Américo García
Director General of Mexico and Latin America
Apotex
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Apotex’s Protocols Protect Workers From COVID-19

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 06/08/2020 - 13:04

Q: How is Apotex innovating to attend the growing prevalence of chronic diseases in Mexico? 

A: At Apotex, we have a portfolio with a wide variety of products for several chronic diseases, including diabetes, arterial hypertension, cholesterol and triglycerides and metabolic syndrome. We are committed to raising patients’ quality of life by offering affordable products that meet the highest quality standards. This is precisely why we are constantly striving for innovation, not only in our product portfolio but also in our communication channels. Entering the digital world to reach more patients means providing better solutions for their health problems, as well as creating a support network that ensures proper treatment completion.

Q: How would you describe the reception to Apotex’s cardio-analgesic portfolio?

A: Given that Apotex meets internationally recognized quality standards, specialists are highly welcoming of our cardio-analgesic portfolio. Apopharma (Apotex’s prescription division), is now highly recognized by traumatologists, internal medicine specialists and general physicians, who are the main prescribers of these kinds of treatments. Along with our central nervous system portfolio, cardio-analgesics will be an important business segment for Apotex in the foreseeable future given the epidemiological trends affecting the Mexican population.

Q: What other therapeutic areas is Apotex targeting and why were they chosen?

A: Other therapeutic areas that are being analyzed are gastroenterology, metabolic syndrome and oncology. Regarding the gastroenterology area, we already have a significant important presence with OTC products such as Omeprazole, Pantoprazole, Mugasin and Electrolitos Apo (oral electrolytes). This portfolio will be strengthened in the coming years.

There continues to be a high incidence of metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia in Latin America, which is why we will be introducing several high-quality therapeutic options at affordable prices in the region.

Cancer is also prevalent in Latin America, which has led to a rise in the demand for oncological drugs. To continue innovating and supporting patients, Apotex has been consolidating its presence worldwide in this arena, ensuring market access with affordable, high-quality products. In the next five years, our goal is to introduce a variety of oncological generics.

Q: What new market niches have you identified?

A: Over the past three years, we have explored branded market segments such as OTC and prescription medication. The Apopharma division is an excellent example of our effort to introduce prescription alternatives that can efficiently support specialists and physicians in general. Regarding the OTC segment, Espadiva is consolidating as the leading treatment option for menstrual cramps.

Q: What is the status for production of biosimilars in Mexico? What challenges has the company faced to introduce this division to the country?

A: Undoubtedly, biosimilars are a business opportunity and one of our major priorities. Apotex has created Apobiologix, a specific division to enhance our worldwide presence in this market. As a result, we have launched two biosimilars in Canada: Filgrastrim and Pegfilgrastim, indicated for patients with cancer receiving myelosuppressive chemotherapy. Similarly, we are looking forward to launching important biosimilar products in Latin America.

The regulations to register and receive approval for these kinds of products need to be clearer to accelerate the pace at which biosimilars become available in Latin American markets.

Q: What areas of opportunity has Apotex identified with the centralized purchasing scheme?

A: We should not lose sight of the main goal, which is universal health coverage through lower costs for medications. However, drug prices are just a small portion of the total budget from the healthcare system. The redesign to an efficient system should cover all aspects and not just the price of medications.

We understand that the purchasing models employed by previous administrations required improvement. Yet, instead of improving the previous scheme and looking for ways to avoid corruption and increase healthcare coverage, the new administration implemented a system that has proven to be less efficient and not necessarily better for patients. There has been a focus on prices, which has left quality aside. If this continues, we could face the collapse of our healthcare system or at the very least a loss of effectiveness. The government should consider price but also quality and effectiveness according to the best possible standards.

Additionally, to reach universal healthcare coverage, the public and private sectors must work together. I do not foresee a future where the public and the private sectors are not aligned and leveraging each other’s strengths. Innovation and quality are key to the public interest. Besides providing patients with affordable treatments, collaboration would create thousands of jobs for qualified Mexicans and push the country forward in technology development to offer quality medicines in Mexico and in other developed countries. 

Q: What have been your protocols as a healthcare company during the COVID-19 crisis?

A: As a result of the outbreak, our priority was to protect our people from contagion. We need to keep our operations going to ensure patients receive their treatments and medications but our work has been disrupted. We normally have 300 people at our plant but around 50 workers were sent home because they belonged to a vulnerable group. We faced dilemmas with some of our staff who lived with people working on the frontline of the pandemic, such as doctors or nurses, but at the end of the day we decided to keep them home to avoid any risk of contagion. Also, if any of our workers had a recent interaction with someone with COVID-19, we send them home. These decisions have led to our staff being reduced by 80 people against any normal day. It has been a challenging human resources situation but we are committed to guaranteeing our staff’s safety and health, so tracking the virus has been key for our essential activities.

We have also implemented all the preventive protocols issued by the authorities to keep our environment contagion-free. Among the steps taken were to implement shifts for meals to avoid large gatherings and ensure a safe distance between people. Additionally, we sanitize the area between shifts.

Aside from healthcare-related measures, due to the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic, security measures had to be reinforced. We have people using public transportation in Mexico City so we had to think of a way to protect them from contagion, while being aware of the potential dangers of moving around with company laptops.

Q: How has your supply chain been impacted by the COVID-19 global outbreak?

A: Before Mexico experienced the outbreak, industry measures were implemented in India to stop exports. These measures lasted around three weeks. India and China are the largest API and excipient producers in the world respectively. As the pandemic hit Asia first, we were able to predict the progression so we bolstered our inventories to avoid major disruptions.

Q: What can the generics industry learn from this pandemic?

A: On the commercial side, working from home has been a big learning experience. Adapting to this new modality has been challenging but we have done it successfully. This has, of course, implied an extra effort from everyone on the team. We have also had to monitor global and local news to respond to the authorities’ latest recommendations and see how to improve our staff’s protection. This has also implied adapting our business continuity plan because it was not crafted around a global pandemic. Luckily, we were preparing to reformulate the plan anyway, so the crisis did not find us unprepared.

One of the most important takeaways from this is the importance of diversification in terms of production. Depending completely on one provider has caused a great deal of disruption among healthcare companies. This can be a time for diversification, which could be beneficial for Mexico if the country implements the right incentives for quality production.

Q: What is your opinion on how the country is handling the impact of COVID-19?

A: The company is prioritizing staff safety. However, people across the country are taking irresponsible actions by going out to celebrate commemorative days or harassing medical staff. As a society, we are all on different pages. Collaboration is the most meaningful action to stop contagion but unfortunately, not everyone is complying with the government’s recommendations. At the end of the day, we are in this together.  

Q: What are your short-term goals for Apotex?

A: Our goal is to continue growing faster than the overall market. In a complicated global economic environment, Apotex must continue being a key player in the Latin American market to support physicians, patients, clients and our employees. Lastly, we are working hard to maintain our position as one of the Top 10 generics companies in Latin America.

 

Apotex manufactures and commercializes generic and innovative drugs in more than 115 countries. It has over 1,100 active projects that represent more than 500 molecules in 50 countries

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst