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EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, 2021 the year of vaccines, what will 2022 be the year of?
RC: Looking back over the past couple of years it is difficult to imagine what we have been through.
We have not faced anything on this scale for at least one hundred years, we were all trying to understand how best to contribute to having a positive contribution, and find our role as a healthcare company. This year looks like it could be the end of the pandemic as it becomes an endemic, we are observing many countries taking different actions and we have a lot to learn from each other. There will still be learning, and it is fair to say that we tend to look at the role based on where we are, but it looks like we will be getting out of the critical situation that we were in before and turn our attention to the future with the learnings and adaptations made along the way.
EF: In Brazil what have been the biggest lessons learnt by managing through a pandemic and what was Novartis's role?
RC: One of the lessons learnt is the importance of collaboration and unity, especially from a leadership perspective and for going into the future. The healthcare industry is very fragmented and one of the key learnings that we had was for the first time the imperative need to work together. I saw different sectors of healthcare come together in a moment in which it was most needed. In terms of a regulatory standpoint, things have changed too, an example of this is telemedicine, and how from an urgent necessity, the framework was established and operated. Two years ago, this was not the case. Today we see the healthcare sector as one, the integration has been a result of a crisis that we fought together. However, there are still parts of the value chain that have different objectives. In a way, it is natural to not expect this integration to come smoothly and aligned, but the learning here is that we can do it together.
There are many examples, though, within companies and segments of the industry where collaboration came very strong. An example of that for Novartis was our collaboration with Moderna where we provided our scientists and our sites to support public vaccination programs. It is going to be very important for us as leaders when we get out of the pandemic to ensure that we do not have any stepbacks, we should get the momentum going and that encompasses having a broader view of the pharma industry´s role in society at large. Helping society was already in the DNA of Novartis, so that, one of the core strategic pillars of the company is to build trust with society, and this was the time to materialize it in even more broadly ways. Making a difference goes beyond what we think and what we say. It’s not what you ‘say’, but what you ‘do’ that matters.
The pandemic saw us engaging with different NGOs and providing necessary resources such as money for food and masks. This resulted in the company donating millions worth of dollars to around fifty institutions from very diverse backgrounds across the country. We also made sure our associates and employees were well taken care of through a variety of means. We put in place incentives to encourage further education with free courses that we have, we initiated mental health discussions and provided sessions for people to come together and have a dialogue. The employees at Novartis are also members of society and some of them are patients as well, we recognize this and want to help them to flourish.
The other area of focus was the one related to our provision of healthcare for patients. Last year in Brazil we reached nine million patients and when we face a pandemic like this, besides the victims of the virus, we continued to have patients with other diseases that are equally as devastating to take care of and that depended on us to keep their treatments. So, committed to our goal of not leaving a single patient behind, we made decisions that are good examples of the strength of that commitment as we did not allow profitability challenges to prevent us from doing what is the right thing for the patients, and the good news was that for 2020 and 2021 our supply chain metrics were on time by around 99%, but that came with a lot of work and effort from a lot of different standpoints within the company.
Ultimately, being a company that is part of the health sector means needing to go beyond the concept of the traditional bottom line by complementing it with another trio, namely: policies, patients, and physicians. Those two sets of bottom lines, if one may say so, will be the foundation to advance our impact.
EF: How did you re-engineer providing health to patients?
RC: Looking from the healthcare position and how the industry has been evolving, provision has been an issue even before the pandemic. It is difficult to name an example with a benchmark and there is most likely a fundamental issue underlying how healthcare is structured across the world.
There is also data, science and digitalization which offer a wide range of options for how things can be done. The pandemic advanced the use of technology and the key element that we are exploring is how we take the relevant content at the right time so physicians can use the information and continue to educate themselves.
The key difference is information and the increase in its availability, this is the fundamental change in how healthcare has been evolving. From this access to information comes the ability to press ahead with priorities, such as delivering the right content at the right moment, enabling more and more agile data-driven decisions, and designing services or platforms that support both patients' and physicians’ needs, contributing to healthcare systems as well. In that sense, partnering up with the start-up’s ecosystems, through Novartis Biome, has become an imperative.
EF: Could you explain more about the Biome project and how you determine your projects?
RC: We saw an opportunity due to the wave of data and digitalization coming toward healthcare. There are hundreds of tech start-ups, and the idea was about leveraging them and providing further opportunities to make a positive impact on society and the future. The Concept of the Biome project is to work as an interpoint for the ecosystem with a specific focus on the startups. The way we work is by understanding the pinpoints in the areas we work with and then posing a problem to the ecosystem that is managed by the Biome and asking for either a partial or full solution. Co-creation it is.
We have dozens of startups discussing with us, but it is always with the perspective of how we can solve problems for the local health system. The idea is not to invest in startups to then see profit returns later but to serve as an interpoint aiming at solving problems for the healthcare system in the country.
EF: What is the strategic importance of Brazil to Novartis and what is Brazil's flagship footprint?
RC: As a company, we always look at the population and think about the number of people we can impact, and there is an element of innovation due to the challenges we face. If something goes right, then it can serve as an example. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America and from the patient standpoint, we have the size to give these examples. A core aspect of the discussions we have been having over the past three years has been about how we better serve local healthcare systems. Discussing deep partnerships with both the private sector and public sector is at the core of our strategy. There are great examples, too. We were the first company in Brazil to bring gene therapy and cell therapy, and we are going to be the first company to bring radioligand therapy whilst having one of the largest generic companies in Brazil. As far as advanced therapies go, Brazil is the first developing country where we are bringing this innovation, having a project such as this one in a country like Brazil is a challenge. Moreover, we have a greater partnership focus to advance population health management with the public health system in the number one cause of deaths in Brazil i.e., cardiovascular.
The partnership concept and drive is a big one for us as we believe that the changes required to ensure better outcomes require different and new ways of collaboration.
EF: What will the future of work look like?
RC: One of the main areas that were impacted by the pandemic was the ways people used to work. During the pandemic, we launched a project called Choice with Responsibility, in which we incentivize our teams to have debates on what would be the best work model for that group, as we know that not every position can operate with the same work model and individuals have different needs. For example, the finance team may work better remotely but the co-creating team that brainstorms with each other might find it more productive to be together in person. For us, hybrid, then, is the future of work, ensuring that employees remain committed to making their decisions aligned with their teams and leaders with the objective to create the best impact possible for patients. If we are to influence the future, then our actions need to show this. We want our employees to be a part of this journey for themselves, for healthcare systems and patients.
EF: 10 years from now looking back at this point of your career, what would you like it to be remembered for?
RC: I would like to be remembered for striving to do the right thing day after day, taking bold moves to improve healthcare and providing new thought leadership. We are doing big moves, re-shaping the contribution of our sector to humanity and the future. This is why we truly believe in our employees and what they can accomplish with greater autonomy and accountability. I also want to be remembered for going deep into data science, reimagining the way we engage with physicians and enabling the company to provide even better support initiatives for patients.
In general, I hope I can be remembered as someone who took bold moves towards the future and helped others to also do so. We must continue pushing despite the resistance or we will never change. The time is now.