We believe that the pharmaceutical industry must be an active partner in finding solutions to support the sustainability of health systems
The entire pharmaceutical industry is focused on finding vaccines and drugs, some companies that were competitors yesterday now became partners, and knowledge about the virus itself and vaccine development is being exchanged. In the US, we continue to work with the FDA to facilitate the review of the information needed to make a decision regarding the continuation of testing. AstraZeneca advocates for the safety of trial participants and the highest standards of conduct in clinical trials, states Damir Nevjestić, Country Director Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina at AstraZeneca, for Diplomacy&Commerce.
- AstraZeneca is marking 20 years of operations in Croatia this year. As a worldwide company, how do you rate the business conditions in Croatia today?
AstraZeneca is a global, science-driven, innovative biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of prescription drugs, primarily for the treatment of illness in three therapeutic areas – oncology, cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases, and respiratory and immune diseases. The company was founded in 1999 through the merger of Swedish company Astra AB and the British Zeneca Group. Headquartered in Cambridge, UK, AstraZeneca is present in over 100 countries.
In the twenty years that AstraZeneca has been present on the Croatian market, the business terms have changed significantly, but the company has evolved in the meantime, we adjust to new conditions on the market, and we also set new trends in some segments.
- What do you think about the market and competition in Croatia and what are the biggest challenges, for all together, in the period ahead (both locally and globally)?
The health care system in Croatia is a combination of a model based on social security, i.e. contributions that citizens deduct from their salaries, and a model based on budget revenues. The biggest challenge, not only in Croatia but also in the world, is the financial sustainability of the health system, limited funding on the one hand, and increasing demands from health care users on the other, advances in medicine, innovation in technology and treatment that have their value.
We at AstraZeneca believe that the pharmaceutical industry must be an active partner in finding solutions to support the sustainability of health systems. That is why we are committed to working with governments, in researching new and flexible funding models, all this with the common goal of achieving results that will enable patients to have better health outcomes through innovative, personalized treatment. In achieving this goal, success largely depends on the interoperability of health data systems, reliable data management frameworks, and the scientific skills to link this data with health research.
- What are you development and investment plans by the end of this year, which is in many ways different from the previous ones, and what are your plans for 2021?
I believe that no one could have expected that 2020 would bring so many new challenges, and that it would change all the aspects of our way of life so far so significantly. Given that in Croatia, we are a marketing company, part of a large global corporation, we have had support in digitizing and adapting work from home, even in jobs that depend on direct contacts with clients, health professionals, organizations and institutions. Consumption in the health care system has seemingly increased, however significantly fewer patient visits to hospitals lead to new risk situations – what could happen in the period ahead is a significant increase in cancer patients in the higher stages of the disease. Many patients have faced situations of delay in diagnosis, initiation of treatment, or maintenance of chronic therapy administered in hospitals, which raises the matter of patients’ future outcomes.
In our industry, the crisis had the biggest influence on the approach to new and innovative therapies. Health care systems are focused on the current COVID situation, providing resources for testing and treatment, redistribution in the functioning of the health system, institutions and staff. On the other hand, accelerated digitalization, communication channels, introducing electronic signing is definitely an advantage of this situation.
Since our plans include also the bringing of new and innovative drugs to the market, and this process is directly affected by the current situation, we need to adjust our plans as well. However, despite the current situation, it is our obligation and purpose to provide the patients with optimal treatment for some of the most serious diseases of today.
To achieve this, we need a partnership with all the stakeholders in the health system, and a common understanding that if we do not act, an epidemic of chronic non-communicable diseases can lead to significantly worse consequences than the current pandemic.
- You are also known as a company that pays great attention to supporting the community and the society. What you would single out as the thing that you are most proud of?
