF: Can you elaborate more on your footprint and what is your ambition for the next few years?
PF: We're collaborating with all the stakeholders, government, patient associations, and physicians in order to be a strong partner. For example, we are planning in June to launch a new initiative, our new initiative that's called Neurodiem. This is a repository of information and clinical studies, where we have all the expertise of neuroscience for Colombian physicians. Initiatives like this one allow us to expand our footprint and be a partner of choice in neuroscience for Colombia.
The Colombian affiliate aims to be the leader in the knowledge of neurological diseases. We still have a big challenge, be a partner in the new pipeline that we have moving forward that will enable us to grow three times more.
EF: When You look back, what would you like your 2020/21 tenure to be remembered for?
PF: I would love the affiliate of Colombia to have grown and made a difference. I'm envisioning our pipeline and imagining that we have changed patients’ lives in MS, and SMA, and other devastating neurological diseases. This might be ambitious, but today there is no access. Finally, that we have established an affiliate that serves its employees and the patients we work with. Access is when ‘Science meets Humanity’.
EF: What advice would you give to other women that want to pursue a career in management?
PF: My advice to other women would be to say yes to opportunities. We usually create mental barriers throughout our life, and we don’t realize those are preconceptions that can be overridden.
EF: Could you elaborate on the Triple Bottom Line ( People, Profit, Planet) as Latam Ambassador of Carbon Footprint in Latin America?
PF: Together, we can help create an equitable future where everyone enjoys a healthy climate and a healthy life – since that’s where science meets humanity.
As a leader in neuroscience, as well as healthcare more broadly, we as a company are uniquely positioned to advance understanding of whether and how fossil fuels impact brain health. Biogen has always had sustainability in mind; with our initiative “Healthy Climate, Healthy Lives” TM we are expanding our focus to the way equity, health and climate intersect. Through global collaborations and scientific research, initial efforts will focus on quantifying the health impacts of air pollution.
Running our complex and essential operations, including Biogen’s 39 facilities in more than 30 countries, without any reliance on fossil fuels will not be easy. We will undergo significant engineering and construction efforts to transition away from our fossil fuel infrastructure, including boilers, steam generators, heating and cooling systems, vehicles, and maintenance equipment at our locations across the globe. However, based on our research and understanding of areas like battery technology and renewable energy infrastructure, we believe we can achieve this commitment by 2040 if we make this deliberate and very specific commitment today.
* BIIB Colombia S.A.S., Affiliate of Biogen Inc. A company domiciled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A