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[Interview with global pharma] 'Roche Korea's endeavors to build agile corporate culture'
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2020.08.04 15:46
  • Updated 2020.08.05 10:23
  • comments 0

It was in October 2018 that Nic Horridge took office as head of Roche Korea. Since then, he has been working to change the corporate culture of the multinational pharma’s Korean offshoot and deliver the company's medicines to patients better.

This year, his endeavor has run into a significant obstacle as the Covid-19 pandemic hit Korea, too. Industry insiders say, however, Horridge has been efficient in launching new in-house programs to reorganize the company to focus on customer experience.

In an interview with the Korea Biomedical Review, Horridge explained Roche Korea's short- and long-term measures to reach the goal and impression of the Korean pharmaceutical sector.

Roche Korea General Manager Nic Horridge talks about his company's present works and future goals during a recent interview with Korea Biomedical Review at the company’s main office in Gangnam-gu, Seoul.

Question: It has been almost two years since you took office as the general manager of Roche Korea. During the past two years, how has the company changed?

Answer: I'm just proud of how the company has really focused on patient centricity as the core reason for the company’s existence.

We have continued to focus on making Roche a great place to work together, and I'm convinced that our patient- and people-focused business plans have allowed us to have a successful business in Korea.

Internally, we continue to evolve our business model as we need. We are currently undergoing our biggest change since I took office by going through what we call an "agile transformation."

Q: Would you elaborate on the ‘agile transformation’?

A: We're trying to improve flexibility and responsibility as an organization to meet the needs and deliver better outcomes for more patients. The world we are facing now is ever-changing, and therefore it is unpredictable and ambiguous.

That is why the leadership team of Roche Korea is committed to building a new organization, which can be fast and flexible in dealing with the fast-changing environment and focused on creating the highest value for patients and customers.

To enable this transformation, we are embracing creative leadership and assuming the following new roles as leaders such as visionaries to lay out a vision for the company, architects to build teams and systems, coaches who help team members grow, and catalysts to help set priorities and remove obstacles for team members to work in freedom from the excess hierarchy.

The company decided to undergo such change as an agile organization can respond to a change quickly and flexibly.

The term “agile” does not represent just running speedy operations but means placing the focus on collaboration and co-creation to identify what patients and customers need, quickly adjust the direction of strategy and respond to the needs to create outcomes.

To this end, we will organize the firm's teams to focus on customer experience and bring value to their work.

In detail, Roche Korea plans to introduce scrum methodology, which is when small-sized cross-functional teams carry out their work in iterative processes.

By doing so, we believe the entire organization can save time and resources while improving productivity and ensure members benefit from continuous learning.

We also created a new position called “agile coach,” who can support these teams to adopt an agile mindset and apply it to their teams.

All these efforts and endeavors aim to deliver better outcomes to more patients, faster and to the healthcare professionals who treat them and ultimately contribute a Korea with healthier people.

Q: As you have worked in various countries, including New Zealand and Vietnam, how does Korea fare in the global pharmaceutical market? What are its merits and demerits?

A: I've loved working in various countries around the globe. On the one hand, they are very different, and on the other hand, there are core similarities. I guess what impressed me the most was the nation's response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Korea managed to show its robust healthcare system and rapidly responding to the crisis.

The nation has developed a mutually beneficial solution that has led the world in terms of Covid-19 management.

When thinking about the pharmaceutical industry, one of Korea's merits is its centralized national insurance scheme. I like this philosophy of one-care-for-all. I think Korea is doing an outstanding job of taking care of the health aspects for its citizens by ensuring everyone has access to healthcare.

Regarding some demerits I've noticed, speaking as a provider of innovative medicine, Roche's most significant focus is developing new drugs with unmet medical needs.

Therefore, our biggest goal is to bring these innovations to the market to benefit patients. The challenge in Korea is the speed of putting those innovations in the hands of doctors to treat the patients.

However, due to the nature of the reimbursement system in Korea, sometimes it leads to delays in our effort to launch new innovative drugs. For us, this can be frustrating.

Q: Has it been hard running the company during the Covid-19 outbreak?

A: It's been very challenging. This year, our business continuity strategy was designed for an influenza pandemic, which was arguably a similar scenario. Therefore, we were prepared to continue to run our company.

I guess what's been unprecedented is the length of time of the pandemic. So I think sustaining our business model during this time has been a big challenge.

But the challenge itself has created innovations for the company. It innovated the way that we work inside the company and with our customers through various virtual ways.

Q: Regarding clinical trials, Korea is sixth in the world for clinical research, while Seoul ranks top amongst cities. How is Roche utilizing this infrastructure?

A: At the moment, Korea is in the top five in the Roche world in terms of productivity in the clinical trial space.

I think there is a mutual synergy between Roche and Korea. As a pharmaceutical firm that conducts clinical trials for new drugs, we can demonstrate their effectiveness in patients by conducting the trials in Korea. Regarding the benefits for Korea, it can provide an opportunity for patients who otherwise do not have a therapeutic option. So far, over 1,000 patients benefit from such clinical trials annually.

Also, the firm's clinical trials can lead to system development for research, which, in turn, can benefit the local ecosystem and firms. The clinical trials also come with a substantial financial investment.

Q: Earlier this year, a combination therapy Tecentriq plus albumin-bound paclitaxel became the first cancer immunotherapy to treat patients with unresectable locally advanced or metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). How was the market access journey for this ground-breaking treatment?

A: The short answer is that the reimbursement process for the drug is still ongoing. To be honest, the TNBC market is not a big business for us, as there are not many patients. Still, there is a substantial unmet medical need. Patients who have TNBC have a very poor prognosis as the treatments have not advanced for many years.

However, by bringing this treatment, we really can bring hope to patients suffering from TNBC.

Therefore, we are passionate about achieving reimbursement so that patients can access this medicine.

Q: As Tecentriq is a latecomer in the immunotherapy stage, what are its challenges and strengths compared to other immunotherapies?

A: While we were not first-in-market for Tecentriq, we believe that our clinical trial program for immunotherapy will provide a much broader and robust treatment spectrum for many cancers that are more effective than the currently available treatments.

Our strengths are using our robust R&D pipeline in terms of innovating combination therapies.

In detail, 24 compounds are under clinical trials with Tecentriq throughout 15 disease areas in oncology, of which 12 compounds are already in the late stage of phase 3 or higher.

Maybe we weren't first, but we certainly hope to be the best.

Q: Recently, there has been a surge of biosimilars in oncology, such as Herceptin. As an original oncology treatment leader, what is Roche's stance on biosimilars?

A: We welcome innovation anywhere in the market. Biosimilars are an essential part of the treatment paradigm in any setting.

Q: To this end, the company is facing increased competition from Korean biosimilars. How is Roche dealing with competition from biosimilars?

A: We have a multifaceted approach. Competition is not new to us as a pharmaceutical firm. Still, we are an innovation-based company, so we continue to evolve the standard of care by bringing in new molecules that improve the originals.

We have also tried to improve originals by changing the drug's administration method, such as developing an intravenous treatment into a subcutaneous therapy.

Q: How do you plan to run the company in the future? What are the company's short-term and long-term goals?

A: As I mentioned before, we're undergoing an agile transformation. To make that work, the leadership team has to work closely together. I see the leadership of our affiliate here in Korea as a collective leadership team and not solely my role.

Our short- and mid-term goal is to become a more patient-centric firm, free up resources, speed up decision-making so we can deliver our promises to patients, provide what our customers need, and leave our mark in better healthcare outcomes the Korea people.

For me personally, if we achieve all of the goals, not only will I be a very happy man, but I know I would have learned a lot on the way.


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