Novartis – A success story for a quarter of a century with great plans forward

January 10, 2022 | 16:04
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Novartis has made great breakthroughs over the past 25 years, helping to address the most challenging health issues and increasing people’s access to quality healthcare. Amitabh Dube, country president at Novartis Vietnam, discussed with VIR’s Bich Thuy the great journey and future plans ahead.

What would you say were the most memorable moments for Novartis over the past 25 years?

Novartis – A success story for a quarter of a century with great plans forward
Amitabh Dube, country president, Novartis Vietnam

We are celebrating 25 years of Novartis. Over the years, Novartis has made significant progress both globally and in Vietnam to provide innovative medicines and change the lives of patients suffering from various life-threatening diseases.

Novartis has achieved many milestones in cancer therapy, cardiovascular disease treatments, transplant medicines, neurology, and the fight against inflammatory conditions. The company has used science and technology to address the most challenging health issues and discovered effective treatment methods and new ways to deliver them to improve people's lives and reimagine Medicine. Today, we are exploring new therapeutic areas like gene technology and nuclear medicine.

In Vietnam, we started our journey in the 1950s when Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy and other partners were in Vietnam. In 2008, the representative office of Novartis Pharma Services AG was established to support medicine delivery to patients, as well as to conduct clinical trials in Vietnam. Since then, we have collaborated with the Ministry of Health (MoH) to support a strong healthcare system that covers the lowest-income segments of the population and to provide the Vietnamese people with high-quality medicines, thus contributing to the MoH’s objective to shape a strong and sustainable healthcare system and achieve universal healthcare coverage.

The year 2020 was a special milestone in Novartis Vietnam’s development journey since we inaugurated our new legal entity in the country and became one of the first multinational companies to successfully transform from a representative office to a foreign-invested enterprise importer. Since then, we have been looking to digitally transform our operations. In the same year, the company was honoured as a pioneer in digital transformation for its efforts and outstanding contributions to the digital transformation of the healthcare sector at the National Digital Transformation Congress.

In the past 25 years, Novartis has received many recognitions. A few recent ones are the America’s Best Employers for New Graduates award in 2021 by Forbes, Global Top Employer for 2021, and the third place in the pharmaceutical category of the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies list, among many others.

Novartis has been awarded a Certificate of Merit from Vietnam's Ministry of Health for its support against COVID-19. What actions earned Novartis this recognition?

The pandemic has put a tremendous strain on healthcare systems around the world as well as in Vietnam.

To ensure that the healthcare system is ready to deal with the pandemic, in 2019-2020 we partnered with six medical universities in Vietnam to train healthcare professionals to prevent, control, and treat COVID-19. We were able to educate 1,800 final-year students between April and July 2020, responding to the government's call to train 90,000 professionals to fight against the pandemic.

In addition, in 2020-2021, Novartis donated about $400,000 in various initiatives from training and upskilling to educational efforts. Also that year, we donated significant volumes of medical supplies to Ho Chi Minh City's Red Cross Society to assist frontline hospitals. Also, we have partnered with the Pharma Group of the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam to donate to the Vietnam Fatherland Front's national campaign.

Most recently, Novartis has signed an MoU with the MoH to help Vietnam access our pandemic response portfolio at zero profit.

In 2021, we received the Certificate of Merit from the MoH, a recognition that means a lot to us. This one is an encouragement for Novartis to continue contributing to the health system because our efforts have had a tremendous and positive influence on Vietnamese people’s health, which is aligned with our vision.

Novartis – A success story for a quarter of a century with great plans forward

Like others, the health sector is promoting sustainable development. How has Novartis been pursuing sustainability in its operations?

Let us first talk about the environment, and then sustainable business.

Environment sustainability is core to our business, and our continued investment in our planet supports our purpose to reimagine medicine to improve and extend people’s lives. Our Ambition is to be a catalyst for positive change and leaders in environmental sustainability. We have a responsibility to prevent climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. Environmental sustainability is not just about carbon, it’s also about water, waste, and material resources. All these things impact people’s health, and we have a responsibility to anticipate and meet the changing needs of current and future patients.

Our priority is to reduce our energy demand, and we have a longstanding, comprehensive energy and climate programme, which aims to improve energy efficiency for all industrial and commercial operations. This programme helps ensure that all major sites are routinely assessed, and investments in energy efficiency are prioritised based on forecast energy savings.

Besides this, Novartis has committed to fully reducing the carbon footprint of its entire supply chain by 2030. One of the first and most developed sustainability efforts has been reducing the significant carbon footprint associated with logistics. During the production of medicines, starting materials such as active pharmaceutical ingredients are often manufactured in one location and then shipped to another location for formulation.

In addition, to help optimise shipments, the logistics teams have spent the last several years developing a unique and comprehensive visualisation tool called QlikSense. The software shows all Novartis supply flows around the world, the carbon footprint of each shipping route, and an overview of the most sustainable alternatives. For instance, in 2019 alone, this has led to an overall carbon reduction of about 7000 tons – the equivalent of planting 40.000 trees.

Regarding sustainable business operations in Vietnam, we have a long-term commitment to bringing innovative medicines to patients in Vietnam. We have more than 450 people working in Novartis in Vietnam and are committed to their learning and development. We have local business partners and are working closely with them to make our medicines accessible to patients in Vietnam. We are also working with various stakeholders to build capabilities in various therapeutic areas, in clinical research and digital applications. We have a strong business continuity plan in Vietnam that continues to focus on sustainable business operations.

What will Novartis focus on in the next year and beyond?

Our immediate focus is to ensure the safety of our employees as we navigate through the pandemic.

Key priorities for us in 2022 and beyond would be to reimagine medicine and patient care in Vietnam. Our focus remains on triple win-win for patients, the healthcare system, and our employees. Through various initiatives and partnerships, we will work together with various stakeholders to strengthen the healthcare system. We want to go beyond medicine to provide healthcare solutions.

We have put a remarkable footprint in Vietnam of global clinical trials for 10 years with more than 50 studies and 1,000 local patients in various therapeutic areas, including oncology, ophthalmology, neuroscience, respiratory, dermatology, and other areas. There have been more than 130 investigational sites at the 30 leading hospitals nationally into these international multiple trials. To date, there have been more than 1,000 healthcare professionals trained in conducting global clinical trials and Good Clinical Practice. Through the clinical trial partnership, these key sites have established and enriched their capabilities, and some of them are preferred sites in Novartis' innovative programme development.

We want to be one of the trusted partners for stakeholders, the government, and patients in Vietnam to strengthen the healthcare system. We want to support patients' healthcare journey and improve their outcomes. A lot of patients are not able to access the right treatments. We need to enhance the healthcare journey so that they can reach the right healthcare service providers and doctors and support them with the right treatment to get better results and outcomes for a better life.

We want to provide affordable, high-quality generic medicines and biosimilars through Sandoz. Globally, we have a portfolio of COVID-19 medicines which are required.

On the advocacy side, our priorities are to work with the government to have policies and capability development programmes to support Vietnam in moving up the value chain. For that, we are promoting the improvement of the environment for innovation, clinical trials, registration, reimbursement, and localisation. The government needs to support sustainable and predictable policies to improve investment in the healthcare sector. On the other side, we also want to partner with the government to expand its capability throughout a patient's journey and innovative healthcare financing.

Internally, we want to offer the best career choice for our people at Novartis, where beyond enjoying the best employee welfares, they also have great opportunities to develop and unleash their potential to build their long-term and sustainable career path.

By Bich Thuy

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