Read the Conversation
EF: What mission did you carry out when you were appointed to Brazil in January 2021?
RS: For the past five years my posts have been in other countries, but LATAM was always my future. The timing of my post to Brazil could not have been more perfect. Reshaping the company and adapting it to the new reality of the pandemic was my main mission. To grasp and understand the Brazilian market and the company, I had several virtual meetings on a daily basis from the day I was appointed. Each region has a different strategic infrastructure. The Brazilian market recently went through a much-needed change which played into our strengths.
The current management team is relatively new, it has been reshaped since I took the position. This particular team will give our company a strategic advantage for Ferring by driving change and innovation. Due to currency devaluation at the closing of 2020, Brazil was ranked 13th in internal sales. But now, my team is passionate about putting the company back into the top ten. So, we are taking advantage of Brazil’s size, resources, and systems to achieve our goal. I am elated because I have such a mature team that helps me achieve my objectives and mission.
EF: What were the biggest lessons learned during the pandemic, and what has changed in the company and your leadership style?
RS: Meeting people in person is different from meeting them virtually. There are a lot of nuances that you cannot perceive through a camera. We spent time defining common goals and aligning objectives. I trusted, empowered, and managed them by giving them clear directives. I have an open-door policy which has allowed me to have crucial conversations with each manager. The team outperformed itself and exceeded my expectations in the subsequent months. Whenever a problem arose, fast and efficient solutions were produced. Managing from a distance was one of the biggest leadership lessons I had during the pandemic, but clearly, it strengthened our team dynamic.
EF: How are the therapeutic areas you specialize in translating into the Brazilian market, and what is your current portfolio footprint?
RS: Brazil is the biggest and most strategic market in LATAM for us. Ferring Brazil began in 1993, meaning our commercial footprint will be 30 years next year, which is quite exciting for us. Ferring Brazil does not have a manufacturing plant, however, it has three high-quality labs that differentiate it from other countries. The first is a quality control lab, and the second is an analytical and methodological lab. Quality control and analytical labs are mandatory to release and scale locally produced or imported products.
The third lab is a nano-technology formulation lab. There are only four formulation labs in Ferring, which makes it a very special lab. The remaining three labs are in other BRIC countries. There is so much innovation in Brazil which is advantageous for our lab. We formulate new products based on local needs. This is helping us create a bigger footprint in the Brazilian and LATAM market. We are excited about the third lab’s product pipeline. All products began as proofs of concepts, and now, they are tangible products in the pipeline. Our recent partnership with Celera will push our first gastro product up the pipeline. The product is now in its third phase and will soon be commercialized in Brazil, LATAM, and other foreign Ferring subsidiaries interested in the product. It is incredibly exciting for us because our first product is well anticipated.
What makes this outstanding is that Ferring has 12 research labs worldwide that work on the life cycle management of our products in our portfolio and the products in the pipeline. The local lab is working on developing proof of concepts that turn into pharmaceutical products based on local people’s needs.
EF: What are the biggest challenges that impact physicians adopting innovation?
RS: In LATAM we cover three therapeutic areas with different momentums in Fertility Health, Urology, and Gastroenterology. We focus on niche Gastroenterology, especially IBD. In Urology, we specialize in prostate cancer and in Reproductive Medicine the focal point is fertility.
Fertility is a key area in our portfolio. There is a huge gap between the Latin American markets and mature markets, like Europe, regarding access for couples that require fertility treatment. For context, one in six heterosexual couples has fertility problems with many contributing factors.
There are a lot of couples that need to be educated on fertility. Several people go to different doctors before they go to a fertility clinic. In mature markets like Europe, approximately 6% - 8% of babies are born through fertility treatment compared to Brazil, which is less than 1%. The issue in Brazil and other Latin American countries is the lack of awareness and access. In Europe, fertility treatments are paid for by governments, whereas in LATAM, it is an out-of-pocket expense which is why affordability is an issue. If couples seek treatment from fertility centres early, the treatment time, process, and costs can be reduced. This is why education on fertility and health is important.
We are changing the conversation and trying to be more holistic about reproductive health. Physicians and Gynecologists need to be educated on the signs to look out for when a patient needs to be redirected to a fertility clinic. We plan to involve and spread awareness among university students and young people. In Africa and LATAM, education is sorely based on preventative measures instead of reproductive health. People need to learn about reproductive health, what it is, and how to take action.
Fertility preservation is also another big topic we are educating women on. In Europe and the US fertility preservation is common, whereas here, it is only beginning to be known. We are in the process of educating women about preservation to give them freedom of choice. It is a very important issue that can help society.
We have started talking to banks and insurance in Colombia, Mexico, and now Brazil to create possible funding for easier access to fertility treatments for couples. Banks have loans for plastic surgery and dental care. We aim to get the banks to start loans for fertility treatments.
EF: Is funding for Reproductive Health advancing in Latin America, or is it still conceptual?
RS: I believe it is an interesting concept to do. We had an initial conversation with a bank here in Brazil, and they are keen on creating loans for fertility treatments. We are also talking to insurance companies. It is not a short-term achievement but a journey that will take time. The more people that think and talk about it, the more parties that will get involved to help us create a solution.
EF: Will your Gastroenterology portfolio drive Ferring's footprint in the region?
RS: We have a microbiome-based product I am excited about in the US pipeline of Ferring’s Gastroenterology portfolio. The product is being developed in conjunction with Rebiotix, a small US company that we acquired a few years ago. I was involved in the due diligence and acquisition while still in my global role. The product was recently submitted to the FDA. We hope it will be the first microbiome-based product approved in the US for recurrent C. difficile infection after antibiotic treatment. Although estimates vary, there are between 500,000 and 700,000 cases of C. difficile infection in the US alone. With about 29,000 patient deaths a year, the US Centers for Disease Control had termed Clostridioides difficile infection an urgent public health threat.
Our microbiome product replaces the microbes in the gut of the infected patient to help with their recovery. Latin America has a very strategic position for Ferring which is why once it is launched in the US, Mexico and Brazil will be considered key markets. In the US, the statistics for the infection are clear. In LATAM, however, the statistics are not as clear. It will be challenging to diagnose and educate people on our product without the relevant statistics. Our product will revolutionize the way patients are treated. LATAM and Brazil are melting pots for good things and movement for Ferring.
As for Urology, we have a product in the pipeline that will be launched in the US for bladder cancer. It is a one-of-a-kind gene therapy. We believe that a gene therapy platform will make a big difference for patients with bladder cancer.
EF: Next year, when you celebrate 30 years, what will your celebration message be?
RS: I am happy we are present in Brazil and part of the existing innovation. Hopefully, the first product launch in Brazil will be close since we are targeting to release the product at the beginning of 2024. With the product launch underway when we celebrate, it will be a good example of Ferring's accomplishments in Brazil.
Successfully raising awareness on Reproductive Health among couples and women will be something to celebrate too. Having a hand in helping couples' dreams to create a family come true, will make it all worthwhile. With less than 1% of couples giving birth to babies through fertility treatments, there is a huge gap between those that can and those that cannot conceive. The gap can be reduced with the collaboration of different players from different industries to provide education and access through fertility centres and experts. These will be the central themes of my message and they are worth celebrating.