Transition and transformation in the pharmaceutical industry

Ben Osborn on transformation in the pharmaceutical industry

Ben Osborn, Managing Director of Pfizer UK, talks transition and transformation in the pharmaceutical industry.

Ben Osborn is the recently appointed Managing Director of Pfizer in the UK. Having been with the company for 20 years, he knows it inside out, but isn’t afraid to make changes in this time of transformation in the UK, the NHS and life sciences.

Tell me about yourself I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary with Pfizer. I started as a graduate and have undertaken a wide variety of roles, both in the UK and internationally. As many do, I started as a sales representative, but I wanted to be at the heart of the action and decision-making and in two years, I moved into the head office.

“We’re focusing on breakthroughs that change patients’ lives”

I’ve had great support from Pfizer throughout my career, so when I received the call asking me if I wanted the role of Managing Director in the UK, it was an easy decision.

I’m married with three children. My eldest has a rare form of epilepsy meaning our family life has not been typical. My son wouldn’t be here without the NHS and industry, and I am reminded every day of what we do and why we do it. Our interactions with the NHS, social care and social services have given me an insight and understanding of our health system that many don’t have. In my spare time, I run. It’s my time to clear my head.

You became Managing Director of Pfizer UK in December, how is it going? It’s great; everything I expected it to be and a whole lot more. It’s both full-on and rewarding.

There are currently two things driving my role. Firstly, there’s so much happening in the UK; Brexit, ever increasing demands on our NHS, and the Government’s aspirations for a thriving life sciences sector.

Secondly, our new Chief Executive Officer, Albert Bourla, has brought a different feel and direction to the organisation. There is less emphasis on numbers and more on our purpose. We’re focusing on breakthroughs that change patients’ lives and everyone in the business has a part to play as we redefine Pfizer and its place in the healthcare sector.

There are exciting times ahead. Developments in science, data and technology coupled with increasing expectations of our ageing population creates great opportunities to transform healthcare. We need to follow the example set by disrupters such as Amazon, Uber and AirBnB and rise to the challenge to lead a step-change in how we approach healthcare.

Part of this is working differently. I’m trying not to be rushed. I’ve recognised where I can free up time to give the role and the organisation the due consideration it needs. I have no scheduled meetings but meet people as and when needed. I think this will enable us to be more productive and take time to think and focus on what’s important. I am putting emphasis on personal energy and simplification so that we can work smarter as individuals and as an organisation.

What are your thoughts on the industry? The healthcare issues of today and tomorrow can’t be solved in isolation. We must come together; industry, Government and the NHS, to address them.

The NHS Long Term Plan has set the direction for the future of our health service. We share the ambition to have a world-class health service delivering world-class patient care and I believe we are aligned on ways to achieve that. We can support the NHS in driving health and wellness and delivering better preventative care; our vaccines and our work on antimicrobial resistance are just two examples of this. And by digitising our organisation, from drug discovery to the way we engage with our stakeholders and approach collaborative working with the NHS, we can support the NHS in becoming more efficient so that it can embrace innovation and improve patient outcomes.

The new Voluntary Pricing and Access Scheme presents opportunities too. Whilst it’s somewhat frustrating that spend on new medicines should be capped, the scheme brings important financial security to the NHS and provides mechanisms for new medicines and technologies to be fast-tracked to patients. Time will tell if this happens; it’s been six months and we need to see action.

Brexit has prompted the UK Government to look at its sectors through a new lens. Life sciences are very productive for the Government and society and should be viewed as the jewel in the crown of sector deals. We need to work together with the Government to look at how best to bring together early phase research and development, clinical trials and regulation to develop an ecosystem that gets medicines to patients quickly.

What opportunities are there for industry? Government’s interaction with Pfizer, and industry as a whole, around Brexit has been open, clear and candid. We have come together to build plans and find solutions to evolving challenges at pace. It has been an unprecedented situation, but if we can come together in this way for the wider benefit of life sciences and pharmaceuticals, we could achieve great things.

One area we’re focused on is how we can move from a volume-based to a value-based economic model so that industry is measured and compensated based on patient and societal outcomes. The UK has a real opportunity to lead the way on this and by working together with Government we can explore new ways to ensure patients can really benefit from innovation. We have already built partnerships with the NHS and local authorities to develop outcomes-based initiatives and we’re looking at care pathways and how we can free up capacity for the NHS and create a better experience for the patient.

What are your thoughts on NHS/industry collaborative working? I firmly believe that we’re in a new era of industry/NHS partnership, but it needs to be built on trust from both sides. We need to move industry from being a transactional supplier to a collaborative partner, and through this renewed relationship we can ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS.

At Pfizer, we have around 230 research collaborations in the UK, from traditional clinical trials to patient- centred partnerships. No one person or organisation has the resources, mind- power or capacity to solve the NHS’s problems – we need to work together.

What is Pfizer doing in the drive to put patients first? We’re trying to think differently about our contribution to patients and society. It’s not just about the medicines we make. We’re passionate about playing an active role in our community and have been undertaking work which benefits society at a different level. For example, our recent exhibition on superbugs at the Science Museum in London had over 1 million visitors, and if it changes behaviour around antimicrobial resistance, it’s worth it. We also run a schools’ programme for primary and secondary school students which educates them about our industry and how medicines are made. We hope to inspire a younger generation of scientists to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or maths whilst at the same time educating them about important topics such as counterfeit medicines.

Putting patients first is at the core of our culture. In everything we do and every business decision we make, we always need to consider; do we know what patients think or feel about this? Does this meet their needs and make a positive contribution to our society? And if the answer isn’t yes, we challenge ourselves to think again.

Ben Osborn is the recently appointed Managing Director of Pfizer in the UK. 

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