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[Interview with Global Pharmas] ‘Korea’s drug pricing an obstacle for providing optimal treatments to patients’Novo Nordisk Korea puts patients’ health above all else
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2019.05.10 14:26
  • Updated 2019.05.10 14:26
  • comments 0

Like most multinational pharmaceuticals here, Novo Nordisk Korea has concerns over the country’s volatile drug pricing policies and the possibility of it affecting the company’s efforts to provide better treatments to patients, its CEO says.

Novo Nordisk Korea General Manager Rana Azfar Zafar explains about his company’s business plans, during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, at the company’s headquarters in Songpa-gu, Seoul, Wednesday.

“Although the company has been thriving recently due to Korea’s effective healthcare system, the only thing I feel that is missing from this good healthcare system is the pricing factor,” Novo Nordisk Korea CEO Rana Azfar Zafar said. “Korea has one of the lowest drug prices in OECD countries, and the low pricing is becoming an obstacle for the company to bring in new drugs to the Korean market.”

In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review Wednesday, Zafar stressed that research-oriented companies depend on profit to continue research and development, which, in turn, can provide new and better drugs to patients.

“If the company feels that they are profitable they will invest some of the profit back in Korea to areas such as research and development, which, in turn, will ultimately benefit patients,” he said. “However, if the company is not making any profit, it can harm the country’s economy and patients and lead to a vicious cycle.”

The success of new products has helped to expand the company from 110 employees in 2016 to 156 in 2019 to operate in Korea more efficiently.

“The reason why we are boldly increasing the number of employees is that we are confident about the company’s pipeline and will continue to introduce such products in Korea,” Zafar said.

However, if the company’s profit declines severely due to unreasonable drug pricing, Zafar reasoned that while the company will continue to supply its medicines the best way it can as it cannot just pull out and leave the patients behind, it can severely affect incorporate resources.

“The backlash from the decline in profit can lead to cutting down the company’s staffs, which in turn, will harm the Korean economy and patients,” he said. “The factors explain why reimbursement status, which relates to pricing, is also tough to talk about for research-oriented companies.”

Although Zafar has noticed the government working hard to control the problem, he believes that the solution may be more straightforward than it seems as there are many good laws already in place around the world.

“I think Korea can take the best regulations from such countries and implement them according to its local situation,” he said. “The one thing I’ve noticed during my stay in Korea is that Koreans are quite flexible and quick to adapt to any situation and such traits can be applied to the pharmaceutical sector.”

The cooperation between the government and the companies is essential as it’s all about working for the patients and providing the right medication, he added.

To do its part in helping patients, the company plans to launch “Cities Changing Diabetes,” which will research diabetes in Seoul, to help more Korean patients.

The Cities Changing Diabetes program enables cities to contextualize its urban diabetes situation, set goals for halting the rise of type 2 diabetes in their cities, and to work across sectors and disciplines to unite stakeholders behind a common cause.

Through the program, participating cities can get a global overview of the associated challenges for diabetes and learn from possible solutions tested in existing partner cities from around the world.

“We are proud to announce that Seoul will become the 20th city for the program and we plan to complete the research by the end of this year and share the results with relevant officials,” Zafar said.

Under the command of Zafar, Novo Nordisk Korea also plans to continue providing new and better medications to Korean patients.

After Zafar joined Novo Nordisk Korea in December 2016, the company has already launched various new products in the market such as Ryzodeg, Saxenda, and Fiasp.

“Such growth and new product launch are in line with our corporate strategy to continue investing for the benefit of the patients,” Zafar said. “Moving on, as Novo Nordisk is a research-oriented company and has a strong pipeline in diabetes, hemophilia, and obesity, we certainly have plans to bring more products into Korea.”

The planned products include Xultophy, which is a combination of GLP-1 and insulin, and Ozempic, a treatment for obesity. With the continued launch of new products, the company has enjoyed annual growth of around 33 percent.

“We are among the fastest-growing multinational pharmaceutical companies in Korea,” he said.


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