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Our collaborations with Govt of India focus on building resilient healthcare systems

Sylvia Varela, AVP Asia Area, AstraZeneca discusses about the company’s plans to drive market growth, address public health challenges, improve accessibility, and champion gender diversity in the pharma sector, in an interview with Viveka Roychowdhury

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As this will be your first official visit to India following your appointment as the Asia Area Vice President, AstraZeneca what are your plans to grow the India market share?

AstraZeneca is committed to transform healthcare for billions of people. Pioneering science is accelerating our understanding of disease, helping us better predict clinical success, develop and deliver life changing medicines and increase engagement in the clinic and beyond.

We’re building success across our markets and our therapy areas by creating innovative medicines and improving access to them, with the aim of transforming the lives of the greatest number of patients with improved outcomes and a better quality of life. The pandemic showed the power of science, technology and public-private partnerships in driving innovation and we are applying the lessons learned to address future challenges.

India is unique and presents exciting opportunities. We recognise the opportunity to serve growing patient population and contribute to improving healthcare outcomes especially in the non-communicable disease areas. With a high prevalence of conditions like cancer, diabetes, respiratory problems cardiovascular ailments and rare diseases, we are working with the ecosystem to ensure that we are able to deliver most effective medicines to patients in need. We are building strategic alliances with government bodies, local healthcare institutions and diagnostic organisations which can help co-create tailored healthcare solutions and improve the overall access to care.

In terms of therapeutic focus areas, what will be the growth drivers for AstraZeneca in a post pandemic world, as revenues from COVID-19 medicines reduce?

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of health systems across the world. It has nudged us to adopt more resilient healthcare systems that can help address the underlying challenges such as the rise of non-communicable diseases. While COVID-19 has been a significant focus for us during the pandemic, we are invested in bringing down the burden of some of the biggest healthcare challenges today. Our strategy involves a balanced approach across all therapeutic areas we are present in to address unmet medical needs and deliver value to patients.

AstraZeneca continues to place a high priority on cancer. We continue to invest in research and development to advance therapies for conditions like lung, breast, and ovarian cancers. We have a solid portfolio of cutting-edge oncology medications. We expect considerable growth prospects in this therapeutic field as a result of the rising prevalence of certain diseases and the demand for personalised medical techniques.

Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases continue to constitute significant worldwide health burdens. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart failure are a few of the ailments for which AstraZeneca has a long-standing commitment to finding novel solutions. We expect sustainable growth by addressing the unmet requirements of people and healthcare systems in these areas.

Furthermore, globally we are actively pursuing advancements in the fields of immunology, neuroscience, and rare diseases. These areas present opportunities for AstraZeneca to leverage our scientific expertise and develop innovative therapies that can make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives.

Additionally, our commitment to people and sustainability and addressing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues aligns with the growing focus on holistic patient care. We will continue to integrate inclusive & sustainable practices into our operations and leverage our capabilities to contribute to the overall well-being of patients and communities.

Most of India’s population pays for healthcare out of pocket. What are the company’s plans to make healthcare more affordable, accessible, and equitable, especially for families impacted by rare diseases?

We understand the importance of making healthcare more affordable, accessible, and equitable for the Indian population. AstraZeneca is committed to addressing these challenges through a multi-faceted approach. We strive to enhance accessibility by expanding our patient assistance programs and leveraging partnerships with local healthcare organisations. These initiatives seek to close the accessibility gap between patients and the medicines they require, particularly for individuals impacted from uncommon diseases.

We continuously invest in research and development to advance scientific knowledge and develop innovative therapies for rare diseases. By expanding our portfolio in this area, we aim to address unmet medical needs and provide new treatment options for patients.

We actively collaborate with healthcare professionals, researchers, and academic institutions in India to drive clinical trials and research activities with a focus on rare diseases. In addition to these efforts we recognise the importance of digital health technologies in improving healthcare access, particularly in remote areas. AstraZeneca is exploring partnerships and initiatives that leverage technology to enhance patient monitoring, remote consultations, and access to medical information, ultimately making healthcare more accessible and convenient for all.

Ultimately, we want to make sure that every patient can get the healthcare they require, regardless of socioeconomic status or the rarity of their illness.We remain committed to working with important stakeholders, funding research, and implementing initiatives that drive affordability, accessibility, and equity in healthcare for the Indian population.

How does the company plan to partner with the Government of India to tackle public health pain points?

AstraZeneca is committed to working closely with the Government of India to address issues related to public health and improve access to care. We recognise the importance of public-private partnerships in achieving sustainable healthcare solutions and building resilient healthcare systems and actively seek opportunities to collaborate on various initiatives related to access to care, innovation, upskilling and environment sustainability. Our collaborations with ISHIC (India-Sweden Healthcare Innovation Centre), ‘Skill For Scale’, an e-learning initiative that focused on upskilling primary care providers to equip them with hands on practical training to bridge the knowledge gap that exists in the management of NCDs.

At the community level, we have designed programmes that complement government agenda of building mass scale awareness on diseases especially cancer. Through our Ganga Godavari Programme, we have thus far touched more than 12,000 women and tested them for oral, breast and cervical cancer in many states of the country. Once identified at-risk or positive, beneficiaries are directed to nearest government facilities for further analysis and treatment direction.

AstraZeneca recognises the importance of empowering youth with disease knowledge so that they can make informed decisions about their health. Through our Youth Health Programme (YHP), we are working with adolescents to guide them about the ill-effects of tobacco and alcohol so that we can raise awareness about various health issues affecting youth and provide them with the necessary support and resources to lead healthier lives. By engaging with the government and right stakeholders, we strive to create a positive impact on youth.

These programmes represent a fraction of our broader commitment to collaborating with the Indian government to address pressing public health issues. AstraZeneca is dedicated to advancing healthcare in India and enhancing the general health and wellbeing of its people by utilising our knowledge, resources, and international network.

As part of a small but growing cohort of women leaders in the pharma sector, what are the initiatives you have implemented to support gender diversity?

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