Interview with Richard Bergström – Director General of EFPIA


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


Interview with Professor Chris Bonell

Hedinn: “Can you give us a brief description of your background?”bonell
“I went to University to do medicine originally and did two years of pre-clinical medicine, cutting up bodies and all that kind of stuff and didn’t particularly enjoy it. But then I did an intercalated degree, sort of an extra degree, in social and political science and really enjoyed that. I started doing clinical medicine, but realised it wasn’t for me, so I did a master’s and a Ph.D. in sociology, and then eventually a master’s in epidemiology as well. At the same time I was working in health, at the NHS and then in the voluntary sector. It was quite late in the day that I committed to becoming an academic. For a long time I was working in public service more than academia.”

Hedinn: “Where were you working when you were my age?” (I’m 38 and Chris is 43).
Chris: “I was working at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I worked there for seven years.”

Hedinn: “From your own professional point of view, what do you feel should be the primary aim of a health oriented conference such as this one?”
Chris: “Networking is really important. I get just as much from the breaks as from the sessions. Often, perversely, I’m actually networking with other people from England, who I haven’t met before. You just get thrown together. And just being soaked in new ideas. You know, obviously when you read stuff, you’re reading stuff that you’ve decided to read, whereas when you go to a conference you might come across something you haven’t thought about before. So, that’s the value of conferences for me.”

Hedinn: “The theme of this year’s conference (2012) is ‘Crisis and Opportunity’. What opportunities (if any) do you see in the present financial crisis?”
Chris: “Well, there would be an opportunity if there were different government policies. You know, I’m a Keynesian, I suppose [laughs], so I would see opportunities flowing from those sorts of policies. There are opportunities for social researchers, perversely, in the fact that there are social problems. That opportunity’s responsibility is to track the consequence of the austerity measures and the recession. And for me, personally, I’m interested in looking at those impacts on young people, which are going to be pretty bad.”

Hedinn: “Looking back on your life experiences and career, what single lesson or message would you like to convey to Young Gasteiners and other young people attending the conference?”
Chris: “I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned in terms of my own research career is the importance of reading around your subject, not just reading really narrowly in your own discipline. But rather reading history, politics, economics; because you have to be able to see the big picture to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and put it in context. Otherwise, I can’t see the point.”

Interview conducted in October 2012 by Young Gasteiner Hedinn Svarfdal Björnsson


Interview with Dr. Hans Kluge

497B0524Brief background:

Name: Dr Hans Kluge
Birthplace: Born in Belgium, in a small city of 50.000 people, close to Oostende and in the seaside at the Flemish part of Belgium.
Education: I am a medical doctor, and I studied medicine at the Catholique University of Leuven in Belgium, then I practiced for a while as a general practitioner and went back to qualify myself as an expert in infectious diseases at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp. After which, I worked overseas in Somalia and Liberia with Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Profession: I am the Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health, and the Special Representative of the Regional Director to Prevent and Combat Multidrug Resistant Tuberculosis in the WHO European Region. As Director of the Division of Health Systems, I have basically the portfolio of six main units. First, human resources for health, second, health technology and pharmaceuticals, third, public health services, fourth, health services delivery, fifth, health financing, and last but not least governance.
Current place of employment: Copenhagen, Denmark, WHO headquarters, although I a travel a lot. I came to the WHO Regional Office from Myanmar, where I was based for 5 years, and I arrived as the coordinator for health systems in 2009, then when the new regional director came on board, I competed through the process and got the director post in August 2010.

Question: “Where were you working/studying when you were my age?”

I was working in prisons in Siberia with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), starting with my Russian colleagues the first TB control DOTS program in the TB hospital prison in Mariinsk, which is on the Transiberian Railway, for two years, in very hard circumstances, in fact introducing evidence based public health practices in the Siberian prisons, and living in the middle of Siberia for two years.

Question: “From your professional point of view, what do you feel should be the primary aim of a health oriented conference such as this one?”