I am proud of AstraZeneca Company’s global initiative to become climate neutral, which we announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the beginning of this year – Ambition Zero Carbon. We are investing $1 billion globally to eliminate carbon emissions from production and the supply chain by 2025, and we plan to be carbon negative throughout the chain by 2030. To achieve this, we will double energy efficiency, transfer to the use of renewable energy sources, and to a fully electric fleet of vehicles; we are launching a new generation of respiratory inhalers with extremely low global warming potential; we plan to plant 50 million trees as part of our AZ Forest program.
Science is proving the connection between climate changes and health, and we commit to go further and faster to contribute to the prevention of climate disasters. By strengthening our efforts to achieve zero emission of carbon dioxide and to become carbon neutral, we can contribute significantly to sustainability of our planet and to our public health.
We follow this path here in Croatia as well, proud of our contribution to the community through cooperation with patient associations, educational materials for patients and the public to encourage prevention and early detection of serious diseases such as cancer, myocardial infarction, heart failure, diabetes, asthma. I am also proud of the successful partnership with healthcare institutions to introduce molecular targeted cancer diagnosis, which we started about ten years ago. We nurture environmental care among our employees, and as a company, we have been participating in tree planting campaigns for several years, in order to maintain our green environment. During this pandemic, the company delivered 30,000 face masks to the National Civil Protection Headquarters. Unfortunately, this year we had an earthquake in the City of Zagreb in which the buildings of KBC Zagreb, which take care of seriously ill patients from all over Croatia, were significantly damaged, and we donated funds to help speed up the reconstruction.
- There has been a lot of talk in the public about the testing of the Covid-19 vaccine, which AstraZeneca conducted in collaboration with Britain’s Oxford University. However, the testing was paused. What are the reasons and will it continue?
As a global innovative biopharmaceutical company, we are committed to fight against this pandemic and continue to deliver life-changing drugs to the patients who need them most. The entire pharmaceutical industry is focused on finding vaccines and drugs, some companies that were competitors yesterday now became partners, and knowledge about the virus itself and vaccine development is being exchanged, therefore it is certain that this is a battle for mankind and for health. As a company with years of experience in the treatment of respiratory and infectious diseases targeting the respiratory system and with an in-depth understanding of the immune system response to viral infections, AstraZeneca considered itself invited to launch the research for the vaccine in response to COVID-19.
In early September, we launched our standard test verification process, and we voluntarily stopped vaccinating participants in the testing to allow for review of safety data by an independent committee. This was a routine procedure performed whenever a potentially unexplained disease occurred during a clinical trial to ensure that the integrity of the trial was maintained. Clinical trials of the coronavirus vaccine conducted by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, AZD1222, were continued in Great Britain after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed that it was safe to continue. After reviewing the recommendations of the independent committee, health authorities in Brazil and South Africa confirmed that it was safe to continue the study in those countries as well. In the US, we continue to work with the FDA to facilitate the review of the information needed to make a decision regarding the continuation of testing. AstraZeneca advocates for the safety of trial participants and the highest standards of conduct in clinical trials.
- What are the chances getting the necessary vaccine by mid-2021, which is announced as the optimal time, and how to deal with vaccines that appear in the markets of some countries as early as this year? How safe are they?
The European Union has very strict rules regarding the approval of vaccines that are placed on the market. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) evaluates and monitors the vaccines produced. After extensive testing and evidence of the efficacy or safety of the vaccine, the European Commission may issue a market approval. The EMA continues to assess the safety of vaccines placed on the market and to carry out post market surveillance. Croatia is part of the European Union and we can be sure that vaccines approved for use in the EU will have all the necessary steps taken before approval to ensure maximum safety, primarily with regard to the health and well-being of the citizens.
- To what extent do the current situation and the global pandemic affect a different methodology in research and development of both vaccines and drugs in the future, if such situations become more frequent? How ready the industry is for change and new circumstances?
The global scientific community is working rapidly to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19 and a number of feasible options are being explored. However, we must not forget about the other patients who have needs regardless of the corona virus – our task here is to provide them with access to drugs as in any other period, and so far we are doing so successfully. If situations like this happen again in the future, we will certainly all be even more prepared to adapt and act quickly.