Roche Pharma Vietnam co-creating partnerships in sustainable health

May 16, 2022 | 08:00
Over the past decades, Roche has been working with Vietnam’s Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to improve healthcare through various activities. Lennor Carrillo, general director at Roche Pharma Vietnam, talked with VIR’s Linh Le about Roche’s 28-year journey and its plans to support the country moving forward.
Roche Pharma Vietnam co-creating partnerships in sustainable health
"We are constantly looking for other areas to cooperate with the government. We bring to the table expertise in healthcare management, in regulatory affairs, even in logistics." - Lennor Carrillo, general director at Roche Pharma Vietnam

During Roche’s 28 years in Vietnam, the company has moved beyond its traditional role as a pharma company and partnered with the government, hospitals, and doctors to improve the entire healthcare ecosystem. Could you share some highlights and difficulties of the journey?

Roche celebrated its 125th birthday globally, and in that time span, we’ve tried to go beyond the drug-patient kind of approach and make a bigger impact. In Vietnam, aside from the government, additional partners that we have worked with include the Vietnam Medical Association, the Bright Future Fund, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, and other medical institutes and hospitals.

A good example of the partnership we have with the government is a project focused on breast cancer. Since 2013, Roche has started sponsoring annual breast cancer awareness campaigns, offering free-of-charge breast cancer screenings, and breast cancer training programmes for healthcare professionals (HCPs) across Vietnam. Thanks to this joint-effort, more than 45,000 women were screened, 600 HCPs were trained, and more women are being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. And in 2020, to bring the efforts to the next level, Roche was proud to enter a 5-year partnership with the Vietnam Medical Association in a more specialised and comprehensive project to improve breast cancer treatment across the country via a series of collaborations that will continue until 2025.

Over the last five years, we collaborated with the Bright Future Fund to support a programme for almost 1,500 non-small cell lung cancer patients to reduce financial barriers and improve access to innovative drugs. I think those are good examples of how we’ve tried to go beyond, and constantly looked for ways to partner with the government to find solutions to the healthcare ecosystem as a whole.

During almost three decades in Vietnam, we are very impressed with all efforts that the government has made in terms of building healthcare. Vietnam’s healthcare system now is a completely different picture compared to 10 years ago.

In terms of regulatory aspects, an enabling policy framework for faster access to certain drugs, particularly innovative ones, would help us to bring best solutions to patients. We do see strong efforts in this, and we’re really impressed with how willing the government is to move forward with these initiatives.

What are the next steps Vietnam should take to enhance the healthcare system’s sustainability and resilience, so that it can weather future crises?

I am extremely impressed with the way the government has managed the pandemic, in terms of controlling and adapting to the different variants. The vaccination programme has been exemplary. I think the government has taken every step in this process very seriously, and is continuing to work internally towards making improvements.

In terms of lessons learned, I would go back to the regulatory aspect. During the pandemic, the government relied heavily on other regulatory systems for approval of products. As a result, the vaccines came in very fast, because they were EMA approved, or FDA approved, or approved by other reference systems. This is an interesting learning. Moving forward, I think the government can make significant improvement in facilitating drug access by relying more on reference agencies for regulatory affairs.

In the past few years, Vietnam’s healthcare sector has been accelerating digital transformation to increase service quality and patients’ access to treatments. As the world’s largest biotech company, how could Roche support the process?

One of the ways we adapted during the pandemic was shifting a lot of our activities online. Continuing medical education during the pandemic is essential. It’s not only what we’re proud of, but I think it’s also one of the big responsibilities of multinational companies. We will continue that effort to support the government, so that more information becomes available to more healthcare professionals in Vietnam, through digital means.

Another effort is our breast cancer project, in partnership with the Vietnam Medical Association and Vietnam Social Security. In that project, we are supporting the creation of a database for patients’ registry, which will generate very powerful information for the government in terms of decision making, and for physicians, in terms of understanding the disease in a better way.

Despite this relative success, Vietnam’s healthcare system has been severely affected by the burdens of infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), with the latter on the rise and accounting for two-thirds of all deaths each year. What are Roche Vietnam’s priorities moving forward to support the country’s efforts in the prevention and control of NCDs at the primary care level?

I think that’s a problem worldwide. NCDs are becoming more and more prevalent as the population ages. I think our biggest contribution in this area is the large investment we are making in research and development. As a leading company in innovative products, Roche spends more than $13 billion a year on this.

Breast cancer has moved from a terminal disease to a more chronic disease. We are having a lot of success here in Vietnam in improving access to innovative medications for breast cancer patients. In addition, another goal of the project is to increase awareness and early breast cancer detection rates among high-risk women.

Moving ahead, we are constantly looking for other areas to cooperate with the government. We bring to the table expertise in healthcare management, in regulatory affairs, even in logistics. Aside from this, we can act as a bridge between the Vietnamese government and experts in certain areas through our global network. These projects are one of our priorities moving forward.

What policies should the Vietnamese government work on to create more favourable conditions for firms like Roche to contribute more to the sustainable development of the local healthcare system?

Compared to 1994 when Roche first came to Vietnam, we are now in a much better business environment. I don’t like to think of it as a favourable environment for multinational companies, but more for patient access. We came to the country because we believed we could provide good healthcare solutions for the patients.

Thus, the conditions that we want to see in the country are directly related to access to medications in general. In that sense, I think the biggest opportunity for improvement in Vietnam is in the regulatory area. There is still room for even better access or faster access to medications, if the regulatory process can become smoother.

Roche Pharma Vietnam and the Medical Examination and Treatment Administration of the Ministry of Health have signed an MoU to implement the “Liver Cancer Management - Live Longer” programme in Vietnam for 2022 and 2023.

Some of the objectives include raising awareness about liver cancer for the public, particularly for people at high risk (medium term) and the general population (long term), enhancing access to systemic treatment for liver cancer patients, and improving the efficiency of liver cancer diagnosis and treatment for health facilities. To reach the final objective, within two years, the partnership aims to improve the capacity of the health system, from screening, diagnosis to treatment, develop policies to support medical training activities and criteria to operate and evaluate the effectiveness of multi-modality activities.

Liver cancer is the leading form of cancer in Vietnam. According to Globocan 2020, there are over 26,000 new cases of liver cancer per year, accounting for 14.5 per cent of all cancers. It is also the cancer with the leading number of deaths with over 25,000 cases, accounting for 21 per cent of the total number of cancer deaths.

By Linh Le

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