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A few days ago I attended the official presentation of Asebio‘s Annual report. Asebio is the Spanish Association of Biotechnology Industries and next year will be celebrating its 10th anniversary.
A long road has been completed from the early 90’s that I remember in the executive search profession. Then, the searches assigned to EuroGalenus were coming from foreign corporations just starting commercial operations in Spain. Usually Regional or Country Managers and their key board executives: CEO, CSO, Regulatory Affairs Director and/or Technical/responsible person. These executives were sourced from Pharmaceutical companies as the problems they were facing were very similar: approval, reimbursement, marketing, etc. Most of those companies are now big consolidated names in the world of international and Spanish Biotechnology.
In 1992, the Spanish sector consisted of Biokit (part of the Werfen/Izasa group), Pharmamar (part of Zeltia)…and not much more. So the development in 15/20 years is more stunning than just the past 10 years. Now, Spain has over 250 companies employing more than 100.000 people. Even more, we have successful companies ready to make the “big jump” and become truly global. To Pharmamar, we now have to add Advancell, Oryzon Genomics, Digna Biotech, Cellerix, Bionostra, Lipotec, 3P Bio or Palau Pharma, to mention a few. Spain now ranks 8-9th in the Biotechnology world league according to the latest OECD report.
These new companies face very different scenarios and needs than the pioneers : Discovery and Development senior scientists, Manufacturing and scale-up Directors, Intellectual property (IP) experts, Business Development Directors… Less than two years ago, one of the CEO’s in the industry, Ms. Cristina Garmendia of Genetrix was appointed Minister of Science and Innovation; unfortunately when the worst of the economic crisis was starting to hit traditional sectors such as construction, housing, tourism, etc. Not the ideal situation to fight for Biotechnology in front of the other Ministers in the councils.
However, my professional perspective is that the foundations of this sector in Spain are solid: the traditional high scientific level and creativity of our Research centres and Universities starts to find a new perception from venture capital and finance groups. The country government and regions are supporting the development of Biotech Parks and clusters, where Academia, Science, Business and Finance can work and grow together.
Next November 26th the Alumni of the IE Business school will celebrate an Open Forum in Madrid to discuss the current challenges of the sector in Spain, but the great appointment will be BioSpain next year 2010 at the end of September, with Pamplona as the city host.
What makes Biosciences executives different from other economy segments? It is commonly argued that it is a different industry with a certain endogamy seen in their companies and some functions. Apart from the unpredictability associated with basic research, a basic difference is that Biosciences project a global approach from the very moment that a molecule is identified. Here are three others:
* Permanent Innovation. With a clear science-and-research culture, innovation is embedding in this sector DNA. The most successful corporations are the ones with a clear commitment to R&D. An average R&D investment of 15%, that may go as high as 20% is difficult to beat for most industries, except sometimes IT or Telecom. Successful executives must get used to project management and drug development in many innovative disciplines such as Molecular Biology, Genetics, Nanotechnology, Proteomics, etc. Any professional headhunter knows that Biosciences CEO’s and VP’s must not be sought from mature or “comfortable” sectors .
* Regulatory Affairs. A challenge for executives coming from other sectors is market access. Price is not free in most countries, packaging cannot be changed without notifying the health authorities, distribution channels are well established with the role of Hospitals and Pharmacies also regulated. Moreover, promotional claims or DTC advertising must pass previous approval in almost every country, particularly for reimbursed products. Business Development deals require a quick adapting to new segments with a strong focus on health economics, outcomes and reimbursement.
* The role of prescription. When the ultimate customer, the patient, is often remote and not in direct contact with the innovator, a pharmaceutical o biomedical product requires the professional advice of a prescriber. This works in cascades: international opinion leaders(OL’s), national OL’s and local OL’s. Nowadays, specialists -in a clear shift from primary care- again prescribe the most innovative and attractive products. And the number of stakeholders has grown in recent times, including now clinical boards assessing new drugs, patients associations, medical societies and -in countries like Spain- autonomous communities authorities, etc.
The advent of personalized medicine will mean more specialist drugs for smaller groups of patients and a shift back to science vs. marketing, -that was so effective in the me-too and blockbuster era-. Executives used to work with that type of products need to reset to the new targeted-only business model and the recruiters involved in these types of searches must have the “helicopter view” necessary to differentiate segments and cultures, on top of speaking the language of the industry.