Sandra Sánchez-Oldenhage
Regional General Manager of the NoLA Region
Novartis Oncology
Expert Contributor

Becoming a Trusted Partner to Address Main Healthcare Challenges

By Sandra Sánchez | Wed, 07/29/2020 - 09:05

Health economies everywhere are facing serious challenges. Global healthcare bills are soaring, populations are aging, new medical needs are emerging and the disease burden of the developing world increasingly resembles that of the developed world. Hence, the reality is that governments and health insurers everywhere are struggling to contain their expenditure. Moreover, the COVID-19 induced economic turmoil is further exacerbating the situation to the point that we expect it will place even greater financial pressure on the payer community.

The current key social, economic and technological changes taking place in the pharmaceutical and healthcare arena will all necessitate the development of multinational, multidisciplinary networks drawing on a much wider range of skills than the industry alone can provide. Greater collaboration between the public and private sectors is critical in order to combine capabilities and experiences, all in favor of a better-treated patient and healthier society. Furthermore, the advent of new consumer technology is introducing even more challenges, as well as bringing older ones to the fore. This disruptive technology can actually help by promoting greater patient power. The most agile and forward-thinking health economies and companies have the opportunity to revolutionize the way we deliver care, and in doing so, to transform their societies and organizations, respectively.

Most Big Pharma companies have traditionally done everything from research and development (R&D) through commercialization, in-house. Nevertheless, this model may no longer work for many. If we are to prosper, we will need to improve our R&D productivity, reduce our costs, tap the potential of the emerging economies and switch from delivering medicines to managing outcomes/access-driven models – activities few companies, if any, can accomplish on their own.

As developed and emerging-market governments expand their healthcare provision, they are also looking for ways to contain costs. A lack of experience in performing sophisticated cost-benefit equations can sometimes lead to simplistic price comparisons and crudely applied budget limits that deny patients access to innovative therapies. Beyond cost-benefit assessment, political pressures can also affect market access decision-making. Yet, when access is granted, price controls are often used to manage healthcare spending and encourage the development of the domestic industry. 

These market trends are dictating the need for a more collaborative approach. Even the largest pharmaceutical companies will have to collaborate with external organizations to develop effective new medicines more economically, help patients manage their health and ensure that the products and services they provide really make a difference. Moreover, they may have to step far outside the sector to find some of the partners they need. Being creative, open and looking beyond “how we have always done things” is essential for future growth.

As an industry, we need to continue innovating and developing new treatments and combinations to stay ahead of the game and address the main growing disease areas, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, along with the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic, malaria, and neglected tropical diseases, like chagas. However, innovative treatment is only part of the solution. There are many more obstacles facing many countries that include a lack of adequate medical and clinical infrastructure, specialized healthcare providers, and capacity to diagnose patients and get results back quickly so that treatment can begin. Building strong health systems requires significant investment from governments, and it is promising to see so much momentum behind efforts to ensure universal health coverage and expanded access.

Infrastructure challenges have an enormous impact on access to medicines. Often, when we have a new product that could save lives, cure people, or prevent infections in resource-limited settings – and one that we could make affordable through equity-based tiered pricing – challenges on the delivery side prevent its rapid scale-up. A case in point is oncology. Even if oncology drugs were donated at no cost, infrastructure often does not exist or is lagging to deliver the care. For many second, or third-line treatments, there is a need for imaging, diagnostics, lab work and oncologists, which are not always readily available, especially in mid and low-income countries.

All this explains why collaboration is so important. No one organization can address the world’s most pressing global public health challenges on its own. Every player, from governments to enterprises to individuals, should be involved in improving healthcare. All sectors – public, private, academia and civil society – must sit together, with open minds, and agree on how to collaborate in the best interest of patients. If we can make that work through a focus on shared responsibility and accountability, I am confident we will see an impact on outcomes. 

Our ambition at Novartis is to build on our oncology foundation to develop a sustainable business model that addresses some of the biggest global public health challenges, such as cancer. Despite significant progress in cancer treatment, the unmet need remains high, as cancer is not one disease; it is a myriad of diseases of immense complexity. Hence, Novartis is committed to developing medicines that could significantly advance treatment standards for patients worldwide in this therapeutic area. 
Novartis recognizes it is not enough just to introduce transformative therapies; we must get them to patients who need them as fast as possible, especially underserved populations who are in dire need of them. Therefore, it is imperative we share responsibility among all key stakeholders. In response, we have evolved our business model from a transactional one (that of only supplying medicines), to a patient-centric model, in which we offer value-based solutions for the end-to-end patient experience. 

Our commitment with patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals, payers and healthcare systems is to become the partner of choice that drives collaborative relationships to improve outcomes for patients; and consequently, become a trusted cohort in changing the practice of medicine. This partnership-based approach allows for local adaptation of different models based on each country’s specific needs. 

Our access strategies are grounded on three principles: addressing the needs of underserved populations through R&D, further improving the affordability of our drugs, and strengthening healthcare systems. We are committed to continuing to provide tailored access solutions, including fair business models.

Creating new collaborations and partnerships, where innovation can thrive is an important part of today’s research and development landscape. Often developed through knowledge hubs and incubators, and traversing different sectors and industries, these joint ventures are a place where entrepreneurs’ ideas come to fruition, and real healthcare innovation takes place. 

The aim of collaborative innovation is to partner across sectors, leverage expertise and find solutions that are sustainable in the long term. Partnering with academia or smaller companies can also increase pharma’s portfolio while reducing development costs and sharing risk. Moreover, collaborating with payers can bring mutual benefits. Even better, becoming “patient-centric” and putting the patient at the center of a collaborative strategy and operations, while focusing on health outcomes rather than medicines, distinguishes a pharma company from rivals and creates long-lasting value.

At Novartis, we are approaching business as a community-building effort grounded in patient centricity. This is the only way to secure a win-win outcome to address the current evolving healthcare challenges, looking for solutions that serve patients with our best science to the broadest population possible.


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Photo by:   Sandra Sánchez