Richard Bergström is the Director General of European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Richard is a pharmacist by training. He received his MScPharm degree from the University of Uppsala, Sweden in 1988. Until 1992 he worked at the Medical Products Agency as Assistant Head of Registration. He moved to Switzerland where he worked for nine years in regulatory affairs at Roche and Novartis. Before returning to Sweden in 2002, he was Director, EU Regulatory Strategy at Roche Basel. For nine years he was Director-General of LIF, the Swedish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry. During this time he was member of the Board of EFPIA and the Council of IFPMA, the international association based in Geneva. In Sweden he had several government appointments, including as Vice Chairman of the Board of the Karolinska Institute. He also served on the Board of IMM, the Swedish Institute against Corruption. Since 2006 he is an advisor to the WHO on Good Governance in Medicine. He has been Director General of EFPIA since April 2011. In this capacity he also serves on the Board of the “Innovative Medicines Initiative” (IMI) – the joint research undertaking between EFPIA and the European Commission.
Question: Can you give me a brief overview about your your organization? What are the visions and values of EFPIA?
Answer: I represent the research based pharmaceutical industry. The actual reason to have a pharmaceutical industry is to have and to present new medicines for patients. The pharma industry has been doing this for more then a hundred years and we intend to do it for at least one hundred years more. It`s always something to discover, a new challenge that we have to face. The only way to do that is to have a sustainable model for innovation, for selling medicines and paying for medicine. The reason we are present here in Gastein is that we need to work together with EU stakeholders. We have the same goals and objectives.
Q: This year in Gastein, EFPIA organised two workshops, one about the connection between new science, research and healthcare needs and the other about dialogue, transparency and trust between the pharma industry and other stakeholders. What benefits for EFPIA arise from the participation in this Forum?
A: Gastein is a unique opportunity for us to meet with leaders, decision makers, NGOs, particularly with the key people involved in the area of public health. From my point of view many people in these sectors see the pharma industry as part of the solution for the new and challenging tasks. There is a degree of scepticism about the role that we play. I think we, the industry, must go and talk to people that don´t necessary always like us and with the people that have questions about us. The reasoning behind our seminar today was trust and transparency. I think we surprised the people that all things are available out there and we made a reassurance that our commitment is and will always be there. The historical view of the pharmaceutical sector is no longer valid. Things are changing.
Q: In a time of crisis like now, what are the opportunities for the pharma industry?
A: Many of my colleagues try to see this only as a problem. I have the perspective to see this also as an opportunity. Opportunities to make the necessary reforms in the health care sector, to make sure that the money we spend is spent wisely. For example in some parts of Europe the use of generics drugs is not developed. The crisis forces everyone to sharpen their arguments when they discuss with the ministry of finance for instance to increase the health budget. We have to convince people that if they invest more in health care, the people that benefit from that will return sooner to work, produce more and increase the economy. At the end of the day this moment is all about the economy. We still have a lot of work to do to improve our arguments in this direction.
Q: How does EFPIA interact with European organisations and what are the benefits of these interactions?
A: First of all, I think that we have at the European level a good relationship between industry and public institutions because we try to be very factual. One of my principles is that I don’t try to hide things. I want as much information as possible to be transparent and available to everybody to consult. I want EFPIA and the industry to be a source of data and to offer straight and clean analysis. One other thing is that we look for partnerships where we can make sens of the advantages that we have. “The innovative medicines initiative“ (IMI) is one of the great examples that at the beginning was an interesting idea, with a difficult start and is now viewed with envy from around the world. The Americans and the Asians envy the European Commission because here we do something this big that we can work together on this project co-funded under the EU flag. I now can proudly say that we plan for the next IMI, for the “Horizon 2020” that will have an even bigger budget and be more aligned with the needs of the people. Another project that we are developing and we did not have the chance to discus at this Forum is that we are establishing a network to prevent counterfeit medicine in Europe. We have a partnership between the pharma industry, pharmacists and all sellers to build a secure distribution system. We plan in two years from now to put a bar code on each pack of drugs and in this way each pharmacist can check before selling if this pack is original and is not counterfeit. We plan that legislation will sustain us in this action and the stakeholders will do the same.
Q: In your opinion what are the future challenges that young researchers and policy makers must undertake? How should the Young Gasteiners prepare to face the future?
A: I think that the young people entering the health policy space have one big advantage and that is that you don’t carry the baggage that some of us have had to carry. We had the baggage of the 80s and the 90s. The lack of trust, old fashioned views of the industry and private sector, “the private sector is bad, the public sector is good” these are some of the things that had to be left behind.. Young people realise that it`s not like that anymore. You also have a huge advantage in grasping new technologies. In the health care sector we started with electronic records, main frame computers and standardised solutions. On the other hand young people master new technologies like smart phones and smart applications. Your generation can go straight to a new era embracing new technologies. I think many people here, including myself, belong to the old school. We don`t truly understand the importance and the advantages of social media, connectivity and social interaction.
Q: Where were you working or studying when you were my age (around 30 years old)?
A: I started school very early and I graduated very early so I was working. I started working in Sweden as a pharmacist and soon I went in to industry because I was interested in research. I intended to be a researcher and then I realised that I didn`t have the patience for that so I slid towards policy and similar things. I started to work for the Swedish góverment and then I went into industry where I stayed for 23 years. I have worked in this interface between industry and the regulators because I like to work where there is some tension. This is my speciality.
Q: What are the messages that you want to convey to young people, especially the Young Gasteiners, at this conference?
A: I would encourage the Young Gasteiners to challenge the current dogmas. If people say “We have done that before, it´s not working!” just ignore it! Challenge the traditional providers of solutions! Challenge the technology providers! Look for the new solutions.
Another piece of advice is that at the end of the day it`s all about economics, it`s all about money. So if you are a public health professional you need to go to convince the ministry of finance to support your ideas. I am not suggesting that everybody should have an economics degree but I am suggesting that you need to team up with people that know economics, people that understand politics. We need to promote the field of public health because there is strong competition for the available resources. When investing in health it is not always obvious that it will have a quick return value in society. This is especially important right now in this time of crisis. Right now the Ministries of Finance are making decisions, and we have to make sure they don´t do that alone.
Interview conducted in October 2012 by Young Gasteiner Alin Preda