Read the Conversation
EF: If health had its own COP26 and you were a speaker, what would be your message to world leaders?
SN: I firmly believe humanity should always try and prevail, regardless of the sector of work. Whatever the business, it should be done with humanity. Responsible leaders, especially in the pharma and healthcare sector, have to prevail. Healthcare is one of the so-called noble professions and must retain its nobility and not be only about profit. There is plenty of innovation globally, but to have meaning, it must have market access. If innovation doesn't reach people, it has no meaning.
EF: What were the lessons learned managing in times of transition and pandemic?
SN: Change is a constant in life, there is nothing certain, and not everything happens as predicted. Uncertainty produces a reaction necessary to move forward. It is not the first time we have had a health crisis on our hands; a hundred years ago, the Spanish flu caused havoc in people's lives. We are the first of many generations to have a world pandemic, and we will deal with it, be resilient, adjust, and the world will go on. The pandemic has challenged the conventional wisdom of the last generations; what I have learned in my twenty years in the profession can't be used in the circumstances we are living in today. Before March 2020, I would have never imagined a situation where my sales reps were not in the field for nearly two years. They are still sitting at home, business continuity is ensured, and the company has grown without face-to-face interaction. We have done a lot without having reps in the field. We had a new learning curve, and we adapted to more and more digitalization, using our creativity to reach our customers. Back in March 2020, when we were all sent home, our first preoccupation as an essential sector was how to ensure business continuity. We can live without a car, but we can't live without medicine, so for the leaders, business continuity was crucial, and internally we focused on three things: i) protect the people working for the organization and their families so that they can deliver on their business responsibilities, ii) ensure product supply at a moment the whole world was going through disruption of product supply, and iii) processes were compromised with the pandemic, and we had to implement preventive protocols to adapt to the new situation, we worked with fewer people at the plants to ensure the same productivity, and for that a lot of planning is necessary. We addressed the pandemic and realigned with these concepts, which helped tremendously, and we have grown. Without supply, opportunities are worthless. The most significant learning was to overcome disruption, and we learned a lot through the whole process.
EF: How did you manage to ensure the security of supply?
SN: To a great extent, we have a vertically integrated organization with other dependencies, and our needs are internally met. We work in two main areas: innovations and generics. Zydus covers many specific regions and geographies worldwide. Our company manufactures an antiviral Remidesvir that was used to treat Covid-19, and its demand rose to the occasion, yet we were still providing it at a very low price, demonstrating profit is not our only goal. Zydus manufactures several medicines used to treat Covis-19, and they were all offered at rock-bottom prices. We have immuno-boosters, supplements, a range of sanitisers, among other medicines. In Zydus, we are at the forefront of innovation; we have the first needleless plasmid DNA vaccine, which has already been launched in India and is our contribution to the vaccine business, done in a very short period. After a trial with 30 thousand patients, we got approval in India. DNA Plasmid vaccines are meant to be one of the safest vaccines. In Covid, three things are happening, i) find a cure, ii) prevent, and iii) diagnostics, and because Zydus has the expertise, we are participating in all three. We are also looking for biological solutions, working on monoclonal antibodies cocktail to neutralize Covid infections. We are not a global multi-billion resource pharma company, but our level of commitment is tremendous; we are very involved in giving back to society. In 2020 Zydus launched a diagnostic kit, free of cost, in the public domain contributed by Zydus for the Indian population when there were practically no diagnostic solutions available. This crisis has been a leveller in many aspects, and it has made us all think about the meaning of humanity, social commitments, and a business community. I feel Zydus has played a role in collaboration, in R&D, investing in generics, and I take a lot of pride in what we have done.
EF: How has your portfolio performance evolved? Did you see particular shifts in Mexico?
