Suresh Pattathil, MD & GM, Allergan AbbVie updates Express Pharma on the operational and cultural integration of Allergan into AbbVie in a virtual environment on a global basis midst a pandemic, the merged entity’s focus in India and how continuous patient education and awareness resulted in steady resumption of treatment and surgeries in eye care
AbbVie completed the acquisition of Allergan in May 2020. What were/are the market trends driving such an acquisition?
The acquisition has enabled AbbVie to become a well-diversified leader in many important therapeutic categories, with both on-market and pipeline assets. The combined financial strength will allow us to continue to invest in innovative science and to serve unmet medical needs of patients that rely upon us. Together, we will innovate for tomorrow, while making a remarkable impact for millions today.
How does this integration play out for the combined entity in India, in terms of market share, therapeutic areas etc?
The integration process began in May 2020, and it will take us two years to fully complete the process. Currently, Allergan has an important presence in ophthalmology and specific segments of neuroscience and aesthetic treatment in India.
You joined the company in April 2020, just after the national lockdown was put into place. Has it been more challenging to get on board and effect this integration during a lockdown with almost everyone working remotely etc?
I was initially concerned about joining a new company in a lockdown situation and interacting virtually, however, I must say the virtual medium has been very effective and disciplined to drive the creation of a strong leadership team and communicate often and transparently to the employees in a very uncertain environment.
COVID-19 tested us all on our readiness to change, our staying power and our capacity for finding sustainable business and marketing solutions.
The formal acquisition of Allergan by AbbVie happened in the middle of May 2020 and the global leadership team did a wonderful job to make it happen in a virtual environment on a global basis. I have been through multiple integrations in my lifetime – almost seven. One of the good things done in this merger was the culture integration through a culture week internal event, which happened in July 2020. This enabled an onboarding of the employees on the AbbVie culture and the Ways We Work, creating a common culture within the new integrated company.
The merger went through successfully and Allergan in India is an AbbVie company, and we are on track to complete the process as scheduled.
How has the company weathered the COVID-19 lockdown in India?
The pandemic pushed us into making decisions that were smart, timely and benefited our key stakeholders: employees, doctors and the patients we serve. Digitisation broke down the geographic barriers and I am proud to say that all through the COVID-19 turmoil, we did not lose our operational energy.
We encouraged employees to engage digitally with healthcare professionals and colleagues. We even organised several external webcasts, webinars and programs that allowed over 5000 ophthalmologists from India to participate, interact with and learn from experts around the world. In fact, some doctors agreed that this format was very conducive to purposeful interactions. These digital initiatives enabled us to shape the market during the COVID lockdown.
How was 2021 different from the previous year, in terms of business continuity, etc? Most doctors had managed to get vaccinated, so they are able to run their clinics this year in spite of controlled lockdowns. But did patients continue with treatments ,especially in the eye care segment etc, while postponing discretionary expenses like aesthetic treatments?
Like every organisation, we faced a few challenges, but with quick decisions and digital transformation we were swift in bringing our business back on track. In the Wave 1 phase of COVID, a drop in visits to ophthalmic centres occurred due to closure of clinics, hospitals and patients unwilling to visit their doctors due to uncertainty and low levels of understanding of the true behaviour of COVID 19.
However, with the vaccinations of the healthcare workers, doctors found that during the second wave the clinic closure was less in comparison and patients resumed their visits quickly as soon as the 2nd wave abated. All centres and clinics adopted strict COVID protocols to ensure patient safety. Chronic diseases such as glaucoma and Diabetic Macular Edema need constant monitoring which was negatively impacted during the Covid waves, however with continuous patient education and awareness, we started observing a steady resumption of treatment and surgeries in eye care. As a company we provided doctors with non- branded patient information mailers on the disease which helped build awareness and support for their patients.
The same applies even for our aesthetics business, which got postponed due to the clinics shutting down and patient’s perception of safety. This year post the first and the second wave we have seen a resumption of clinics and patients visiting their doctors like in the pre COVID era.
What have been the leadership lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic was an important reminder that our employees are our most important asset. Focussing on the safety of our employees and supporting them through the uncertain period through continuous communication, engaging them and taking quick decisions enabled us to have a high engagement with all within the company. The high motivation and feeling of empathy for all helped us to recover quickly post each of the COVID waves.
Business continuity was one of the most crucial business requirements. We focussed on ensuring that our local manufacturing, supply chain was not disrupted to ensure continuity to meet patient needs despite the pandemic. We could not allow these processes to break down, particularly during such a public health crisis of this magnitude.
The pandemic has been called a stress test for the pharma supply chain. What have been the learnings in terms of Good Distribution Practices (GDPs) that the industry has to or has implemented in year 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Supply Chain and Technical committee of the OPPI of which I am the Chair worked overtime during this period, holding weekly crisis meetings and also ensuring continuous dialogue with the Government who supported us by creating Nodal officers who ensured that the movement of pharma medicines went through despite the lockdown and COVID waves. We did face some disruptions in the first lock-down in April and May 2020 which got ironed out and did not face any issues during the first and second COVID waves. The need for cold chain management and GDP was further strengthened with the vaccine roll out which brought out the criticality of cold chain management for vaccines and other critical drugs. The industry and the government have responded admirably to meet these challenges, ensuring the cold chain and integrity of pharma products.
During the same period, we have submitted a GDP white paper to the government to further enhance and roll out GDP norms as well as our comments on the Schedule M (WHO GMP). We hope to progress on both of this once the situation normalises.
The merged entity is focused on Immunology, Hematologic Oncology, Neuroscience, and Allergan Aesthetic. What is the present revenue mix between these areas? And what is the strategy and target growth for each segment going forward?
With Allergan, we have brought together more than 30 brands and leadership positions, expanding and diversifying our product portfolio with new therapeutic areas that allow us to remain focused on solving tough challenges, better serve patients and maintain our position as an industry leader with top-tier revenue growth for years to come.
The merged entity in India will continue to have a high focus on eyecare, neurosciences and aesthetics. Today, more than ever, we are well-positioned with resources and focus to deliver on our commitments and turn possibilities into reality for more patients.
For example, only 2 million Glaucoma patients out of around 8 million patients suffering from Glaucoma in India are being treated, so there is a huge gap and Glaucoma is a blinding disease.
What is the role of India in AbbVie’s global strategy? And in terms of the Asia market, where does India stand in terms of market share? What will be the investments by the global board into the India market, in terms of expanding the head count etc?
India is a relatively new market for AbbVie and the understanding of the country, the regulatory mechanism, market access model etc are still a work in process. With the presence of the Allergan entity in India which has been built over the last 25 years and our JV with Piramal, which includes local manufacturing of our Eye Care products, I believe that we have a bright future here.
What are the expected approvals and product launch pipeline over the next few years? Will these be simultaneous launches in India?
As I have mentioned above this is still work in process and the current regulatory framework requires at least 24 months from start to commercial launch. We do have some products which will augment our current portfolio, which we may launch in 2022 and 2023.