Interview with Manlio Florenzano, General Director, Sandoz Russia
Published on 23 June 2020 by Anna Andriyanova
Adam Smith Conferences: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the Russian pharmaceutical market?
Manlio Florenzano: Overall, the Russian pharmaceutical market is performing well and maintaining stability.
The most important thing for us in these circumstances is to ensure that the supply and production of medications are uninterrupted. But we realise that in the future additional measures might be necessary to prevent a drug shortage among doctors and patients. Because of that, the Association of Independent Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (AIPM), which Sandoz is a member of, has approached the regulators with proposals for additional initiatives that would enable us to conduct more effective monitoring, planning and production of medications.
Another indisputable priority for the pharmaceutical industry right now is ensuring staff safety. All Sandoz office and field employees are working remotely and are communicating with clients using digital tools. That is a new experience for all parties and we are trying to find the right balance. But we are convinced that such a rapid move to the online environment will open up new opportunities to exchange information.
On a more global scale, the most important goal for the pharmaceutical industry is the search for therapeutic solutions and the minimisation of complications caused by the new coronavirus disease. The Novartis group, which Sandoz is a part of, has joined the collaborative effort of the СOVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator and has combined its efforts with the European Innovative Medicines Initiative to work on research programmes to fight COVID-19. Also, we are evaluating existing products, for example hydroxychloroquine and ruxolitinib, for their potential off-label use. I think, never has the pharmaceutical industry showed so much cohesion and agility in the search for new therapeutic solutions. In the current environment, our industry has become more important for society than ever before.
The epidemic has put additional pressure on the Russian healthcare system and it is now critical to do everything to support it. On a global level, the Novartis group has created a $20 million fund to support the communities impacted by the pandemic around the world. Grants are given to support healthcare systems in various countries, including several Russian medical establishments.
Adam Smith Conferences: What changes can we expect in the coming months? What challenges are pharmaceutical companies facing and what is being done to mitigate the risks?
Manlio Florenzano: The epidemic has highlighted those aspects of the healthcare system that need changing, for example, financing, research support, access to medicine. After the epidemic, the healthcare system is likely to evolve. This will affect all its parts and processes: from doctors to regulators, from diagnostics to preferential drug provision. We must understand the nature of such changes and find the best solutions to remain trustworthy partners to the healthcare system.
Undoubtedly, the biggest change awaiting us is the widespread adoption of digital tools. Personal contact will remain decisive, we will not move to the digital environment fully but its influence will increase considerably. Those companies will win, who are able to create the right kind of a synergy between digital instruments and personal engagement. Right now, it is time to learn how to do this and establish a systematic approach to work, considering remote client engagement opportunities.
Adam Smith Conferences: What measures is your organisation undertaking to secure an uninterrupted supply of medication to patients and hospitals during the crisis?
Manlio Florenzano: Uninterrupted drug supply is the most important question for pharmaceutical companies at any time, and Novartis has a business continuity plan that describes action steps for various crisis situations. Because of that we were largely prepared and knew what to do in the situation of the spread of the coronavirus.
Currently Sandoz isn’t expecting any interruptions in its supply chain. We are adhering to the plan that helps maintain continuous work of our logistical processes and retail stock management. In response to cargo shipping restrictions in some regions of the world, we have created stock reserves, employed additional distribution sources and are maintaining necessary production and distribution capacities. In addition, the Novartis group has developed and implemented a plan of measures to ensure the continuation of over 500 clinical trials, conducted all over the world.
We continue to carefully monitor the development of the spread of the coronavirus, and if required will be introducing additional measures to maintain stability of supplies and uninterrupted provision of medications to Russian patients.
Adam Smith Conferences: What kind of state support and what strategic decisions do companies operating in Russia need to respond to the current circumstances?
Manlio Florenzano: The government has reacted to the epidemic quickly and decisively. The simplification of the registration process immediately created a favourable environment for the import of drugs that can potentially be used to treat COVID-19.
Also, additional measures are currently being considered regarding granting access to medications, including additional opportunities for international companies to participate in tenders. The new coronavirus epidemic shows how important the collaboration between the industry and the government is in providing access to high quality therapies to Russian patients. That applies to all therapies, but particularly to biotechnology. I hope that we will continue to maintain an open dialogue with the government so that the best decisions in the interests of the Russian patients can be made.
Adam Smith Conferences: The situation with the new coronavirus threatens standard business models of organisations around the world. Are there any opportunities for growth and development in the current crisis for the pharmaceutical industry?
Manlio Florenzano: Any crisis is a durability test for a business. The sustainability of a business depends on how quick and flexible it is when adopting its key processes. At the same time, a crisis always opens up new opportunities and what is important is seeing those.
The coronavirus epidemic has shown that having a strong healthcare system is essential. Therefore, I think that the government will significantly increase healthcare funding following the epidemic. This will open vast opportunities for our industry, and we must remain a trustworthy partner for the Russian medicine at this new stage in its development.
Adam Smith Conferences: How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect the global and Russian pharmaceutical market in the long run?
Manlio Florenzano: What we know for sure is that many business aspects will be rethought. New business models will appear as will new players, especially in e-commerce.
Also, a slowing of the market is likely to occur due to a reduction of consumption of medical goods following a decline in the population’s income. In such a situation, generics and biosimilars will play an even more important role in ensuring patient access to medical therapies, and our main goal is to ensure physical and economic access to high quality medications for patients.
Adam Smith Conferences: What other questions would be relevant to discuss at the Russian Pharmaceutical Forum 2020?
Manlio Florenzano: In my view, the key questions that will remain relevant even after the epidemic are patient access to affordable medications, implementation of the state drug reimbursement model and pricing regulation. Another important question is finding a balance between regulatory norms for the industry and the provision of access to therapies to patients. This affects, for example, the pricing issue, local and foreign production, the creation of tools to ensure accelerated access to high quality therapies for patients. I am convinced that patient interests should be at the heart of any effective regulation because the main goal of all healthcare system stakeholders is to give patients opportunities to receive better therapies.