SN: We have the currently existing business and the future portfolio coming. Originally our Covid portfolio wasn't robust, but every leader in every business community has embraced that need. The pandemic has not changed any long-term plans for the future NCD portfolio. NCD is a vital part of our business, and in terms of priorities, we can't trade NCDs for CDs. Both are an integral part of the healthcare problem and have repercussions. The hard reality is that we work on business sustainability and business growth, but that will not change the fact that both NCD and CD need to coexist. We are investing in research; vaccines were not originally in our portfolio. The market throws challenges, new diseases challenge us, and we can only add to our existing portfolio alignment. We face each new challenge finding solutions; Covid might be new for us, but the situation is not unique to our history. The world has dealt with these problems many times before, overcoming what they faced each time (Spanish flu, rubella, and other CDs). Despite our progress in some areas, we still have many unmet needs. An essential stakeholder in solution-finding is regulators, guards that mark the time to get approvals. This administration is slow in delivering, slowing the whole process down. The first two years, there was a stalemate with little progress. I hope sensibility will prevail, and we will move in the right direction.
EF: What is the role of pharmaceutical companies in accelerating Mexico's development and economic recovery?
SN: The equation is simple: a sound mind allows for a sound soul, a sound soul allows for sound communities, sound communities allow for sound nations, and a sound nation allows for a sound world. To realize this positive chain, medical access for the end-user is extremely important. Government initiatives help make this happen, but the whole ecosystem must collaborate to succeed. For example, to achieve with our planned cluster, all sides must work hand in hand, investment, compliance, regulators, etc. In Mexico, there are prevailing problems in the procurement process that must be addressed, and only time will show if it was managed. To address one issue, we should not create another new one. Many players start initiatives, but they do not know the game's rules or how to play; the skill comes later, but you have to know how to play. When the learning curve has become longer, there will be a lot of collateral damages, including for the end-users.
EF: What is the importance of Mexico to Zydus?
SN: Mexico's importance is growing significantly in the margin business. Only by contributing do we become relevant in the market as an organization; as leaders or as employees, we must contribute. Similarly, we are only relevant when we are useful to the end-users, with innovation, offering unmet medical needs, filling the gaps in the market, and we are strong in terms of these commitments. I am happy because we are moving in the right direction and becoming very relevant in an emerging market.
EF: When you look back at this period in your professional career, how would you like your tenure to be remembered, considering you navigated a pandemic?
SN: This has been a time to face the challenges with creativity, and I am proud of having met the most challenging time in my career, being strong and delivering. I believe "Fortune favours the prepared mind", and I will remember this period positively.
EF: What are your plans for opening 2022?
SN: We usually plan two years in advance, there are opportunities we will be looking at, and we are waiting for the registration approvals to come in the expected timelines. We have created opportunities for different products, unmet medical needs, and value-creating generics planned since 2020. I am sure they will work as a growth engine for the Mexican operation. Planning gives us certainty in an uncertain world, and for a business to work, we need as much certainty as possible, having figured things out in advance. Having a prepared mind is essential.
EF: Is there any final message you would like to share?
SN: The panacea is a solution or remedy for all ills and a precious healthcare word. Rich countries with a lot of money have huge healthcare issues, no matter how rich they are; the US, for example, has the biggest healthcare budget in the world, but they still have many issues in healthcare, and the same goes for Europe or the English NHS. Despite their money, they can't buy good health. Poor countries have precisely the same problems due to the lack of funds. In the United States, there is no shortage of funds, infrastructure, knowledge, brilliance, or capacity, but they're still are health emergencies. For the infrastructure and health systems to operate, all the stakeholders have to cooperate and have sensibility and sensitivity –something hard to achieve. Sensibility and sensitivity in a developed and developing world are different; half the Americans, for example, don't believe in vaccines, whereas in a poor country, they don't have easy access to medicines and vaccines. There is a considerable gap and no apparent solution; what is clear is that having money doesn't solve the predicament. Both worlds have different realities and problems, but if humanity prevails, both sensibility and sensitivity can work as a bridge to offer better healthcare systems.