COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on healthcare gap

Anand Narasimhan, Managing Director, Merck Specialties (healthcare arm of Merck KgaA), interacts with Akanki Sharma to explain about the various business opportunities for the company in India, the impact of COVID-19, future plans and much more….

Since its operations began in India, what business opportunities has Merck Healthcare created for itself? At present, how huge is the Indian market for it to expand its business further here?

At Merck, we are guided by our purpose ‘As One for Patients’ to address the healthcare challenges of APAC, with the aim to improve the health of nine million patients per year by 2025. We aim to improve treatment management and medical outcomes through our specialised therapies and indications, innovative drug delivery devices and digital technologies. Merck India’s ambition to be a global specialty innovator is driven by four core specialties of oncology, fertility, Cardiometabolic Care & Endocrinology (CM&E) and Neurology & Immunology (N&I).

We are quite optimistic about the areas in which we operate. In 2022, we continue to take a consolidated view across our therapy areas for core and launch assets. Our focus stays sharpened across our TAs:
CM&E: Maintain market leadership and grow key brands
Fertility: Cement Merck position as innovator and partner for fertility
Oncology: Expand and establish new growth opportunities
N&I: Drive growth and market share.

What impact did COVID-19 have on your healthcare business? What challenges and opportunities (if any) did it bring?

The pandemic highlighted the significance of research infrastructure and funding for public health emergencies and the importance of being prepared for any disasters and resiliency. COVID-19 had limited impact on sales in the healthcare business sector in the second quarter of 2021. One of the best things that happened due to the pandemic is digital innovation, which has helped to accelerate development in India to a different level. Our teams leveraged the acceleration of digital tools during COVID-19 as a safe, but effective means to engage with high-risk individuals across a range of disease areas.

Internally, we have taken the opportunity to embrace new collaborative tools to enable more efficient ways of working while building digital capabilities amongst our workforce to ensure that noone is left behind. The COVID crisis has demonstrated science and technology’s importance in tackling global problems. In the pharma industry, innovation has had a crucial role since it affects the quality of life. In our pharma world, science and innovation have indeed been refocussed, notably with the introduction of the COVID vaccine.

Any lessons learned?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the healthcare gap, and has given us a reality check on the urgent need to build a robust healthcare system. We need to be highly proactive in planning for emergencies and also ensure to keep the organisation agile and curious to see how quickly we can adapt and adopt to changing market conditions. To deliver on our ambition to be a global specialty innovator, and after a tumultuous year with the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided on a strategy to sharpen the focus of our teams and to drive sustainable growth across our franchises.

Our refreshed approach is underpinned by four global strategic priorities: growing our core business, maximising launches, leveraging digital to drive growth and harnessing the power of our people and culture.

The effects of COVID-19 on healthcare are immense. The pharma industry has been actively involved in the fight against the virus, wherein innovation played a crucial role in providing treatment strategies and managing the supply chain during the crisis. As a result, the pharma sector was forced to refocus its resources on dealing with the pandemic.

Tell us about the ongoing developments at your company with respect to the COVID-19 treatment.

We have collaborated with other healthcare and lifesciences companies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the development, manufacturing and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19 and enhance access for everyone around the world. We are also part of the European CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe) consortium, which aims to accelerate the discovery and development of urgently needed medicines to treat COVID-19.

Our lifescience products and services support pharma and biotech companies in developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, including more than 50 potential COVID-19 vaccines, more than 35 solutions for testing, and more than 20 monoclonal antibodies, plasma products and anti-viral drugs.

In February 2021, we announced the expansion of our strategic partnership with BioNTech and will increase our supply volume of lipids needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

What are the current major trends that you are witnessing in the various segments of the pharma industry? Also, if you could tell us about the possible future trends.

The trends to look out for in the pharma market are:
Artificial Intelligence (AI): Adopting AI can improve the success rates of new drugs and create more affordable medicines and therapies. The use of AI in the pharma industry has different roles
expected to expand, such as reviving drug discovery and development.
Precision medicine: Personalised or precision medicine is assembled depending on a specific patient diagnosis. Its primary aim is to make sure that the drug is customised for optimal efficacy and patient outcomes.

Digital processes: As the digital processes are significantly being used, manual processes are ending, which has enhanced operational efficiency and facilitated compliance with greater ease. It also improves transparency and can mitigate the loss of data.

Blockchain: Amongst the upcoming trend is blockchain, which can be used to track the path of raw materials, ingredients and components. This is helpful for pharma companies to keep a clear
record of supplies and demand.

Rise in e-medicine and telemedicine: With everything becoming digitalised, the rise of e-medicine is only natural. E-medicine makes it easy to deliver drugs to remote locations and increases mass reach. With that, there is also a focus on telemedicine, which also promotes providing quality healthcare to the masses.

Is there anything in the pipeline, specifically with respect to increasing the company’s business growth in India?

When we see a need for certain kind of therapy or treatment in India, and this can be addressed through our existing products globally, it would make a great fit. The specialty innovator portfolio is an area where we see great synergies in the need-availability cycle, and we are more than happy to bring global brands to India, serving patients who need them the most.

We are able to significantly leverage Merck KgaA’s global portfolio. Over the years, we have been able to bring in few of our key international brands to the Indian market. We have fast paced the launch of certain brands from our global portfolio. Last year was a great example of this as we brought in Bavencio to India in collaboration with Pfizer. Given our play in certain segments and how we lead the market, we always look for opportunities to bring brands from the global basket to India as seen relevant.

What are your expansion plans for the next five years?
At Merck, we are pursuing a clear ambition with our “Mobilise for Growth” strategy. We want to become the global 21st-century science and technology pioneer. Our approach is about unlocking our full potential to take the company to the next level. Thanks to our three diverse and distinct sectors, our set-up is unique, with leading positions in the fastest-growing science and technology markets. By creating superior value for our customers, patients, colleagues and society, we are set to shape some of the most critical growth and technology trends of the 21st century. We want to continue accelerating our leading role in science and technology. Therefore, we aim to increase the group sales to approximately €25 billion by 2025.

Anand NarasimhanMerck Specialtiespharma businesspharma trends
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