Everyone deserves the chance to live a healthy life, with equal access to treatments and the same opportunity for a positive outcome. As the World Health Organization (WHO) states: “Health equity is achieved when everyone can attain their full potential for health and wellbeing”. The reality, however, is that a multitude of factors can get in the way, among them poverty, unequal access, stigma and racism.
It’s an issue that Anil Argilla is tackling head-on as President, Emerging Markets Asia for global biopharmaceutical business Pfizer. He is perfectly placed to make a difference, with responsibility for the entire Pfizer business in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indochina, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam.
To further his quest, he is drawing on his extensive experience working in a management consultancy firm where he focused primarily on organizational transformation and change across a range of industries, as well as the insights he has gained over 17 years working within Pfizer itself in a variety of different roles.
We are a science-based company that is committed to bringing medicines and vaccines to our patients.
His career with the company began in an HR capacity, from where he worked his way up to become Country Manager for Indonesia while also leading a cluster of countries in Asia before taking on his current position at Pfizer in September 2022.
“We are a science-based company that is committed to bringing medicines and vaccines to our patients,” Argilla tells The CEO Magazine. “As an organization, we’re not just about delivering business performance, we’re about actively addressing healthcare disparities in the communities and patients we serve.”
Equity during crisis
Pfizer has been in operation for more than 170 years and is now active in more than 125 countries, with an annual revenue of more than US$100 billion. In 2022, Pfizer reached an estimated 1.3 billion patients with its medicines and vaccines. It has 10 products that have achieved annual sales exceeding US$1 billion each and is by no means planning to rest on those laurels, with a further 110 products in the pipeline as of 31 January, 2023.
“In order for us to realize the potential of our aspirations, we believe as an organization we have to show excellence in acceleration, show courage with innovation and, above all, live our value of equity to appreciate the needs of patients and customers,” Argilla explains.
It’s a mission that became infinitely more poignant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as ensuring everyone had access to vital health care became critical. Even as the uncertainty around the virus eases, this remains top of mind for Pfizer, which has played a leading role in delivering equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
“Looking at our equity core value and the COVID-19 pandemic, we are proud that Pfizer and BioNTech have now delivered over four billion doses of our COVID-19 vaccine to 181 countries around the world,” Argilla says.
Alongside governments and multi-sector partners, Pfizer is working to co-create scalable solutions that help address systemic barriers to better health, focusing on finding faster more efficient pathways for the supply of medicines and vaccines.
“We look forward to continued partnership as we work together toward bringing vaccines to people in need. We are supportive of this important mechanism and proud to be a partner working towards equitable access for vaccines in developing countries.”
Co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and WHO, alongside key delivery partner UNICEF, COVAX aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. Pfizer has worked with partners to supply vaccines through innovative mechanisms including COVAX and donation programs, ensuring that its COVID-19 vaccine was available to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
There is still much more to be done, Argilla stresses. Pfizer is working to boost the accessibility of COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments in low and middle-income countries by advancing its voluntary licensing agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).
“The terms of our agreement will allow MPP to grant sub-licenses to qualified generic medicines manufacturers worldwide who will supply to the 95 countries covered by the agreement,” he adds. “We know that these efforts will only be truly impactful if they can reach those most in need.”
In addition, Pfizer has also signed an agreement to supply up to six million treatment courses to Global Fund and four million treatment courses to UNICEF at a not-for-profit price, Argilla says. “We are committed to working toward equitable access to our oral COVID-19 treatment for patients in need.”
Upping its commitment
Firm in its belief that neither geography nor income should impact the quality of health care received or a patient’s health outcome, in May 2022 Pfizer launched ‘An Accord for a Healthier World’.
The commitment aims to greatly reduce the health equity gap by offering its vaccines and medicines on a not-for-profit basis to benefit the health of 1.2 billion inhabitants of 45 lower-income countries.
We are proud to share that in the Asia region, six-out-of-nine countries have Emerging Markets teams that are led by women.
Under the Accord, Pfizer has committed to offer the full portfolio of medicines and vaccines for which it has global rights. This includes hundreds of patented and off-patent products that treat or prevent infectious diseases, heart disease, certain cancers, rare and inflammatory diseases and women’s health issues.
“Alongside governments and multi-sector partners, Pfizer is working to co-create scalable solutions that help address systemic barriers to better health, focusing on finding faster more efficient pathways for the supply of medicines and vaccines,” Argilla says.
“Pfizer is also committed to strengthening resources, capabilities and platforms that can enable quick and more sustainable access to those medicines. This includes technical expertise, training, diagnostic capacity, innovative financing and more.”
Pfizer’s impressive stance on global health equity represents an extension of its long-standing internal focus on its own Diversity Equity Inclusion strategy.
