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EF: What was your given mission when you were appointed Country Manager of Novo Nordisk Singapore, and did it change during the pandemic?

I was appointed just a month before the initial Covid cases emerged in Singapore with a clear mission: to find ways to make treatment accessible to as many patients as possible. Novo Nordisk has a long-standing history of making a significant impact in treating chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, growth disorders, and rare bleeding disorders. While there are over 450 million people globally with diabetes, only half of them are being treated, indicating a significant gap in meeting the needs of people with diabetes. It's this underserved population that drives Novo Nordisk's global mandate, a task that I have also taken up as my own in Singapore.

In the case of obesity, while the medical community recognizes it as a disease at an aggregate level, it is not viewed as one at an individual level by policymakers, doctors, or even patients. Obesity is often considered a result of individual eating behavior or a lack of physical activity. However, the health and economic burden caused by obesity is perhaps one of the most significant challenges societies face today. While prevention is key, we cannot neglect those already suffering from obesity. In Singapore, nearly one-third of the population, 1.7 million people, are at risk of weight-related health problems.

EF: What were the lessons learned during the pandemic and how has Novo Nordisk shifted strategies to prepare for the future?

One of the most important lessons we have learned is how vulnerable our healthcare systems can be. Despite the efforts of every stakeholder to perfect their function,there are still many unknowns when it comes to events like the pandemic we have faced. However, I believe that by staying true to your organization's purpose, vulnerability ceases to be the biggest obstacle, and we can begin to find solutions.

One such solution is the use of digital tools. Our industry has been active in adopting digital technology, particularly in operations where the ultimate goal is toprovide medicines to those who need them. However, the pandemic has shown us the remarkable ability of various stakeholders to adapt to unforeseen situations and embrace digital tools at every step of patient care. In the last two years, we have made incredible progress with digital technology, covering more ground than we mighthave achieved in a decade.

The bottomline is that we must remain agile and be ready to adapt to the shifts in the market.In uncertain times, we must remind ourselves of our organization's purpose and work with agility to adapt to change. Preparing the organization with this mindset is key.

EF: What is your clinical research and collaboration footprint in Singapore, and what excites you about your pipeline and portfolio in the region?

Novo Nordisk places a strong emphasis on research, from the fundamental to the clinical level. As part of this commitment, we have established strategic research partnerships with esteemed institutions such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the National University of Singapore's (NUS)Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

One of ourkey research focuses is on advancing our understanding of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its more severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis(NASH) in Asian populations. NASH is a leading cause of liver cirrhosis and ultimately liver cancer. Alongside our basic research efforts, Novo Nordisk is also conducting clinical trials in the area of NASH in Singapore.

EF: What is Novo Nordisk’s plan to address obesity through community education?

The healthcare system needs support in managing people with obesity. From the small-sized chairs in waiting rooms to the unavailability of equipment such as large blood pressure cuffs and calibrated weighing scales for individuals weighing over 120 kilos, people with obesity often feel judged when seeking medical attention. While the advice given to these patients is typically to reduce food intake and exercise, sustainable weight loss tools are often notprovided. This lack of support contributes to patient reluctance to seek treatment, despite the prevalence of obesity and the numerous risk factors involved.

To manage obesity effectively, specialist centers and primary care setups must provide patients with basic support mechanisms. Our first focus is to raise awareness and encourage people to take action. However, given the limited number of physicians who specialize in obesity management, we also need to address the challenge of making treatment available to patients who are ready to take action. To achieve this, we have established initiatives such as the annual Basic Obesity Management Accreditation (BOMA) program in collaboration with the College of Family Physicians and Singapore Association for the Study of Obesity (SASO).This program offers a 7-hour certified course on how to manage people with obesity, and patients who are ready to seek treatment are connected with trained doctors through our digital awareness program,

In addition to providing efficacious and quality treatment options, Novo Nordisk is also working to create awareness and engage various stakeholders to bring policy focus towards the health and economic burden of obesity on society. Our platform, Obesity Policy Engagement Network (OPEN), brings together healthcare professionals, researchers,patients, and policy makers to discuss potential long-term action plans to address the challenge of obesity.

At Novo Nordisk, we believe that it is our responsibility to invest in and dedicate resources to bring different stakeholders together to make the patient journey easier and disease management accessible for all those who need help.

EF: How do you think the industry can advance the ‘prevention’ agenda?

To establish yourself as a partner and not justa service provider, the pharma industry must focus on sustainable solutions.Two key guidelines can help achieve this goal.

Firstly, it's imperative to prioritize the patient's health outcome, which is in the company's long-term interest.This means delivering the best possible health solution and not just improving test results, but seeking better prospects for the patient's overall well-being, enabling them to live longer and healthier lives with reduced long-term complications.

Secondly,collaboration is crucial in enhancing the whole process, from awareness to treatment adherence. The expertise is out there, and it is important to get everyone in the organization to understand and work towards long-term sustainability and collaboration.

EF: How would you deliver a speech to your employees at Novo Nordisk in celebration of the company's 100th anniversary next year?

For a century, we have been steadfastly supporting people with chronic diseases, a testament to our unwavering philosophy and spirit. Our company was founded with a simple yet crucial mission: to make insulin accessible to everyone who needs it. We have always strived to leverage our expertise to provide the best  to those in need. As we look to the future, my message to my team is clear: keep focusing on this singular objective of making the best treatment options available to all patients. While I will not be around for our 200th anniversary, I am confident that this mindset and legacy will endure, making our work more fulfilling.

October 2022