Read the Conversation
EF: Following your experience in Brazil and Colombia, how do you define Mexico´s strategic significance to Novo Nordisk?
VS: Being such a large Latin American country, Mexico is an important affiliate of Novo Nordisk. The Mexican population deserves and needs health support, which is what we do. Mexico is a country with over 130 million inhabitants and one of the largest economies in Latin America, so we are strengthening investments in the country. The high burden of chronic diseases is almost a pandemic in Mexico, so there is much to be done. According to the latest estimates, nearly 75% of the population is obese or overweight, while over 10% of the population faces diabetes. This combination of factors represents a serious problem for the country, and we can help tackle the issues.
EF: The political and regulatory challenges make 2023 a complex year. How do you visualize 2023? Do you see it as a challenge or an opportunity?
VS: There are always challenges and opportunities in every market and country, but one of the most important lies in generating more access to care, especially for the most vulnerable, as innovation is generally more open to those who can afford it or easily access technology. The most vulnerable people have to rely on several key stakeholders, so we must collaborate with them to expand access to new technologies. This is not true just for Mexico but a global challenge. The opportunities in the country lie in the population size and disease prevalence, and we are in a position to make a difference in Mexican lives.
EF: Could you elaborate on Novo Nordisk´s footprint and portfolio, how they are evolving in Mexico, and where the company is headed?
VS: I am delighted to say we are bringing innovation at a fast pace. For example, Mexico is the first country in Latin America to launch oral semaglutide. Currently, most of our portfolio is available here, and we plan to keep this trend. Over the last few years, we have made a special effort to provide access to new technologies to the population. In diabetes, we have grown our products and have become market leaders. We have 100 years of experience in diabetes and are considered the diabetes leaders of the industry. Next year, we will be celebrating two decades in Mexico, and we will also celebrate market leadership, which means bringing innovation and generating access for many patients and people in Mexico.
EF: Companies currently have digital and physical footprints; how do you balance both worlds?
VS: Novo has evolved. The pandemic pushed us forward and accelerated the company´s plans -we need to be made stronger! We are still focused on change; we have fostered more innovation from last year to this year; we are more data-driven and focused on the customer's mindset, digitalization, and omnichannel. We have a new area called Customer Engagement, and its purpose is to embrace the customer through new digital tools to serve them better. We are using a kind of AI to predict customer needs, combining face-to-face and sales force information to integrate data, allowing us to have better customer centricity.
EF: Novo Nordisk is known for its partnerships and collaborations. How is that collaboration represented in Mexico, and how are you leveraging common spaces to aid and benefit patients?
VS: Collaboration is in the company's genes, and we work a lot in creating many alliances because we believe we can have a far greater impact on the market and society by partnering with key stakeholders to drive change. We are working in different Chambers and Associations and have many non-profit projects. For the last three years, we have allied with UNICEF to work on awareness and prevention of obesity in children. Evidence shows that children with obesity, in all likelihood, will continue to suffer this disease as adults, so we are committed to reversing this trend. Also, we have pioneered an initiative called “Cities Changing Diabetes,” whereby we support local governments to map the underlying causes of the high prevalence of the disease and create action plans to increase awareness and try new solutions, including nutritional advice education, activities to mitigate disease impact and improve outcomes for patients. We also use our patient support program called “Nuevo Yo” to help with patient education. We have psychological support in the patient's journey and educators specialized in eating habits, exercise, etc. We make alliances to reach more people because we can only go so far alone, but we can go the distance together.
EF: After working in different countries in Latin America, how do you assess prevention in the region, and what are you doing in Mexico to tackle the issue of prevention?
VS: There is a similar problem across Latin America concerning obesity, although, in diabetes, the educational process is slightly more evolved in some countries. I have worked in various Latam countries, and Novo Nordisk tries to add value via patient programs. Depending on the local regulations, we work on making the patient understand the importance of adherence to the treatment, finding a balance between food and exercise as part of a long journey, and working on an improvement process. The patients need help and support in understanding how the disease impacts their lives and how to achieve better outcomes. We make patients participate in their recovery. We have a home delivery program for hemophiliac patients in the public sector as part of the services we offer the government for better treatment adherence and good prophylaxis – standard care in hemophilia- to have better outcomes. We have a thousand patients enrolled in the program; they are more than half of the people receiving these treatments. We are proud and delighted to provide this service to the patients, and we are sponsoring the program because we know it will positively impact them.
EF: Innovation is key to Novo Nordisk, and Mexico plays a key role for the company in clinical trials. Does Mexico have the potential to establish itself as an innovation hub at a Latin American level, and how can Novo participate?
VS: Novo Nordisk invests a lot in innovation. The main Latin American clinical trials happen in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. Regarding México, over the last five years, we have invested around six hundred million Mexican pesos in thirty clinical trials, covering about 2,000 patients and increasing the numbers year by year. The numbers show our commitment to bringing innovation to the country. Doing clinical trials means accessing and adding value to society by generating jobs and bringing technologies as part of our core DNA.
EF: How would you like to be remembered as a leader when you look back at this time in your career?
VS: I read an interesting article on the art of listening to people; knowing what is going on is very important. We must listen to the main internal stakeholders within the affiliate -I can do my job better if I listen. However, I must also listen to the external stakeholders and work closely with sector chambers, government institutions, and patient associations for Novo Nordisk to understand the issues and propose solutions to the challenges. We cannot offer a solution without first listening and understanding the problems. Listening, paying attention, and understanding the problem come first, and then we offer solutions. Secondly, the main issue is the vulnerable people needing help and access. We are dealing with a “pandemic”; healthcare systems have huge concerns, and we must deal with diseases such as obesity and diabetes and attempt to bend the curve. Ten years later, I will hopefully look back and know I supported people and speeded up attention and access by listening to internal and external stakeholders, and it will be my legacy.
EF: If you had to create your own startup company tomorrow in the Mexican healthcare sector, what would it be and why? The hypothetical question is to understand where Mexican health issues lie.
VS: Probably a non-profit organization with people who have a deep knowledge of different areas in the healthcare sector –I could be the pharmaceutical industry expert- and all of us together find ways to improve patient access and adherence and reduce the distance between different stakeholders and serve as a bridge to better understand the mutual benefit of alliances. Many sectors have excellent intentions, but it is not enough; more understanding, open and transparent conversations, and trust are necessary to achieve better outcomes for the Mexican population. And to manage it through a non-profit organization would be awesome.
Although the question was focused on the healthcare sector, I would go further and try to add value to society. I heard a great quote from a football coach: “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together,” the idea is to work as a team to go places. For my inspiration, in Novo Nordisk, we have a program called Take Action that aims to do something for the community; we brought 400 Novo Nordisk Mexico employees to a school to do community work, refurbish, paint, and donate toys. Four hundred people donating one day of their lives can achieve change, and it is an example of how, as a team, we can build change and go far.
EF: Is there any final message you would like to share?
VS: After the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all learned the importance of health; we must all take care of ourselves because nobody else will – so my message is: be healthy and look after yourself.