“For example, we are proud to share that in the Asia region, six-out-of-nine countries have Emerging Markets teams that are led by women,” Argilla says. “Within the Asia context, I believe it isn’t common for many companies to have two-thirds of their countries led by female leaders.”
Strong cultural diversity is also built into its Emerging Markets Asia leadership team, with 50 percent of its leaders originating outside the Asia region from places as far afield as Canada, Australia, Mexico, the United States and Brazil.
We believe that to bring one’s full self to this important journey requires every colleague to feel like they belong – like they are seen, heard and respected.
It’s all part of building a more “inclusive colleague experience”, according to Argilla. “Our colleagues every day realize the potential of our purpose and commitments to the colleagues, patients and communities we serve. We believe that to bring one’s full self to this important journey requires every colleague to feel like they belong – like they are seen, heard and respected,” he says.
“Inclusion is about taking a position on matters that are important and meaningful to our colleagues, creating opportunities for our colleagues to express their views and opinions in a safe environment and providing the support, tools and opportunities to thrive.”
An evolving model
Its approach to equity isn’t the only area of change for Pfizer. Indeed, the spirit of innovation is enlivening every area of the organization. For example, in order to create more relevant and impactful engagement with both doctor and patients, Pfizer has evolved its go-to-market model.
Part of this process has seen it reorganize its biopharma business in order to simplify decision-making, resource prioritization and execution, Argilla explains. It’s also fortifying its capabilities in the areas of marketing, medical and access.
“This new model is focused on delivering a superior customer experience via an omnichannel approach that is centered around the established and strong in-person relationships that our representatives already have with customers,” he continues. “For some, that could be a high-touch in-person interaction, much like what you know today, while others may want more of a hybrid engagement.”
Access to medical experts on demand to answer pressing questions that will help doctors treat their patients effectively is another important part of the overhaul.
“Our omnichannel offerings are underpinned by data and predictive analytics. So this is what enables us to better customize our engagement with our customers to meet their needs and their questions,” Argilla says. “And in doing so, what we will do is to create more memorable and more impactful customer and patient experiences.”
At its core
Pfizer has four key core values and behaviors, as Argilla identifies below:
Courage – “Breakthroughs start by challenging convention, especially in the face of uncertainty or adversity.”
Equity – “Every person deserves to be seen, heard and cared for.”
Excellence – “We can only change patients’ lives when we perform at our best together.”
Joy – “We give ourselves to our work, and it also gives to us.”
Pfizer’s desire to improve the experience of those it interacts with has led it to enhance its customer-facing capabilities with the incorporation of more medical roles, access roles and virtual representatives, in addition to the more traditional in-person sales representatives.
“Our customer-facing colleagues are now better equipped with hybrid engagement tools to support the customers when and how they want,” he explains.
Meanwhile, commercial operations have been reorganized into three global customer-focused units – primary care, specialty care and oncology – across three key geographies: the United States, international developed markets and emerging markets.
We believe that our new organizational construct, coupled with this new go-to-market model, will amplify our patient impact, help us to focus on the most important priorities and, in that way, deliver on these world-class execution launches.
“In addition, we have streamlined our in-country structure and decision-making processes. We’ve created a much greater connectivity between the development of global strategy and local execution. And we’ve enhanced our marketing, medical and access capabilities globally,” Argilla says.
“We believe that our new organizational construct, coupled with this new go-to-market model, will amplify our patient impact, help us to focus on the most important priorities and, in that way, deliver on these world-class execution launches.”
Well aware of the pace of the digital transformation that is underway across the healthcare industry, Pfizer is channeling its energy into creating a patient-centric business strategy for a digital world.
“It is important to recognize that a digital mindset is now at the forefront of health care. There are two key strategic priorities underpinning the company’s efforts in this area – improving patient health outcomes by enhancing diagnosis, treatment and adherence rates, and simplifying and accelerating scientific research to fuel the breakthrough therapies of tomorrow,” Argilla explains.
“We believe these will enable us to create sustainable competitive advantage for Pfizer, and it underpins everything that we do in digital.”
To start, Pfizer is using digital capabilities to help double our innovation success rate. We’ve invested in supercomputing capabilities, which are helping scientists accelerate compounds through discovery to development.
On the research front, Pfizer is tapping into the power of new technologies such as AI and machine learning to continually grow its wide variety of products, capabilities and tools across its entire value chain.
“To start, Pfizer is using digital capabilities to help double our innovation success rate. We’ve invested in supercomputing capabilities, which are helping scientists accelerate compounds through discovery to development,” Argilla says.
“A great example of this is how supercomputing fast-tracked our COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment compound. To support our scientists, we enabled the acceleration of virtual in silico screening capabilities through cloud-based supercomputing with AI machine learning models.”
