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Lundbeck sees healthcare sector exhibiting resilience

By Liu Zhihua | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-15 09:41
Visitors gather at the booth of Lundbeck during the 22nd National Conference of Neurology in Qingdao, Shandong province, on Sept 21. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Deborah Dunsire, president and CEO of multinational pharmaceutical company Lundbeck A/S, expects more business opportunities to unfold rapidly in China, the second-largest market for the company.

"As the government focuses on expanding healthcare and introducing more primary care in rural areas, and access to innovation, we feel we are a great fit for China," she said.

A world player in psychiatric and neurological disorders, the Copenhagen-headquartered company launched its first drug in the China market through cooperation with local partners in the late 1990s, for the treatment of mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

Since then, Lundbeck has launched a series of novel drugs in China for a myriad of diseases such as depression, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and major depressive disorders. It founded a China branch in 2007. About one in four patients with depression in China is treated with a Lundbeck branded medication, and the China market is growing rapidly for the company, although it is still significantly smaller than the US market.

During her recent visit to Beijing, China Daily talked to the pharmaceutical company's new female leader about the China market, and how she views the Chinese economy, globalization and female leadership.

Chinese economic growth is slowing, but some sectors are growing rapidly, such as the consumer and high-tech sectors. Do you think this will influence your operations in China?

First, as a Danish company, Denmark and China enjoy a constructive and long relationship, so we look forward to that continuing. Medicines have also largely been unaffected compared with some other industries. Also, in China we are seeing a focus on ensuring health and ensuring broader accessibility for medicines through the National Reimbursed Drug List or the volume-based procurement policy, making sure that there is access to medicines at reasonable prices.

What do you think are the most resilient parts of Chinese economy? Will this have an impact on your business here?

The health sector has continued to grow, and that is because of policymakers' focus on making healthcare more broadly accessible in China, so I do believe that this will be a resilient sector, not only because of expansion but also because of the demographic change in the Chinese population.

The population is aging, and unfortunately as we get older we encounter more diseases that we have to face, which I think will make healthcare resilient. Obviously, the power of the Chinese consumer is an incredibly big driver, and around the world we hope that will be a resilient sector for China.

When I think in the long term, even both short and long term, ultimately the demographic changes and the expansion of healthcare and continued urbanization in China will create the need for more healthcare. I anticipate our business will continue to grow as we serve more patients over time, so I do believe the China market will continue to be extremely important for us.

Lundbeck has a new strategy of "Expand and Invest to Grow".Will you increase investment in China, and do you have any specific plans such as building new factories?

We have been investing significantly as we've expanded our operation in China. We have launched two new brands, Brintellix for major depressive disorders and Azilect for Parkinson's disease, as well as taking back our flagship brand Lexapro, which was introduced and manufactured in partnership. Now we have Lexapro on our own and this has led us to increase the number of our people in China and expand our reach across the country, and we will continue to look to bring in new products to China, which will allow us to continue to expand.

Building new factories would have to be considered along with products. It is something that we have to consider depending on how the portfolio develops.

The Chinese government has adopted further opening-up policies. Do you think this will have an influence on your company as well as other foreign companies operating in China?

In some ways it already has, because it has allowed some multinational companies greater access to the National Reimbursed Drug List, of course with appropriate negotiation. So it is already having an impact and I can only foresee that it will continue to have a positive impact on our business and other foreign businesses in this incredibly important global market in China.

Do you think it is possible for any company to neglect the Chinese market and withdraw from it?

I would say that would not be a good idea. I believe that the Chinese market is going to continue to be extremely important and have a growing global impact across sectors, speaking broadly. I would say it would be difficult to make a business choice to withdraw from the Chinese market.

The dynamism in the China market is inspiring. Just seeing the rate of change in policies and the opening up of China makes it extremely exciting, and very much something that we have to follow closely and be a part of, because patients in China, like patients around the world, need the right medicines.

What's your opinion with regards to globalization and free trade?

I think we are so connected globally, when I think about product research, product supply, innovation, academic research, all of that comes into the global market now.

New discoveries are known about immediately and collaboration exists across academic institutions. There's movement of global talent and researchers going to learn in other places, so it's too late for local strategies now. More than an economy, we are a global community.

Our business is incredibly connected around the world, from basic research all the way through supply chain, commercialization and social media. The ability to share information globally at light speed is connecting us more and more. I think despite politicians, it's impossible to stop the trend toward a global community. There is too much to be gained from sharing information and sharing capabilities. I don't see that trend ever reversing, and I hope that politics won't get in the way. I think the general trend will be to continue that globalization of the community.

How important is the China market for Lundbeck?

China is our second-largest market today, second only to the US market and growing fast. We see China as tremendously important.

Additionally, as the government is making healthcare more broadly available and increasing the focus on making innovative medicines available, this will accelerate the importance of China overall. We at Lundbeck have been in China for more than 10 years and we are proud of the presence we have built. Today, an estimated one in four patients with depression in China is treated with a Lundbeck branded medication. We are proud of our coverage here, so we aim to build on our strong history in China, to be able to address the mental and neurological issues of the Chinese people, building on that history and that heritage.

What are the differences between China and other markets where Lundbeck operates? Are there any particular challenges you face in China but not in other places?

The China market is so big and diverse. The top cities are incredibly sophisticated and similar to other world markets, but there is a large rural area that is coming up in terms of diagnosis and availability of treatment. So there is that huge scale which makes China different.

Another thing that's different about China is the speed of change. Policymakers are implementing new policies to address access to care and primary medicine in rural areas, at the same time access to innovation and the treatment of rare diseases. There is a lot of changing policy to expand the availability of medicine across the country.

People talk about "China speed", which is a very real thing. Especially in the past five years. When I think about how it used to be difficult to get clinical trials started in China, now it is extremely fast, this happened very quickly.

You have been Lundbeck CEO for a year now. How do you motivate your team across the globe?

I think the most important thing we can do to motivate people is help them connect to the mission of the company. People here are so passionate about addressing the challenges that people with mental and neurological diseases face. I'm a physician and every day I want to get up and know I'm working on something that will make a difference for the people who are facing those challenges, and I think my colleagues are of the same mindset.

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