What Switzerland needs in order to maintain its leading position in the health sector.

Interview with Jörg-Michael Rupp, Head of Roche Pharma International I7 Area

The pandemic has revealed the strengths and the weaknesses of our healthcare system. Now it is important to seize the moment, learn from it, and look beyond COVID-19. Jörg-Michael Rupp, Head of Roche Pharma International I7 Area, talks to Laveshni Reddy, Director and Lead R&D at Deloitte Switzerland, about what makes Switzerland stand out and how it must adapt to keep its good position in the pharma industry.

What Switzerland needs in order to maintain its leading position in the health sector.

Why Switzerland is so successful in biopharmaceutical innovation

Switzerland remains home to some of the world's most important healthcare institutions, as well as to many successful start-ups and spinoffs. Jörg Rupp, Head of Roche Pharma International I7 Area, relates this to three factors:

  • Firstly, the predictable and stable political and economic environment in Switzerland.
  • Secondly, the very close and exemplary collaboration between the academic institutions and the private industry.
  • Thirdly, the access to global talents thanks to the attractiveness of Switzerland as a country.

As for the appeal of Switzerland’s biopharmaceutical industry: its investments are about double the amount of its turnover. That is over seven billion Swiss Francs per year and makes Switzerland unique in that respect.

The importance of diversity for innovation

Without doubt, diversity is one of the key drivers for innovation. Several Deloitte studies confirm that diversity is a key component of being successful as a global company. And Jörg Rupp points out the importance of diversity specifically for innovation. He mentions international diversity as well as gender diversity as key factors: “Although Switzerland already has an internationally diverse workforce, it is important to stay open to attract talent to Switzerland. And gender diversity is absolutely crucial, too. We have seen tremendous progress over the past ten to fifteen years in this area, and the number of women in leadership positions in the pharmaceutical industry has increased from 20 to about 42 percent in 2020. That’s remarkable, but more needs to be done. It's a continuous journey.”

How to achieve more diversity in trial groups

Clinical trial diversity has been a major topic of discussion for a number of years. And the pandemic certainly highlighted the challenges of recruiting patients from ethnic minorities into trials. Pharma companies have since intensified their efforts in this regard.

According to Jörg Rupp, trust and collaboration are the foundation to recruit a diverse trial group for the development of pharmaceutical products. The pharma industry would thus do well to build this trust with patients of various ethnic groups by being present in the communities and reconsider, for example, the selection of the clinical trial sites.

Switzerland: what went well during the pandemic

In Switzerland, the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH, has instituted a dialogue with all relevant players from the very beginning of the pandemic. Pharma companies such as Roche have contributed to bringing diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatment options for COVID patients to the market very quickly. And the medical supply chain has proven resilient. In this context it was critically important to ensure open borders which are important for the manufacturing of innovative treatments given the international and highly specialized production processes.

The biggest learnings

We need data to take the right decisions. Switzerland, with its very fragmented healthcare system, would greatly benefit from an integrated data platform. The pandemic has shown this very clearly when some of the patient’s positivity rate data were sent to the FOPH by fax. “Everybody is laughing about this. But what we would better do is think of how we bring this data together, make it accessible and govern it correctly”, says Rupp.

The pandemic has not only exposed cracks in the healthcare system in Switzerland, but around the globe. What we want to take forward in Switzerland is accelerated approval processes for the products. We have found that the healthcare system is not ready for challenges such as a pandemic, and this provides important input for better health care delivery in general .

The role of digitization

Digitization, artificial intelligence and big data are driving innovation and efficiency across pharma. With these, it would not only be possible to overcome a crisis like the pandemic more easily, but also work towards improving the healthcare system and the outcomes of current and future treatments. Switzerland is theoretically in a privileged position that could have access to data from other healthcare players, as many of the globally relevant ones are located in this country . However, the fragmented Swiss healthcare system makes data availability more complex, and there are many open questions on how to regulate the use of data. If the conditions do not further improve, there is a risk that talent and investment will flow into other parts of the world. Already today, the number of patents in medical or healthcare innovation issued in Switzerland is in the middle of the European ranking. Not bad, but not good either.

Patient centric healthcare requires access to innovation

As patients become more empowered, have access and more control over their data, patient centric healthcare is very much an aspiration of the future. Engaging with patients will improve outcomes regarding the healthcare system in general and for patients individually. To quote the NHS: “no decision about me without me”. Jörg Rupp explains: “We all have been patients and we all have been frustrated at some point in the patient journey. Now we need to learn from that frustration in every individual phase - from sitting in waiting rooms to getting a diagnosis or a treatment. We need to look at what can be done online: How can we better engage with patients? What does the patient journey really look like? It’s obvious that patient centricity cannot be addressed by individual players. Everyone in the healthcare system needs to join the effort."

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Nico Kleyn

Managing Partner for Life Sciences and Health Care

Laveshni Reddy

R&D Business Service Area Lead