Richard Bergström — Europe's Medicine Man - Pharmaceutical Executive


Richard Bergström — Europe's Medicine Man

Pharmaceutical Executive

Sweden shows the way

On paper, this new industry spokesman is well-qualified. He comes to the job with an unusually broad-ranging background that embraces science, experience as a government regulator, and inside knowledge of companies and international pharmaceutical policy issues. From 2001 to last year, he was director-general of LIF, the Swedish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry. Prior to that he spent a decade working for leading firms in Switzerland: with Novartis, and subsequently as director for EU regulatory strategy at Roche. His regulatory experience includes a spell as assistant head of registration at the Swedish Medical Products Agency. And his government appointments have included vice-chairmanship of the board of the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

In addition, Bergström has acquired a broad perspective on the industry through long-standing membership on the board of EFPIA as well as the Council of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA). He has had a front row seat in international discussions on some of the industry's hottest issues, ranging from medicines marketing codes to positioning on health technology assessment. According to Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline and president of EFPIA, who helped advance his appointment, Bergström's "experience and approach are exactly what we need at this time."

Bergström himself puts his selection down to the fact that "I knew the industry in depth." He says it was clear that the CEOs involved had decided against looking for "a Brussels politician who knows his way around Brussels and has a fat contact book." His interview for the job was very concrete and practical, he recounts. "They asked me about details of the industry."

New man for a new mission

Richard Bergström’s Career at a Glance
The prominent role of the CEOs in his appointment process highlights the increased influence of company bosses in the affairs of EFPIA. Not by chance did Witty greet the decision with an expression of confidence that Bergström "will lead the continued transformation of EFPIA." EFPIA is indeed in a process of transformation.

In formal terms, this transition began before Bergström's arrival in the director-general's chair. EFPIA had been a classic federation of national industry associations since its inception 30 years ago as the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations. But five years ago, following some serious strong-arming by Big Pharma, the constitution of the federation was changed, creating a curious hybrid in which individual companies joined the national associations and were formally accepted as members—creating the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.

CEOs in the driver's seat

That minor change in wording concealed a major change in the structures of European pharma industry representation. Simply put, Big Pharma imposed itself on the organization through a newly-created board composed of CEOs. The associations that had hitherto decided policy were relegated to a secondary role, with seats on a tactically focused executive committee. The essence is that the board—that is to say the big firms—became the strategic decision-maker and the guarantor that EFPIA policy stays in line with what is coyly referred to as the "global context"—a phrase which translates as avoiding too much incoherence with the other key pharma organizations around the world. The modified architecture sprang from the frustration of many CEOs—who through their companies were ultimately footing most of the bill for the entire network of associations as well as the European Federation itself—at what they regarded as a lack of effective, coordinated intervention to improve the operating climate for companies across Europe.

But new structures were not enough to effect the transformation. This is where Bergström comes in. "Our industry's CEOs have tasked me and EFPIA to plan for the long-term," he says, describing it as "a painful exercise of aligning the industry's research and development pipeline with what society considers it actually needs, and is able and willing to pay for."


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