Interview with Matthias Wernicke, General Director, Russia and CIS, Merck
Published on 16 April 2020 by Anna Andriyanova
Adam Smith Conferences: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the Russian pharmaceutical market?
Matthias Wernicke: In Russia, as elsewhere in the world, the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on all economic life, including the pharmaceutical industry. However, the pharmaceutical industry does differ in the following ways.
Firstly, even in times like these, patients still need to get their medication on time. Therefore, for us, as for everyone in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, the uninterrupted supply of medicines for patients is very important. Even with all the restrictions imposed during the pandemic, our work needs to be continued, and fortunately, we are able to do this.
Secondly, during a pandemic, the hopes and expectations for finding possible treatments and developing a vaccine against the virus are largely vested in the pharmaceutical industry. The pharma sector plays a key role in examining measures to combat COVID-19. It is precisely at such moments (and this applies not only to Russia) that we once again realise just how important a robust healthcare infrastructure is, and how highly we should value the ability to treat patients when they need it.
Lastly, of course we see that in some specific areas, the crisis has accelerated regulatory processes. For example, this applies to online retail of over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
Adam Smith Conferences: What changes may we expect in the coming months? What challenges are pharmaceutical companies facing, what is being done to mitigate the risks?
Matthias Wernicke: The main challenge right now is the reorganisation and optimisation of the supply process. Changes are needed because of constantly changing circumstances. This issue is critical for every business that depends on participation in an international supply chain. Fortunately, “green corridors” have been created for pharmaceutical products. Today these work well, and we have not faced any additional bureaucratic problems due to closed borders. But it is important to understand that the situation is evolving on a daily basis. We are carefully monitoring changes and making the necessary adjustments to our work to ensure uninterrupted supplies to our patients, doctors and partners.
As for office workers, like all companies, we have switched to working from home. This requires some preparation, but every Merck employee in Russia has all the necessary IT equipment to be able to work remotely, and we are managing.
We are also changing the way we interact with our partners and clients. Many are used to face-to-face meetings, but now we are, of course, moving to digital means of communication. Many people are talking about this, and I agree that the crisis has finally established digital communication tools in everyday life. Everyone is now used to online meetings and discussions. I am sure that these communication methods will remain in our lives after the crisis, which, of course, will help everyone.
Adam Smith Conferences: What measures is your organisation undertaking to secure uninterrupted supply of medication to patients and hospitals during the crisis?
Matthias Wernicke: It is too early to evaluate the potential impact of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic on our global supply chain. We are constantly monitoring the situation and thoroughly tracking the implementation of our plans to ensure the continuous operation of the production network. We are also managing our stocks effectively to minimise the impact of coronavirus on the company’s operating activity both at a local level and globally. We are carefully assessing alternative transport routes to ensure full coverage of our regular territories. Currently, all of our company’s 18 production sites are operating. In addition, the manufacturing facilities of our Russian partners, where some of our products are made, are also functioning. In light of the fact that the situation is constantly evolving, we continue to assess the situation, including from the long-term perspective.
Adam Smith Conferences: What kind of state support and what strategic decisions do the companies operating in Russia need to respond to the current circumstances?
Matthias Wernicke: Up to now, information on the measures taken has been sufficient, and we have been able to act accordingly. We would like to have complete clarity regarding the possibility of a small group of our employees visiting the warehouse, as well as the server room. All this is necessary so that we, as participants of the pharmaceutical industry, can be fully confident in ensuring the smooth operation of our supply chain and delivery of medicines to consumers.
Adam Smith Conferences: The situation with the new coronavirus threatens standard business models of organisations around the world. Are there any opportunities for growth and development in the current crisis for the pharmaceutical industry?
Matthias Wernicke: First of all, it is crucial to understand and adapt to the current needs of the healthcare system and patients. The pharmaceutical industry is critically important for people. The goal of industry members is to quickly and efficiently fulfil the needs of society. Therefore, the pharmaceutical industry must consolidate its efforts to meet the demand and support the scientists. In addition to the needs instigated by the current situation, we must not forget about other chronic and acute illnesses, and we must ensure that patients with these diseases still receive affordable treatments even during this crisis.
Adam Smith Conferences: How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect the global and Russian pharmaceutical market in the long run?
Matthias Wernicke: I sincerely hope that all of us together, with the help of international exchange and scientific research, will be able to overcome the pandemic in the short or medium term. As I have already said, the time has come when politicians and the entire country’s healthcare system are looking at the pharmaceutical industry with hope, wishing for the speedy development of treatments and of a vaccine.
After this finally happens, we will continue to supply pharmaceutical products to patients around the world and invest in research and development of new medicines. Because of that, I hope that we will return to ‘business as usual’ in the pharmaceutical market and in other markets as well. And perhaps, all together, we will realise just how important it is to have a strong healthcare system in our countries.
Adam Smith Conferences: What other questions would be relevant to discuss at the Russian Pharmaceutical Forum 2020?
Matthias Wernicke: We believe that the time required to gain market access and the reimbursement process for innovative medicines in Russia are important issues to discuss at the Forum. Also, we would like to discuss the issue of harmonising regulatory requirements between Russia and other markets in order to secure accelerated and simplified pharmaceutical market access for medicines that are already used, for example, in the USA or Europe.