Fernando Cruz
Country President and Head of Corporate Affairs and Communication
Novartis Group Mexico
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Medicine Is Only Effective When Accessible: Novartis

By Miriam Bello | Fri, 04/30/2021 - 11:42

Q: Novartis recently announced an alliance with IMSS to support digital patient care. How will this public-private alliance support patients and doctors?

A: Beyond being a pharmaceutical company, Novartis is a health solutions’ company propelled by data science and technology. At a corporate level, we have been recognized as an early adopter of disruptive technology to build long-term sustainability. Novartis has taken decisive steps toward AI, IoT, machine learning and other digital tools that have accelerated our therapy development process. For instance, prior to our digital transformation, we collected data from clinical studies but it was hard to process it. By embracing new tools, we have accelerated our data processing and reduced our development times.

As part of this technology adoption, Novartis has been exploring the benefits of telemedicine and how it contributes to the work and education of health professionals. The purpose of our IMSS alliance is to enable this institution with digital tools, such as telemedicine, to properly reach patients, especially at this challenging time when it is difficult to arrange presential visits to the doctor’s office. Through this alliance, we are offering a telemedicine platform called Consultorio Móvil, which enables doctors to host remote consultations with patients without mobility complications or COVID-19 contagion risk. Among other benefits, this model offers schedule continuity for doctors and it enhances health access as there are no space barriers. Furthermore, through the platform, we are offering scientific data and educational material to encourage continuous education for doctors. This option is also available for doctors in the private sector by accessing through MedForum.

Q: Novartis is also collaborating with INC in its heart failure research. Why is it important for the company to invest in local research?

A: Cardiovascular diseases are a matter of public health due to their prominence in the country. For this reason, Novartis has prioritized investment in this area. Through INC, Novartis acts as a facilitator for its research goals. Investment in this type of clinical research is essential because, within health economics, this activity is one of the highest investment multipliers. For every dollar invested, the economic trickle down is above US$3.5, which is above the ratio of manufacturing plants. Another benefit is that it generates a virtuous circle for Mexican scientists participating in clinical protocols with state-of-the art technology and first-generation information that allows information exchange with foreign colleagues.

A third advantage is the potential that the country has to become a world-class reference for pharmaceutical R&D. Novartis invests around US$8-9 billion per year in R&D and we bring to Mexico around US$6-10 million per year. This low number is associated to the approval processes for clinical protocols in Mexico, which could be significantly improved. If these were accelerated, Mexico could create the ideal environment for R&D as we have one of the largest public health institutes in IMSS, a decent number of qualified medical professionals and a wide number of patients in need of solutions. Collaborative work with the authorities to create a regulatory framework that responds to R&D needs would transform this potential to real opportunity. Novartis is interested in building a virtuous circle, hoping it will encourage other actors in the industry to invest and ask for this regulatory framework.

Q: What actions is Novartis taking in Mexico to increase access to innovative medicines?

A: Novartis has a global guideline called “The Principles of Access” that establishes the actions we should follow to ensure that patients have accelerated access to healthcare. The impact of these actions and the actions themselves vary depending on the country as there are some with a much more amiable regulatory framework for innovate therapy introduction and other markets with a more challenging process. In some countries, companies can take years to receive a regulatory approval, whereas in others, established medicine schemes can speed up the process. Mexico has this basic medicine scheme, which ensures that regardless of the public health institute, the government will ensure these medicines are supplied and available to the different public health entities.

Novartis shares common goals with the Mexican government, such as free universal health coverage. Therefore, the company has many initiatives to contribute. Among them is Novartis Access, through which we make available a medicine portfolio of around 15-20 drugs that include patented and generic medicines from our Sandoz branch. These drugs are offered at a symbolic price of US$1 per patient each month. With this program, we are seeking to expand medicine and health service access around the main ailments in the country, which include breast cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Q: Novartis released an e-commerce program in Mexico for specialized pharmaceutical products. What is the main goal of this program?

A: This is another effort to facilitate medicine access by using innovative tools. E-commerce has become a regular source of services. We are taking advantage of it to provide an access option without the costs associated with intermediaries because products are sold directly to the public. Digitalization for internal and external performance has to be among the priorities of any company. The decision to launch our first e-commerce store in Mexico is a reflection of Novartis’ strong bet on technology. In the long term, this could also enhance drug affordability in the market.

This program has been very successful and has outperformed our expectations. We see a prosperous future for it as we will increase our offering and integrate more products. We hope the Mexican authorities build a regulatory framework for these types of platforms so that we can reach more people and have a greater impact.

Q: Novartis is working with CureVac to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. What is Novartis’ role in this alliance?

A: This is part of our effort to be a part of the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since last year, part of these efforts focused on a coalition of 15 companies supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a British investment fund through which we all contributed from our fronts with what we knew best. In our case, this meant research. Novartis has heavily invested in researching COVID-19 therapies or treatments as, by nature, the virus is here to stay, just as viruses like influenza have. Therefore, finding a treatment is an essential part of this fight. Novartis is holding clinical trials for a number of drugs to find a treatment.

On the vaccine front, Novartis wanted to support vaccine production to accelerate global vaccination campaigns. We just entered an agreement with CureVac to assign our manufacturing plant in Austria to the production of up to 150 million vaccines and contribute to the collaborative global effort of achieving immunization against COVID-19.

Q: Which products will Novartis introduce to the Mexican market and how will these address Mexico’s disease burden?

A: Novartis has a solid investment commitment with Mexico. Our plans for the country usually span five years and given the nature of our innovative solutions and new molecules, which have an incubation period of eight to 10 months, we anticipate new product launches. Within the coming years, we will significantly strengthen our portfolio for cardiovascular diseases, oncology and especially breast cancer. Central nervous system solutions will be important as well as mental health is gaining more attention. Finally, our Gene Therapies franchise will integrate ADH solutions.

What is most interesting about our new developments is how we are integrating cell& gene therapies, meaning we are creating more personalized products. For the first time in humanity, we are working with the patients’ cells to combat aggressive diseases affecting the immune system, such as leukemia. In gene therapies, we have been able to replace missing genes in newborns to correct any defect that could evolve into a dangerous disease, such as spinal muscular atrophy that has a very high mortality rate. These therapies have been approved by the FDA but we are still working on improving our developments.

 

Novartis is a Swiss pharmaceutical company that develops innovative medications in several therapeutic areas, including neuroscience, oncology, respiratory diseases, dermatology and immunology.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst