Ensuring Medicine Supply: Merck’s Global CommitmentBy Miriam Bello | Mon, 09/07/2020 - 09:21
Q: How is Merck Group increasing access to its medicines?
A: INSABI is in an implementation process and our project is cooperating with it. With IMSS and ISSSTE, we already are working with the clear goal of providing the best medical attention for Mexican patients. The country invests very little in healthcare, so one of our tasks is to work with public institutions on diverse programs related to our diabetes, thyroid, oncology and multiple sclerosis products.
We have ongoing clinical trials in the country, a continuous medical education program and we hold constant talks with decision-makers to work together and achieve real access to healthcare. This has been challenging, however. Last year, Mexico disintegrated the Committee of New Molecules, which was key for pharmaceutical innovation in the country. This will slow down innovative product approvals.
At the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic, there were many positive exchanges with the authorities. The industry was close to COFEPRIS and the government showed more openness for dialogue. Now, we are waiting for things to get back on track once the crisis passes. Alongside AMIIF and CANIFARMA, the industry has been very vocal about the need for innovation and access to it. Efforts do not have to be based on money; they can be translated to programs, too.
Q: What are your views on the pay-by-results model that some pharmaceutical companies are promoting?
A: What this model attempts to achieve is something that the industry is always looking for: to find the right patient for the right products. The problem is that even with the right products, the authorities always look for discounts instead of looking for better outcomes or an innovative integral solution. Moreover, without the appropriate follow-up or adherence to treatment, products will not have the desired outcome for the patient. The sector’s authorities are not yet addressing that.
Q: How can the decentralized purchasing scheme improve the Mexican healthcare system regarding access to medicine?
A: The scheme makes all the sense in the world but the rules related to the transition have not been clear. The government ditched certain SKUs from last year’s tenders, which represented around 63 percent of what we already had agreed in terms of supply. However, it is important to mention that the industry is willing and able to supply Mexico’s pharmaceutical needs. The problem is that tender rules have been unclear. The uncertainty led to a slow learning curve. This year’s tenders, however, have been much clearer. The process will be perfected as time goes by and we will learn from the experience.
Q: What have been Merck Group’s most recent product introductions?
A: We are the oldest pharmaceutical company in the world. We have more than 350 years of history in the sector and we have focused on being a leader in the specialty areas of oncology, multiple sclerosis and immunology. In the area of personalized medicine, we released a product that introduces high innovation into the country in the area of multiple sclerosis. The treatment is administered for 10 days in the first year and then another 10 days in the second year, replacing four years of traditional treatments. This substitutes years-long inventories of tablets and injections and it also facilitates the monitoring of the patient. Also, it is safer because it has been tested for years. This is a step that strengthens our position as a leader in the multiple sclerosis specialty, which also translates to faster health and monetary benefits for the patient.
Merck in Mexico also has an upcoming product for Merkel cell carcinoma, which is a rare and aggressive type of cancer. Out treatment is effective up to 40 percent and can be used to treat kidney disease or the urogenital system. Alongside COFEPRIS, we are working on the approval of the products in those three specialties.
Q: How does the company encourage R&D for innovative solutions through its innovation center?
A: This center does not only link technological pharmaceutical research. Our innovation center is also a catalyst of ideas, projects, startups and programs. Merck acts as a support and adviser in these projects. We test the ideas and can contact allies that can help those initiatives to take off and grow. It is a science generator as it develops and supports the ideas of entrepreneurs and researchers. We have not yet brought this project to Mexico but we are looking forward to starting it here because we have seen very good results in different parts of the world.
Q: How has Merck Group introduced digitalization of internal processes, AI or IoT?
A: Regarding AI, Merk has partnerships with specialized companies in the subject to support and accelerate results from clinical trials. As for digitalization, the whole industry is looking to trends such as telemedicine and telehealth and Merck’s challenge right now is to understand the new normal and therefore adapt our services according to the changes that doctors and patients experience. Many studies have defined which diseases can be effectively treated through telemedicine, such as diabetes, although not all diseases can take advantage of this type of tool. We are looking forward to joining these trends and demonstrating our leadership.
We are already using Big Data analytics to increase production efficiency. Also, we are using digital tools to approach the medical staff that we cannot meet in person right now. Merck is studying the times and the overall functioning of teleconsultations to see what can be improved.
Q: What is Mexico’s potential for API production?
A: We have around 18 plants around the world to guarantee medicine manufacture for around 85 million people. In Mexico, we produce thyroid hormones, which involve high safety standards. API production processes are not easy, which is why thinking about local production is a serious step. Mexico is strategic for the company. In Mexico, we manufacture products for Latin America, North America, Europe and the Middle East. Our main goal at the moment focuses on expanding our production plant, which will allow us to explore different markets for our thyroid products in the US.
Q: How is Merck Group contributing to the industry to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Our main priority was staff safety. Employees who could take their work home are doing home office. Production at the plant cannot stop, so we took the preventive measures indicated by the authorities to supply our whole market. Ensuring treatment availability is a global social commitment.
Q: What are Merck’s short-term goals in Mexico?
A: Merck has three divisions: healthcare, life sciences and high-performance materials. The latter created liquid crystal and also develops products like pigments for human use. We are working toward double-digit growth as we are releasing many products and bringing to market others that address the dermatology, oncology and obesity areas. We are investing in more multiple sclerosis findings that can contribute to our growth. Mexico hosts Merck’s most important distribution center in Latin America and is a very strategic country for the company.
Merck Group is the oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company in the world, founded in 1668 in Germany. It works in biopharma, OTCs, allergen immunotherapy, high-tech chemicals and life sciences. Merck has been present in Mexico since 1930