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Interview: Cesar Rodriguez, Janssen

Managing director of Janssen UK & Ireland, Cesar Rodriguez is relishing being in the UK market, after years working across Europe and North Africa

Cesar Rodriguez, Janssen

With a career at Janssen that has spanned Spain, North Africa, Eastern Europe, and now, the UK, Cesar Rodriguez has experienced a variety of different cultures and political systems, all with their own distinct take on healthcare.

It's a vocation that has allowed Rodriguez insight into the value of thinking differently, but also what brings together each person working in the healthcare industry.

“To me, the real common denominator is the patients,” he says. “The patients are in need of good medicines and solutions and answers to their questions – they're the same in Egypt and Romania and Spain and the UK.”

For Rodriguez, there are also specific qualities shared throughout Janssen's divisions across the world.

“Our teams stand for the same values, and that's really helpful. No matter what part of the world you are in, the people of Janssen are trained to do the right thing for patients.”

Where differences do exist, they are related to the maturity of a country's healthcare system and the government behind it, according to Rodriguez.

These differences particularly came to the fore during his time as head of Janssen North Africa (September 2009 to July 2011) – a period that included political uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya as part of the 'Arab Spring'.

… one of the things we really appreciate about the UK is the stability and predictability of the environment

“When a country goes through such turmoil, it has to fix millions of things, and healthcare is sometimes not the first priority.”

“Before that happens, countries need to get organised. They need to put processes and procedures in place if they are to become a democracy. These countries are facing difficult times in even getting organised as a civil society, so I think they have a lot of things to do first and the others [like healthcare] will come later.”

UK market
The UK is now home for Rodriguez and he is clearly enthusiastic about Janssen's future. When asked if the UK is an important market for Janssen, Rodriguez says emphatically: “The answer is YES with capital letters. Our footprint in this country is huge, not only as Janssen but as Johnson & Johnson (J&J).”

“The UK is one of the first markets to launch our new medicines. It is a drug pricing reference for a lot of countries and what we are doing in the UK has an impact on the rest of Europe.”

One point of concern is the ongoing discussion between industry and the Department of Health regarding introducing a more value-based method of drug pricing – an issue of particular importance for Rodriguez as a board member of trade body the Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), which is leading the industry side of the debate.

“We are concerned about the implications of the value-based pricing (VBP) system of reimbursement that the government wants to implement from 2014, because as an investor, one of the things that we really appreciate about the UK is the stability and predictability of the environment.

“We cannot forget the fact that the UK has already among the lowest prices for medicines in Europe, and this is something that everybody should know.

“Also, the current PPRS (Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme) has provided stability and predictability, which has been a good asset for the Department of Health in order to keep the medicine bill under control.

“When you put these two things together, the old saying 'if it's not broken don't try to fix it' comes to mind.”

There are still aspects of the UK pharma environment that do need to be addressed, however, with Rodriguez adding his voice to the growing numbers calling for better access to, and uptake of new medicines within the NHS.

“Once a medicine is assessed by NICE and considered cost effective, every single Trust, every hospital should adopt that innovation because it has been deemed cost effective,” he says. “But this is not happening in all cases.

“We still have one of the lowest rates of uptake for new technologies and medicines in Europe. And this is constant across all companies and all medicines. We would really like to see patients having better access to medicines at local level.”

Career timeline

Managing Director, Janssen UK & Ireland, and member of the Janssen European Leadership team

Managing Director, Janssen North Africa

Managing Director, Janssen Romania

Marketing and Sales Director, Janssen Spain

Business Unit Director, Janssen Spain

Several positions in Sales and Marketing, Janssen Spain

The way health technology assessments (HTAs) are carried out for end-of-life medicines could also be improved, says Rodriguez, citing the Cancer Drugs Fund as a valuable initiative that highlighted the need to improve access to oncology medicines.

“We are advocating a broader definition of value for medicines – and it addresses some of these issues. How can we introduce variables that are not used now, for example, like the societal impact that will work in those end-of-life criteria?”

Such steps are all the more necessary considering the value the pharma industry brings to the UK as “a wealth generator to the country”, says Rodriguez.

“We are a very important part of the economy – we create good jobs, we create quality jobs.

“We also need to show that we are wealth generators for the community: for our employees, for the different industries that are working with us directly and indirectly. This is something that we need to talk about because pharma companies do play a key role in the economy of different countries, even in difficult times like those we are experiencing currently.”

Workplace community
Janssen's commitment to its employees extends further than just an economic one, however, and Rodriguez is keen to demonstrate the importance of building a community within the workplace – something that helped Janssen UK & Ireland place 15th in The Times 100 Best Companies to Work For in its first year of entering.

“We listen to the voice of our employees,” says Rodriguez, explaining the company surveys to understand its employees' views on both the working environment and the wider company strategy.

This dynamic extends to the way Janssen's regional teams interact with one another, with strong communication and understanding encouraged across the EMEA region, including 'connected days' when separate divisions meet up at a best practice sharing event.

“There's a constant sharing of best practice and constant communication between all countries through the EMEA central structure. You can have access to the same information that Spain, the UK and Germany are getting whether you are in Egypt or Romania.”

Research activities
These efforts are matched by Janssen's research ventures, which have produced a strong portfolio of drugs, especially within mental health and CNS.

Rodriguez says: “The heritage we have in CNS is huge, ever since our founder Dr Paul Janssen developed haloperidol, which was one of the biggest leaps forward in clinical psychiatry in the modern era. We have been developing a lot of new value propositions and solutions in psychiatry and schizophrenia.”

And despite recent disappointments involving Alzheimer's candidate bapineuzumab, the company is still committed to tackling the “huge unmet medical need” of the condition, according to Rodriguez.

“We really think that we will be in a position to bring innovation in that area and in fact we are doing it,” he says.

Janssen is developing its strengths in other areas too, and Rodriguez noted the company's recent developments in oncology, including the launch of abiraterone acetate for prostate cancer – it's “a UK development and we feel very proud”, he says.

Rodriguez also references infectious diseases as a stronghold for the company, mentioning the victory for hepatitis C treatment telaprevir in the 2012 UK Prix Galien Innovative Product Award.

In addition, the company is planning its move into endocrinology, with the launch of its first diabetes medicine canagliflozin.

Digital life: pushing boundaries
It's not only new areas of treatment that feature in Janssen's future, with Rodriguez confident in the company's digital prospects following the success of such campaigns as its YouTube video Living With ADHD and the website Psoriasis 360 with its related social media activities.

“It's not an easy call, but we need to understand that everybody now is digital. All of our customers are digital. Most people have access to internet. And you need to be with your customers, where their patients are.”

It is not an easy call but we need to understand that everybody now is digital …

This can only be achieved, however, if the regulation addressing pharma marketing evolves to accommodate the digital age.

“That space in which self-regulation and new technologies can live together is too narrow and we should grow it more.

“A lot has changed over the past 10 years ago: science and technology are developing very fast. But if we don't evolve the concepts of self-regulation around digital, we run the risk of losing the part of innovation that will add a lot of value in general to society.”

As a man with a self-declared passion for emerging markets, this positive attitude towards digital applies even in countries that aren't as technologically advanced as others.

“The opportunity in those countries is huge,” he enthuses, “because if you start doing it now, when countries come online at a very fast pace you will be in a much better position than your competitors in the future.”

Article by
Tom Meek

web editor of
Twitter: @tmeek87

11th February 2013

From: Research, Sales, Marketing, Healthcare



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