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HEALTH| 2020.10.09

This crisis has shown society that the pharmaceutical sector is an indispensable collaborator in the health system

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Everything MAPFRE does is inextricably linked to the protection of its clients and innovation in health, with insurance solutions and digital service platforms such as Savia. In the fight against coronavirus, the innovative pharmaceutical sector plays a key role – in collaboration with health authorities – around the world. We interviewed Federico Plaza, director of Corporate Affairs at Roche Farma España and VP of Famaindustria, about challenges such as the new research model in personalized medicine, the need to continue strengthening the research sector and the pressing need to find solutions to the global health problems arising from COVID-19.

We are all paying close attention to the race to find safe and reliable vaccines and treatments, and their subsequent distribution. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the dangers of nationalism in relation to the vaccine. What other challenges do we face?

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced an unprecedented crisis worldwide and is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges we face as a society. For better or worse, many things will simply never be the same again. The fight against the pandemic is everyone’s job, and we will only beat this crisis if we all work in a coordinated and collaborative manner, and that goes not just for individual countries, but for the private sector and public and private institutions too. This is one of our main challenges. We are fortunate to be part of a sector – the innovative pharmaceutical industry – that has played a key role, in close collaboration with the health authorities, in the fight against coronavirus.

The contribution of our sector, and in particular of companies such as Roche, is based on the quest to find solutions through the research and development of vaccines and antivirals

The contribution of our sector, and in particular of companies such as Roche, is based on the quest to find solutions through the research and development of vaccines and antivirals, as well as through the supply of products already approved for other indications that could be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. But we must also guarantee continuity of supply for drugs used in other pathologies for hospitalized patients who need them. We are also working on developing and making available to health authorities new diagnostic tools to detect COVID-19 cases as early as possible and with the greatest possible accuracy, such as the new rapid antibody and antigen tests, which in addition to the advantage of being cheaper, are able to offer results in 10 or 15 minutes.

Another important challenge, and one I believe our sector is tackling well, relates to maintaining economic activity levels, both to safeguard the normal supply of medicines and health products and to collaborate in economic stability and the strengthening of the industrial sector in general.

We have heard the major players call for greater public-private cooperation to guarantee fair access. How important is this?

As I pointed out before, if this crisis has highlighted something, it’s the need to work in a coordinated manner, joining forces across sectors, be they public or private, to find solutions. A good example of this is biomedical research and the strengthening of the research sector, which are more important than ever before. This is an especially relevant aspect for companies like Roche, a leader in biomedical R&D in Spain, where we invest more than 60 million euros in clinical research, which translates into nearly 300 clinical trials in hospitals with the participation of more than 16,000 patients. It is essential to maintain this activity during the current crisis, and for this reason Roche has been working for months now on a new premise driven by the impact of COVID-19, which will include telemedicine and the extended use of digital tools to numerous aspects of clinical research and healthcare activity that were previously carried out in person.

How are the big pharmaceuticals holding up agains this complex and as-yet uncontrolled situation?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has significantly accelerated the transformation in which our sector was already immersed, which had been driven by the increasing digitalization of the health system and by advancements in what we call the omics sciences – genomics, proteomics, for example. Both of these factors have opened the door to a new research model that translates into innovations that are increasingly framed within what we call personalized medicine, which at its heart is simply providing each patient with the treatment that best suits the particular molecular profile of the disease they are suffering from at the most opportune time.

The pharma sector is undergoing its own transformation and according to the latest studies, it has weathered the pandemic well. How do you see the future?

In terms of the process of research, development and making therapeutic innovations available to patients, the pandemic has spurred our sector on, and we are all adding even more efficiency to a process that was already efficient, and cutting deadlines wherever possible without impacting on patient safety, which is the absolute priority for us. If you think about it, in the space of just a few months, dozens of vaccine and antiviral projects are well under way, and there is already a wide range of diagnostic tests available. That indicates that the sector has picked up the gauntlet, and that it’s going to do everything possible in the future to find ways to solve this unprecedented global health problem, always in collaboration with health authorities around the world.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has significantly accelerated the transformation in which our sector was already immersed, which had been driven by the increasing digitalization of the health system and by advancements in what we call the omics sciences

 You play an essential role, providing care, managing operations and as first point of contact with society in terms of communication. How would rate the communication aspect?

I believe that this crisis has opened the eyes of many people and society at large to the enormous value that the pharmaceutical sector adds to their quality of life. And I say that not only in terms of offering possible solutions in record time but also in terms of our capacity to act as an indispensable collaborator within the health system, as a promoter of research and as an economic driver that brings talent and innovation together.