This dynamic approach is already delivering. Over the 18 months from December 2022, Pfizer will introduce 19 new products or indications globally. Of these, 15 of them will have been the result of its own internal R&D efforts.
Fresh to market
Among some of these new products is a revolutionary treatment for migraine, which Argilla describes as a “life-disrupting” and “disabling” disease affecting more than one billion people worldwide. “Migraine is a huge unmet medical need,” he stresses. “In the United States alone, we have 40 million people living with migraine.”
One-in-five women and one-in-16 men are believed to grapple with migraine attacks, which can last between four and 72 hours if untreated.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is also high on the Pfizer R&D agenda. The contagious virus causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract and affects children and adults. It has become so common that most children have been infected with it by the age of two, and it can cause serious respiratory illness.
“The unmet medical need for babies is clear and well characterized. There is also a significant burden for older adults, which is similar to influenza,” Argilla says. “As there are currently no vaccines or specific treatment options available, RSV is causing a significant burden on the healthcare system, on the economic system and on the individual level, whether we talk about older adults, babies, caregivers or parents.”
Watch this space
Pfizer has key new products and treatments in the following therapeutic areas:
Prevention of pneumonia and invasive disease caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Ulcerative colitis – a chronic and often debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.
Alopecia areata – an autoimmune disease that impacts up to two percent of the global population.
Multiple myeloma – the second most common blood cancer worldwide, it affects plasma cells made in the bone marrow, causing them to grow and divide. “There is a significant unmet need with approximately half of the patients surviving at five years or more,” Argilla says.
Prostate cancer – a progressive disease caused by the growth of abnormal cells. “The journey, though, is different for each patient,” he says.
A new path
Argilla points to a growing trend, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic’s start in 2020, for traditional insurers to partner with players within the health system such as telemedicine providers, pharma companies, private hospitals and digital companies in order to “strengthen the insurance value chain”.
“In the healthcare space, the success of any traditional and innovative insurance model rests on the design, uptake and distribution of insurance and its effective use by policyholders,” he says.
He sees this as an area of great potential for Pfizer, highlighting several ways the company, and others like it, can support growth and innovation in the commercial health insurance industry in Asia.
In the healthcare space, the success of any traditional and innovative insurance model rests on the design, uptake and distribution of insurance and its effective use by policyholders.
“First, to be successful, commercial health insurers needs to move away from the traditional ‘claims management’ approach towards a more holistic ‘managed care’ approach,” he says. But to do this, they must demonstrate an understanding of the patient journey.
He believes that pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer can help them to do this by drawing on their extensive experience in building patient education and support programs, which could be a great value-add for an insurance product.
“Second, pharma companies have extensive insights into the burden of disease, disease progression, treatment pathways and associated costs, treatment outcomes and patients’ ability to pay,” Argilla says. “This, coupled with significant in-house health economics expertise, could prove valuable in product design.”
Finally, pharmaceutical companies are well-versed in the healthcare ecosystem. “We could help commercial health insurers to better understand the health policy landscape and to expand their networks.”
A huge part of Pfizer’s enduring appeal, and a major driver of its success, lies in its sense of purpose and this commitment to change, according to Argilla.
“A company’s purpose defines its role in the world, and companies that stay true to their purpose generally outperform those that do not,” he says. “Pfizer is ‘all in’ on its purpose – breakthroughs that change patients’ lives – by putting even more breakthroughs in patients’ hands.”
It’s a purpose that Argilla is excited to be a part of through his role spearheading the company’s efforts across Asia. “Pfizer Emerging Markets focuses on the specific healthcare needs of developing markets, bringing our portfolio of innovative medicines and vaccines to people in more than 100 countries across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia,” he says.
We envision a future where disease doesn’t win but science does, and that every patient, regardless of where they live, will have access to life-saving medicines, treatments and vaccines.
“Every day, we leverage our collective advantage and expertise, and work with global governments, leading physicians and public health experts to bring breakthroughs that will change the lives of the more than 5.3 billion people living in emerging markets.”
Argilla’s own role on this mission continues to metamorphose, with him creating a culture where people are encouraged to contribute their own ideas and openly express their views. He believes in simplifying the way the company works in the day-to-day, cutting red tape while bringing out the best in his teams.
It’s a responsibility that has taken on new importance as the company has expanded its scope well beyond simply producing medications in a lab or a factory. “We envision a future where disease doesn’t win but science does, and that every patient, regardless of where they live, will have access to life-saving medicines, treatments and vaccines,” Argilla says.
“In Emerging Markets, our innovations don’t stop at the medicines. We focus on finding creative solutions to key public health challenges and scaling access to high-quality health care for all.”