From my point of view, being the Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health, and being responsible for 53 countries, not only the EU countries, one of the key things is exactly what we are doing this morning, bringing together the Eastern and Western part of the region. I think that’s very crucial and very significant because we observe that the western part is suffering so much from the financial crisis, while the east is in fact recovering, and is trying to teach us a lesson this morning. I mean this is really amazing and vice versa!! Of course they still have indicators which are far worse than the EU or the OECD average. If you look at 30-35 years ago though, the so called east and west were very close in terms of indicators such as life expectancy and tuberculosis control, they were quite identical, so we need to identify and exchange lessons with each other.

Question: “The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Crisis and Opportunity’. What opportunities (if any) do you see in the present financial crisis?”

Two main points here. First, if you look at the WHO 2010 World Health Report on the path to universal coverage, the main theme was that every kind of system whether it is on the west or the east, has so much room for efficiency, there is still a lot of waste, so I think here you can have the exchange of experiences of how countries coped or how some countries missed the opportunity to change, that is one key aspect. Second, and this is another key main theme that we are very concerned with at the WHO, is to really draw the attention of the international public health community to solidarity. If you look at what is happening for example in a number of countries under the austerity measures, Greece, Portugal and Ireland, it is really worrying for us that notions of solidarity, equity, participation which all comprise fundamental social values that all the member states and governments agree upon, are being undervalued. We have to put these on the agenda again, make interventions, and the regional director who is going to speak on behalf of the WHO chair will make sure that this key theme is put forward again and again.

For example the Troika, do they really look at the effects of their measures? At the vulnerable part of society and especially at the access to primary health care? Or is it only about cutting? You can see, and not only in the aforementioned countries but also in the Netherlands, that although the budget hole has been decreased, they are still being quite introverted, instead of focusing on the international notion of solidarity, as you are saying, this is the basis of our human rights. The WHO wants to have a leading and positive role, side by side with the European Observatory in this aspect, because we both have gathered great experience of how you can cut wisely. Of course we cannot ask the impossible, but we can cut wisely and protect what is working well. Fore and foremost, like a Russian colleague was telling me “first protect the human resources”, the good people, if you lose the few good people that we have now, this will be a setback for many years. I will speak at the Financial Times conference in Athens on shaping the Greek health care reform, and we are sending people there representing WHO, and probably we are going to station at least one WHO person there, working with the EU Taskforce.

Question: “Looking back on your life and career, what single lesson or message would you like to convey to Young Gasteiners and other young people attending the conference?”

Look for mentors, mentors are everywhere, the fact that we are having this discussion means that you are a mentor to me also. You should not look only upwards, you should look horizontally, left and right of you, and you will find a mentor, be modest and always try to learn, this is something that I have learned from my father who is 80 years old, and he was a chief traumatologist, and every day he would study and try to learn from whom is sitting left and right of you, and always look forward, it is a never ending process. And not only learn things in public health but learn things about everything in life. Be modest, be proud and have a mission, if the mission is noble, it will keep you on the right way.

Interview conducted by Young Gasteiner Thanassis Nikolentzos in October 2012


Introducing Martina!

MMonuthMy name is Martina Monuth and I have been supporting the EHFG team since January as the Conference Coordinator based in Bad Hofgastein. I am responsible for the conference organisation of the annual European Health Forum Gastein (as you already might know this year it takes place from October 1st until October 3rd) and administrative tasks for the association – the International Forum Gastein.

I studied business administration and business education in Innsbruck. After graduating from university and undertaking different internships in Austria and abroad, I came back to the Gastein Valley (my home) to gain professional experience. Previously I undertook a marketing role at another organisation in Bad Hofgastein. Looking to expand my professional experience and undertake new challenges, I became part of the team of the International Forum Gastein.

I am really looking forward to my upcoming tasks and to get to know you and meet you at the conference in October!