Orlando Aguirre
Director of Government Sales, Market Access and Pricing
Merck Group
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View from the Top

Science, Technology Investment Needed for Today’s Health Burdens

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 07/26/2021 - 12:44

Q: Merck Group has three core divisions: healthcare, life sciences and electronics. How are these evolving in Mexico?

A: Last year, the pandemic took a toll on the industry, with manufacturing processes and patient treatments partially interrupted. In the first half of 2021, we are reaching our targets for most of the divisions. Our healthcare, or biopharma, division is experiencing an important recovery in specialized drugs for the public market, such as oncological and neurological treatments. In the private market, our fertility franchise is also stronger, which points to the confidence of families for a brighter future. Our primary care private market has had mixed results because products like antibiotics were impacted by stay-at-home guidelines, while chronic treatments remained stable. The life sciences division grew more than expected thanks to the double-digit growth of applied solutions. The electronics division grew by about 13 percent in comparison to last year.

Q: What have been the results of your work with public institutions to introduce your products for diabetes, thyroid, oncology and multiple sclerosis?

A: We are pleased with the inclusion of Mavenclad for the treatment of multiple sclerosis in the public healthcare system. We have already begun treating several patients at INNN and ISSSTE and we will soon have the opportunity to benefit patients at IMSS and other institutions. Oncological treatments have also been prioritized by local authorities. We are providing tests for colorectal cancer patients to help doctors make more precise clinical therapeutic decisions.

To reach more people, we are expanding the manufacturing site for Euthyrox (levothyroxine), which will allow us to increase substantially our capacities. We are also working on a technology transfer project for the extended release of a diabetes treatment, a challenging condition that threatens over 10 percent of Mexico’s population.

Q: Merck is performing clinical trials in Mexico. What are the benefits of these trials for the local population?

A: Merck is scheduled to participate in two multiple sclerosis studies at the end of 2021. By participating in these studies, we can obtain a better profile of the ideal drug for any patient and achieve a better view of the benefits for specific patient groups. Access is likely to become easier through clinical trials because they provide researchers a better and deeper understanding of diseases and therapies.

Q: Last year, Merck planned to launch a product to treat kidney disease or the urogenital system. What is the status of this product launch?

A: We are about to receive the urogenital system indication approval from COFEPRIS for Bavencio, which is the immuno-oncology drug indicated for Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare type of skin cancer. We expect to launch this new indication by the end of 2021. The medication will be available in the private market immediately and we will be submitting our dossier to the General Health Council for its evaluation and approval for the public sector.

Q: What other products is Merck releasing in Mexico in the short term?

A: We have already launched Mysimba for obesity control. In combination with physical activity, this product has the potential to improve the lives of the estimated 72 percent of Mexican patients who have obesity, as reported by ENSANUT MC 2016. The product’s unique active mechanism is also approved and commercialized in more than 30 countries, including the US.

Q: How does Merck regard innovative risk-based contracts and contracts based on health outcomes in terms of financing?

A: Merck has been locally promoting these new financial approaches for payers. In this case, institutional healthcare organizations. Merck and the industry’s representatives through several associations have already submitted several proposals and held discussions with public healthcare authorities. These models are a modern, effective way to guarantee commercial agreements for patients.

Q: How is Merck Mexico introducing the results of global collaborations, such as neurostimulator devices, to the country?

A: The Electronics Surface Solutions in Gernsheim, Germany, supports our customers’ need for new material, such as effect pigments and Patinal products. Our global partnerships have boosted the development of selective neurostimulation technology for patients with debilitating, systemic, chronic conditions. In Mexico, we are training our collaborators, joining projects and shaping the environment to promote the adoption of this state-of-the-art technology. Mexican curiosity and creativity, both of which are strongly encouraged by our company, have proved in the past to be very important assets in Merck's developments.

Q: How is Merck introducing innovative technological trends into its manufacturing practices?

A: We run several projects that have a cross-divisional impact, such as automated systems and tools for data gathering in manufacturing, including critical values, such as temperature and humidity. These tools also allow us to monitor real-time performance indicators to measure productivity and efficiency in manufacturing lines, improve decision-making and increase accuracy. During the pandemic, it was also important to deploy tracking functionalities to fulfil international requirements for healthcare products.

Q: What other novel care areas are a priority for Merck in Mexico?

A: Our fertility franchise focuses on helping couples who decide to have a family later in their lives. We also focus on prevention and an early approach to healthcare through Mysimba, which will help overweight people stay healthy and avoid metabolic illnesses, in combination with exercise. We are also fully committed to pursuing a healthier lifestyle. As the population ages, our neurological and oncological products play an important role in providing the best quality of life possible.

Q: Merck’s lipids have played an active role in COVID-19 vaccine development. How did the company balance this demand with regular workflows?

A: Lipids are a key component of mRNA-based vaccines. Merck launched a new high-purity synthetic cholesterol product nine months ahead of schedule to meet the higher demand for lipids and in doing so, we helped manufacturers bring lifesaving therapies to patients faster. To meet the increase in demand, we expanded capacities at our manufacturing sites in the EU and the US. These expansions are part of a multiyear program to increase our industrial capacity, grow Merck’s capabilities to support a growing global demand and make significant contributions to public health. In Mexico, we do not have an operation to provide lipids for vaccines but we do participate in the filling process. Our local manufacturing capabilities focus on traditional pharma, biosimilars and influenza vaccines.

Q: How is Merck implementing digitalization trends in healthcare, such as telemedicine or the use of AI for its Mexico branch?

A: We are continuously learning from our stakeholders and we follow modernization trends, not only as a consequence of the pandemic but as a core value of our company. The implementation of digital initiatives that originate within our collaborators is a priority for us. Many of these initiatives come from our younger employees and the company embraces them fully. We are also using technology to increase the frequency of remote training and site visits for equipment demonstrations. This is in addition to holding virtual meetings with our customers and partners.

 

Merck Group, founded in 1668 in Germany, is the oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company in the world. It works in biopharma, OTCs, allergen immunotherapy, high-tech chemicals and life sciences. Merck has been present in Mexico since 1930.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst