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April 19, 2017


Pharma has often been scrutinized for flying too close to the sun. More attention is paid to failed launches rather than pharma’s giant leaps for mankind. On April 19th, we explored pharma’s incredible contribution to society from the captains that have seen it all in the pharma galaxy, and taken us higher than ever.

  • John Helou, President Pfizer Canada
  • Allison Rosenthal, General Manager Otsuka Canada
  • Chirfi Guindo, President & Managing Director Merck Canada
  • Sylvie Pilon, Vice-President and General Manager Lundbeck Canada
  • Stephane Lassignardie, General Manager, AbbVie Canada
  • Winselow Tucker, Oncology General Manager, Novartis Canada

The evening’s questions took us on a visual and virtual tour of the hot topics covered through the PMCQ season.

1. How are you, as leaders of industry, promoting creativity and innovation among your employees?

We have innovative clinical and commercial employees. We should be proud and not complacent and continue pushing ourselves. We must work as multidisciplinary teams, use innovative spaces, spend time outside of set agendas, brainstorm, and focus innovation to have the best benefits for patients in Canada.

Culture is key to innovation. We must try to develop that kind of culture where people can bring forth their ideas but they know they are supported because we have defined the areas where we are willing to take the risks. No innovation comes without risks.

You need to be willing to accept failure so you need to also be promoting failure. Learn from your failures to continue innovating.

2. How do you envision working with the SME’s and the research community in the future and how can we help you to collaborate more with this important part of the licenses’ ecosystem in Montreal?

Biotech is an ecosystem that is critical. Without the large multi-national pharma companies, the sector cannot exist. The sector depends on two things: financial and economic incentives for it to flourish. Partner and participate in innovation funds.

We need to be advocates of the innovations our industry has brought to patients to live better and longer lives. In Canada, we are lucky to be in a safe environment where we can try new things. Without good, strong research between pharma and biotech, none of these innovative products can be brought to market.

3. Tell us how intentionally ‘doing good’ and making a profit are not mutually exclusive and how doing the right thing can turn out to benefit more than just pharma?

We focus and encourage our employees to get involved in the community and participate in activities to reduce the stigma associated with health issues. Selling is not a dirty word. If we meet our profitability target, we can help more patients. Pharma as an industry, we reinvest our profits to bring new innovation, new drugs for patients. We should not be afraid to say it.

We offer our employees the opportunity to do volunteer work, take leaves of absence for profound projects that are important to them, moments that are self-actualizing. Culture within our organizations is a differentiator. If you do the right thing, profits follow and our customers feel the difference.

If you feel engaged, feel that you are valued and that the company is interested not just by your work but what you do outside of working hours, you are likely to be significantly more innovative.

4. Tell us about a time where you felt the need to speak up to stand out for patient care and what was the outcome?

Canada has a complex reimbursement policies and this is why pharma has created patient programs to help patients navigate this system. Certain payers were questioning the value we were creating so we needed to speak up, to show to the public payers that when a physician prescribes a product, he prescribes an ecosystem. He prescribes co-pay assistance, he prescribes compassionate use, and he prescribes better patient outcomes and adherence.

Pharma has been the voice of the patient. We have the patient at heart. We have a patient mindset. One day we will all be a patient and we will need somebody to fight for us. We will need access to innovative medicines. We partnered with patient associations to raise awareness around the lack of access to certain medications. In return, they are willing to partner with us and become the voice of the patient. We need to work hard so that patients have access to innovative medication.

5. What do you think is the single most important element when negotiating with payers, both public and private, and how do you move the conversation from cost containment to drug value?

The single most important barrier/challenge that we face as an industry in Canada is market access; whether it’s private or more importantly public. First, if you look at the data from all the new chemical entities that were launched in Canada between 2009 and 2014 we are completely aligned with the mid-range prices in Europe. During the period of 2003 and 2015, 206 new chemical entities were reviewed and recommended by CDR. Out of those 206, only 59% have public listing. In the private sector, some private plans have them listed but a lot of them are more and more mimicking the public plans.

A couple of pieces of data that you need to understand, although we have the interest of the patient at heart, they believe that governments are representing the patients better than we are. We need to speak their language to have more rapid adoption of innovative medicines. When we look at first product launch, it takes 3 to 3 ½ years for 80% of Canadian patients to have access to these products. We are slipping dramatically. We need to reduce this by half or to zero.

We are speaking to people who do not trust us. It’s hard to build that trust but we have to. We have to bring back the discussion about value and access to the impact on patients. The delays are long and there is a lot of disparity between provinces. As an industry, let’s be proud about the impact of our products and the value they have, but also take a different view and show payers we care about your sustainability, we care about the value of our products and our shared goal is the impact on patients.

We also have to be prepared to give something up in order to get the access to the medications our patients deserve. From the payer’s perspective: they are winning, they are effective at creating the savings. It’s a vicious circle that is bad for the innovative products and the patients.

6. What do you think is Pharma’s biggest image issue and how do you address it at your company?

The public sees us has benefiting from people’s illnesses. They don’t see all the advancements and the fact that people are living longer healthier lives. We are selling medicines and some people have to make choices between buying their medication and buying food. Each of us had heard patient stories about fighting to gain access to new medications. If we could all collectively share these stories, we could defend the stories in the media that convey false information.

It is our responsibility to tell our stories. We have a wonderful story of Maurice Hillman - the scientist who developed 40 breakthrough vaccines, preventing 8 million deaths every year - should be as well-known as Steve Jobs. Those who really know us, respect us. There are irresponsible pricing behaviours in our industry that need to be cleaned out. We cannot demand trust if we behave in a way that does not command trust.

We are all heroes. We are advocates for the industry we work for. How many are able to turn the conversation around when Big Bad Pharma is brought up? It starts with each of us.

Questions were also raised by the audience on different subjects such as:

  • How can the negative perception that Pharma is carrying be improved?
  • How can pharma benefit from new technologies (IT, EMR, artificial intelligence) to speed up drugs to market and partner to have a better offering to patients and payers
  • In terms of vaccines, which position should be taken by pharma around the many controversies surrounding vaccines?

To close on an enlightening evening that provided the audience with many insights, our leaders were asked to give us a window into where they saw pharma’s future.

7. What’s your counter-intuitive, half-crazy prediction about the next 5 years in our industry?

Over the next 5 years, we will have a new social contract in Canada for our industry and government that will transform how healthcare is being delivered. If we are not successful in having this social contract with the governments, in five years from now patients will rebel.

More and more women are going to take charge in this industry and in 5 to 10 years from now, access will not be an issue anymore. It will all get sorted out.


Jo-Ann Charland
Training Consultant and Medical Writer
Cell: 438-998-0498


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Supporting Care Partners

Virtual Meeting
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Online only!

Tel: (514) 486-3458
Fax: (514) 486-4794

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