Taking the Long View
Sanofi's Pascale Witz reveals to Paul Simms, eyeforpharma Chairman, her thoughts on planning, patients & athletics training.
Pascale Witz, Executive Vice President of Sanofi’s Global Diabetes and Cardiovascular (CV) Business, is used to pushing herself: she was a successful athlete at both national (France) and international level. “I was a runner when I was young,” she recalls. “And from these years I know that actually, there is no such thing as training a month for a goal - you need to train for the full year; often you have a two- or three-year plan for what you want to do.”
This is certainly the way she wants to lead her organization at Sanofi: the advantage of taking the long view is that people have time to consider an objective and can work together as a team on how best to reach it. This also means, to deliver against the more immediate goals is an entry ticket for the longer term aspiration. “You don’t go to the national championships if you haven’t qualified first,” she says. “Having a long-term vision and a long-term goal is important for motivating people and that actually energizes them on delivering the day-to-day business.”
Also a member of Sanofi’s Executive Committee, Witz holds overall P&L responsibility for Sanofi’s €6 billion-plus diabetes and CV portfolio, one of five business units created following a recent restructure. Before joining the France-based healthcare company, Pascale spent 17 years at GE Healthcare, most recently as the President and CEO of the Medical Diagnostics business. Her experience is not only wide in pharma – she is an internationalist who has lived and worked in the US and UK as well as her native France. With a background in research, she has also risen fast in business to become one of Fortune’s Top 20 Most Powerful Women in EMEA.
There is no doubt that Witz is quite a catch: she was persuaded to make the jump to Sanofi in 2013 because of the company’s desire to adopt an integrated approach and use new technologies to help patients – in particular, she cites “the community and the willingness to take a different approach, not necessarily the traditional”.
“This is an area where I think Sanofi took a leadership approach a couple of years ago that convinced me to join the company,” she adds. “What we mean by that is actually leveraging technology services and education because we know that no matter how well the drug is developed, you really make an impact if the patient is adhering to his or her treatment. The goal is to drive convergence of science and technology to improve patient outcomes.”
Integrated care solutions
According to Witz, the best driver of adherence is to make things simpler for patients, to develop solutions that fit their lives – and this dovetails with her explanation of what the phrase ‘integrated care solutions’ means to Sanofi. “This focus on the solution, leveraging technology whether it is device, hardware or software connectivity to help the patient better manage his own disease,” she goes on. “Because we know that for chronic diseases when the patient is driving and is taking charge of his disease management, we obtain better results.”
This means that the vision for Sanofi is to continue developing better medicines – but to augment the value it delivers to the patient by using any outside help that it can. This brings us on to the company’s deal, announced last August, which will see it collaborating with Google to help develop new pathways for patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The idea is to link Sanofi's diabetes treatments and devices with Google’s expertise in analytics, miniaturized electronics and low power chip design, and to create new tools which marry up existing ideas in diabetes management - including health indicators such as blood glucose and hemoglobin A1C levels, patient-reported information, medication regimes and sensor devices.
“Everything that the company and our teams achieved and learnt positioned us as being the partner of choice for Google,” Witz suggests. “And this is why it’s Sanofi who made the deal with Google, to combine our forces to make a difference, to change the way we manage diabetes.”
It is an interesting move, not least because many observers feel that organizations such as Google could become major competitors of pharma companies in the not-too-distant future. Big Data is expected to be a key driver in healthcare although, at the moment, both parties are quite tight-lipped about what we can expect from the collaboration, in particular on whether there is a defined commercial goal.
“Google is not going to develop new drugs, [but] by putting our brains together and joining efforts, it would be surprising if we could not come up with better solutions,” Witz says. “We’re looking at different avenues and we will communicate on what works when we find the right one.”
This chimes with one of the lessons she learned at GE: you need to be able to do some things really well - but then you also need to be able to partner with third parties which have different skills in order to stay at the forefront of innovation. Sanofi is not specialized in data sharing or device monitoring, but it recognizes that the world is much more connected than it used to be – and this connectivity can be used for the benefit of the patient.
The right incentives
But it must also, Witz is absolutely clear, be of benefit to pharma itself. Away from the Google deal, like many pharma companies in what seems to be an increasingly outcomes-focused environment, Sanofi is alive to the need to evolve its business model - though Witz admits she does not yet have all the answers. “Some of this we still have to learn,” she agrees. “But while today everybody is pushing for evidence-based medicine, I do think it’s a little bit hard to define what are you measuring exactly and how you translate data into insight and ultimately create real patient benefits.”
I think today there is an incentive to improve patient outcomes - but it can only last if we find a way to be appropriately rewarded for the difference that we make with this approach.
This leads her on to a broader point about how pharma needs to be remunerated. “Over my whole career, I’ve seen actually that you only drive true innovation when there is an incentive to do it,” she suggests. “I think today there is an incentive to improve patient outcomes - but it can only last if we find a way to be appropriately rewarded for the difference that we make with this approach.”
There has been a lot of talk in pharma about refocusing the efforts of sales forces, for example, with GSK notably changing its reward and incentive schemes to reflect a more patient-centric approach. The jury is still out on this, and Witz does not rush to endorse GSK’s view.
You need to be able to serve the patients, the payers, the physicians, the pharmacies and you need to develop an ecosystem approach that actually makes everybody want to follow the new direction.
Meeting stakeholders’ needs
“Within the sales force it still remains very much the focus to make sure they know how to cover the products, how to explain them,” she insists. “We need to make sure that our people are well trained, know our product well. It is important to make sure that we also have the proper understanding of all the stakeholders’ needs. That is actually one important evolution: you need to understand your peers first.”
So it is not as simplistic as saying you are simply going to look after patients? “You need to be able to serve the patients, the payers, the physicians, the pharmacies and you need to develop an ecosystem approach that actually makes everybody want to follow the new direction,” she explains.
Vision of difference
Witz is keen to explain that as the modus operandi changes to embrace different technologies and approaches, pharma companies mustn’t forget their historic partnership with the doctor. “My vision is rather that by developing these solutions we enable the doctors to make a bigger difference.” In particular, she goes on, facing the challenge of an aging population, the growing prevalence of chronic diseases and limited resources, physicians are buying into the idea that any help they can get in driving adherence up – particularly with chronic conditions – is a good thing.
“There was clearly a shift where physicians realised that whatever help they can get to increase the adherence should be welcomed it and leveraged,” she continues, confirming recent eyeforpharma research in this area.
We take a more holistic view than many other companies: okay, we are a company that develops and commercializes the drugs - but we want to make sure that we really deliver better outcomes.
Witz is convinced that her company is one of an enlightened few that are now actively seeking more holistic solutions. The future is full of challenge and opportunity and Sanofi’s culture (“the culture of commitment and passion”, which she thinks is based on an historic corporate entrepreneurialism now being lived and breathed by the CEO and her colleagues at executive committee) will ensure its success, she believes. “We take a more holistic view than many other companies: okay, we are a company that develops and commercializes the drugs - but we want to make sure that we really deliver better outcomes. And at times if that takes into account leveraging technology or education services, we would do that.”
As to what motivates her personally, Witz is absolutely clear. “My ambition is really to make a difference,” she concludes simply. “What I want to leave here is a brand new team – a team who not only have strong expertise in developing innovative medicines and making them available to patients, but also have the right skills and mindset to seek and find technology and other external know-how that would complement our expertise and help develop better solutions for patients. This new focused business unit is a great way to do it: we have people who live and breathe around making a difference for the patient.”
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