Biljana Naumovic is the Worldwide Vice President Oncology at The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, a new role she recently started following her role as the pharma’s Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand.
Johnson & Johnson’s team of over 140,000 Janssen colleagues work tirelessly for patients everywhere, by fighting sickness with science, improving access with ingenuity, and healing hopelessness with heart.
For Biljana, trust is about encouraging open dialogue and sharing the truth, without hesitation or fear of the consequences, even if it may feel confrontational or make people feel uneasy. Speaking the truth is important so any underlying issues can be revealed and addressed more quickly and thoroughly.
“In Australia, speaking the truth can make people feel uneasy. It can be challenging to hear opposing points of view. I believe trust is the openness between people who are aligned to a greater intent – even if their opinions differ.”
Speaking the truth is more than a principle or demonstration of character. There is an urgency to Biljana’s words. A fearless ‘say it like it is’ confidence. A conviction elevated by the life and death consequences of her work and inspired by over 40,000 people at Janssen working everyday to help treat, cure and prevent the most complex diseases of our time.
Her impatience with the pace of change in healthcare is palpable and inspiring. Biljana is a true reformer. A leader prepared to tell it like it is, and most importantly, how it can be better.
“It becomes a problem when you naval gaze, focused internally on your brand, rather than seeing yourself as part of bigger health ecosystem with the patient at the centre. The focus must be on them and how best to offer holistic care from end-to-end.”
As a trained medical doctor Biljana’s formative years anchored her ideals and goals to the care of others and the responsibility to improve outcomes. A patient-centric approach that has remained throughout her career and is her inspiration to drive change. This fire in the belly leads to some heated words about the current state of some treatments. One example is prostate cancer.
“We continue to limit the treatment of prostate cancer in Australia by only allowing one novel hormone therapy instead of combination treatments. This not only reduces the life expectancy for men with metastatic cancer, it creates an environment where everyone is competing to sell their drug rather than working together to change the bigger picture.”
Trust is understandably an industry-wide issue when patients are not seeing the benefits of new drugs and new treatments. And too often, according to Biljana, big pharma is seen as the villain – only wanting to sell rather than heal. But there is much companies like Janssen can do to change this issue of trust.
Recently Janssen has been researching the delays in hospital and diagnostic visits due to COVID-19 lock downs and pressure on resourcing. The figures are alarming, with dramatic increases in breast cancer over a three-month period compared to the same time pre-COVID. The company has shared the report with the NSW government to help create an awareness campaign to encourage efforts to get tested.
“This initiative is a great example of Janssen demonstrating an intent to play a positive meaningful role in improving health outcomes – as a trusted voice, not just as a supplier of critical drugs or researcher of future treatments.” We should never sit idly by when we identify problems or inequities in our healthcare system. We’re part of the world’s largest healthcare company, which means we have a responsibility to drive debate on the big health policy challenges of our time and speak up on behalf of patients.
A culture of fearless transparency
Biljana’s hope for the organisation is as bold as it is ambitious. But spending time with her, you’d be surprised if it was any other way. She wants to create a movement of passionate change makers around the world that evolve the world of healthcare in terms of sustainability, equity and access. Crucially, trust plays a role in making this happen.
"If you continue giving trust, more often than not you will create an environment where great people are going to come together, and you'll do something meaningful together."
First is to create a culture where people are allowed and encouraged to challenge – trust through openness. Secondly, is the empowerment of people to make decisions – for individuals to feel trusted.
Some of these decisions relate to choosing which patient organisation to support and how best to generate real outcomes for patients.
"We have always been a benevolent organisation, supporting and working with patient organisations all over the world. One of the challenges is fragmentation of effort and funds. Our view is to apply patient centricity rather than just undisciplined and unfocused support. Trust plays a critical role in how patient groups view our intentions and our support."
Biljana is crystal clear when she gives an example. “It is inefficient to support patient organisations in all – even miniscule – tasks or desires that might not give an impact, just because they are nice to do. We must aim for few but meaningful and impactful actions together to improve patient outcomes.”
After a brief time with Biljana, her definition of trust – the freedom to speak the truth – becomes more insightful and powerful. This idea permeates across every aspect of her work, her ambitions and ultimately her passion to reform the global health system.
As a group of pharmaceutical companies, Janssen believes that challenging something is the best way to change it. And it is evident so much is changing thanks to leaders like Biljana Naumovic.
As she moves into a globally influential role with patient trust top of mind, what are her hopes for lasting impact?
“My hope is … that I am creating a movement of passionate changemakers worldwide that are actually leaving a better healthcare system. I want to build a tribe of people who will change the world.”