The Art of Collaboration
Mundipharma has set great store by getting customers involved early in the development process, and on bringing in people from all over pharma to offer their input on potential solutions.
Understanding what your customer wants and needs is at the heart of every successful business, but putting in place structures that can make that a reality is complex. François Bernard, Head of Market Access and Communications at Mundipharma International, believes there are a few areas to look at.
Speaking to eyeforpharma at the Economist Pharma Summit, he explains how Mundipharma uses alliances and partnerships as a means to further its business. Its approach involves listening to the customer's needs at an early stage in any process and trying to find business partners who can help provide a solution to better meet those needs, creating value with them.
“It is important to not only take into account patients and physicians but also link that to payers and payer needs,” he continues. Payers in this context cover a variety of people, from the budget holder at local level and the national policy maker, as well as private insurance companies and even patients when there are co-payment schemes in place.
Alliances and networks
This focus on alliances and networks begins with creating platforms of engagement with physicians, patients and payers and continues with regular engagement to discuss what is required. These conversations might take in diagnostics or services, for example, and a powerful part of this is to create initiatives for value co-creation “where we bring different people together in the same room with no real focus on a particular topic or therapeutic area, but focus on inefficiencies in the system”.
Using their input to tease out what those problems are and how they might be addressed then becomes paramount, with Mundipharma taking a holistic look at the potential solutions it could provide. “With the business partners, we are trying to be as lean and flexible as possible to identify what solutions can be developed with those [customer] needs,” says Bernard. “When we listen to the customer, they want a solution quickly and the solution that they ask for should usually be relatively simple to implement.”
Bernard says it all comes down to a “pull” approach instead of the traditional way pharma companies have been working, which he characterizes as trying to “push” their product to market and tied to their pipeline rather than being able to listen to their customers.
“We are trying to limit our technical risk,” he says. “We are happy to take on board a certain amount of commercial risk by providing a solution to our customers, including payers, in a short enough time and be agile by picking up in our business partner ecosystem the potential alliance that will help us to bring that solution quickly to market”.
Beyond the pill
When it comes to communicating with payers about issues ‘beyond the pill’, it is vital to think about two main things, Bernard believes. “The key is to engage early on,” he says, something that Mundipharma does through its co-creation groups. “Here, you can talk not only about the pill but about basic services, the healthcare solution you are talking about,” he says. This may be education or prevention, for example. “It is important to have in mind what kind of services you are talking about,” he goes on. “But it is much easier to discuss this early on, rather than just before launch as you are tied to the specific product you are bringing to market.”
The second crucial point is simple: make sure that you are talking to the right people. That is not necessarily as easy as it sounds, as decisions are taken at a variety of different levels, and there is no guarantee that someone will know about both drugs and services.
What we can bring to the table is the expertise in finding the right business partners to develop a customer-oriented solution".
Moving forward, the company has just created a new business unit dedicated to value-based solutions for payers, in addition to the potential needs of doctors and patients. “With this franchise, we will have a huge scope of interest, ranging from assets which are drugs to potential devices associated with diagnostics or monitoring,” he explains. “We are very holistic in our approach, but at the same time asset-led in this franchise.”
Mundipharma does not pretend to have all the expertise and is under no illusion that it can do everything - but it does have experience in finding the right business partners and getting the best out of different stakeholders. “What we can bring to the table is the expertise in finding the right business partners to develop a customer-oriented solution,” he explains.
At present, the business is reaching out into several different therapeutic areas and Bernard believes that, in the current environment, companies need to be looking at providing incremental added value in the short term rather than looking for daily breakthroughs in innovation or promising potential savings and improvements a decade down the line.
Mundipharma wants to be seen as business partner of choice and has a lengthy track record of making alliances in different areas. These include one with Skyepharma on the respiratory drug Flutiform, an agreement with Astellas Pharma on chronic lymphocytic leukaemia brand Levact and, most recently, partnership with Spanish company Esteve to bring a new pain drug to the market.
Biosimilars versus biologics
One of its most high profile is a tie-up with Korean group Celltrion Healthcare, which a year ago launched Remsima – the first monoclonal antibody biosimilar to be approved by the European Medicines Agency. “All the feedback is the product has been well received,” Bernard says, adding that biologics are providing great benefit to patients but at the same time have put great strain on healthcare systems – while biosimilars, on the other hand, are by design providing comparable benefit in terms of safety, efficacy and quality while also providing some savings to the system”.
The potential for the interchangeability of biosimilars with their originator is an interesting question, and next year should see results from ongoing switch studies in Norway which are assessing benefit, he says. But in the end it must be the doctor who decides what is best for the patient: the originator or the biosimilar. “Based on the evaluation and approval by the EMA, Remsima may be used in those groups of patients where the previous available infliximab is used today, with a potential for offering a cost saving. We’ve seen recently that gastroenterologists are getting more confident about extrapolation of data and there is considerable real world data in switching patients", Bernard continues. “We expect that clinicians will evaluate the totality of evidence and select the most appropriate patients. It would not be appropriate for us to anticipate these clinical decisions.”
Whatever happens in that regard, this has all helped to put biosimilars clearly on the radar. “It is a good example of a solution that has been welcomed not only by the payers but also by the physicians and patients,” he says, suggesting that physicians’ confidence in prescribing them has “dramatically” increased.
But he will not be drawn on whether we might see biosimilars take off as generics did 25 years ago. “Biosimilars are not generics,” he points out. “The regulatory pathway is different, but it’s been a long journey in Europe and we’re pleased with where we are in terms of collaboration between companies, authorities and governments".
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