Poland: A Sleeping Giant - Pharmaceutical Executive


Poland: A Sleeping Giant

Pharmaceutical Executive


The ambiguity that exists in the Polish market, which Cegedim's general manager Anna Gajec previously referenced, stems from a lack of communication between industry and government concerning national healthcare planning and reimbursement initiatives. With a new reimbursement act slotted for January 11, 2012, many mixed signals are being sent in the interim for industry to interpret and strategize against. Naturally, this can stymie forward-planning for pharmaceutical companies. "There is today in Poland a serious problem of lack of dialogue with the government authorities," opines Don Bellamy, country president of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. "There is heritage of mistrust between the two sides: The government believes that it should take decisions on the future of healthcare by itself, behind closed doors, and the industry sees only things that are released, which are in my opinion not very well thought out, not very strategic, nor constructive either for the patient or the industry."

Michal Bichta, General Manager of Merck Poland
Consequently, turbidity and ambiguity have engendered an enhanced flexibility for Polish pharmaceutical affiliates in order to appropriately respond to whatever reimbursement policy unfolds. "As the environment is evolving so quickly in Poland, the ability to remain flexible is probably a leader's greatest skill," according to BMS Poland's general manager Peter Koetsier. Conscious that rigidity often brings disappointment, Koetsier advocates the importance of companies to take advantage of the changes. "As having complete, timely, and accurate data can be challenging in Poland, you have to be good at taking decisions and calculate the risk, sometimes with little information. If a pharmaceutical company wants to be successful in Poland, it needs to be strategic and execute its plans well, and to do all this without the full set of decisions tools available in other places." Indeed BMS sees the unpredictability in the market as more of an opportunity than a threat. "It forces us to focus on customers, to get out of our offices and meet people; to get an understanding of how the market is moving on a daily basis." This extroverted mindset is especially applicable to BMS's patient-centric business model in Poland. BMS works closely with hospitals in specialized therapeutic areas such as diabetes, HIV, immunology, and hepatitis. "Even though there is recognition for the need of these products," notes Koetsier, "the processes are sometimes slow and unpredictable," thereby requiring a streamlined and extroverted workforce to truly understand movements in the markets.

"The industry often has to operate blindly," says Tapani Sura, general manager of Astellas Poland. "More transparency is needed in the administration system, regulation, drug approvals, and market authorizations for reimbursed products." The need for quick, flexible responses to a potentially changing reimbursement market hits close to home for Astellas, No. 25 in sales in Poland last year according to IMS. Sura took over as general manager of Astellas Poland in 2006, one year after the merger of Yamanouchi and Fujisawa, which formed the company as it stands today. Astellas Poland was hit particularly hard in 2006 due to reimbursement delays and a 13% government-mandated reduction of prices on foreign drugs. But driven by a strong pipeline of therapies for urology, transplantation, dermatology, anti-infective, and pain management, Astellas has been one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies in Poland since 2006. Today, Poland ranks as the sixth-most-important market for the group's European operations, with revenues in Poland growing on par with top-five megamarket Italy. Sura projects that within two years the Polish affiliate can even catch up to Italy. Relating past performance to current market signals, Sura stresses that "Astellas strives to be fast and, more importantly, flexible in all its operations.

Tapani Sura, General Manager of Astellas
"The quick ones can be better than the bigger ones," says Pawel Ciapala, managing director of Ipsen Poland. Although Ciapala notes that quick decision-making is characteristic of Ipsen due to a lean and effective structure—an advantage over larger competitors—in Poland "Ipsen has understood the importance of flexibility, which it has strongly developed as one of its main assets." The idiosyncrasies of the Polish market have led Ipsen to, as Ciapala describes, increasingly work on key account management projects, strive to better understand the market, think ahead, and find out what is the best business model to be applied for its specialty products in oncology, endocrinology, neurology, and hemophilia. Having grown by double digits in 2010, Ipsen is indeed proving that quick and flexible is indeed better.

But even the biggest of Big Pharma shifted resources and optimized results. "I am relatively optimistic for the future of Pfizer in Poland," says country manager Patrick van Ginneken. "The reform will indeed bring a serious calibration, but the company already experienced it to a great extent in 2010. At Pfizer Poland, we have already shifted gears from a unique research and development perspective to a combined focus on R&D and medicines that are already off-patent. We are starting to see the positive effects of this strategy."


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