TOGETHER FOR RESEARCH

Colombia 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Francisco De Paula Gómez, Executive Director of the Asociación de Laboratorios Farmacéuticos de Investigación (AFIDRO), on encouraging R&D and putting patients first.

Can you outline the strategy that AFIDRO has implemented to promote quality and innovation within the industry?

Colombia's regulatory framework is highly favorable for multinational pharmaceutical companies. It is in fact rather economical to develop R&D activities. The environment has led to many of these large companies developing some of their primary multinational clinical research in our country; the research for new medication has positively contributed to the development of the industry, particularly in its research and innovation segments. We promote the arrival of investment from foreign pharmaceutical companies within the research segment, or alternatively they support research activity in Colombia through sponsorship, subsidies, or donations. For example, there is a large European company in charge, as a sponsor, of the most important research on Dengue fever in the world, which is taking place here. Our strategy focuses on making sure that companies are actively involved in developing research activity in Colombia.

Could you tell us more about Colombia's current regulatory framework for clinical research?

Current regulation regarding clinical research was first adopted some four years ago, and has become stricter over this time. Basically, the current regulatory framework perfectly defines conditions for each of the clinical research steps, from establishing research centers to research methodology, as well as the ethical issues surrounding clinical research. Overall, I would define it as a highly sophisticated framework supported by research and health institutions like our own that have become leaders in the pharmaceutical field at a regional level.

“I think it is important to provide objective and reasonable arguments to the current debate in the health sector."

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the pharmaceutical research sector in Colombia?

Colombia is at a crossroads: it has to decide in which direction the country wants to develop its pharmaceutical sector. The sector is globally strategic and I think our country needs to actually understand that. Our economy was based primarily on commodities, and thanks to recent economic developments the country has come to learn that services and innovation will continue to play an important role in the growth of the national economy. In this perspective, the country should increase its efforts to strengthen pharmaceutical research, encouraging both local and foreign companies to develop, produce, and promote innovation in Colombia. It's a challenging moment for the industry and the country. For example, Brazil, India, and Israel, some 20 years ago, decided to strengthen the production of generic drugs, each developing very strong industries. Only now do these countries seem to have turned to research and innovation within the industry to have taken a step forward. Colombia has a rather strong generic drug industry at a regional level. However, we lack innovation and the country's industry is currently undergoing a transitional period in which an important decision must be taken regarding this.

What is the impact of the pharmaceutical industry on the Colombian health sector?

The pharmaceutical market represents around 17% of the health industry in Colombia in terms of spending, according to figures released by the country's Ministry of Health. I think these figures also show rather low spending in medication; for example, the yearly per capita health expenditure in Spain is $2,400, and $4,000 in Italy. The figure in Colombia currently stands at $500, meaning that we have solid growth potential for the next few years. In this context, Colombia is viewed as an expensive market in Latin America for medication, as the healthcare structure in our country suffered from several problems that made the distribution chain more complex and expensive than other regional markets, consequently making the products themselves more expensive. However, there are particular products that are still cheaper in Colombia than in other countries; hormones, beauty products, and women's health treatments are among these. At the same time, the government of Colombia has taken active steps to regulate the market price in the country, which positively contributes to progressively reducing prices.

What is your opinion about the Compulsory Health Plan?

This plan was neither updated nor modified for many years. Only two years ago, the government took the lead to update it; however, I think it already requires a new modification, because of the current technology needs regarding medical treatments. If such modifications do not take place as soon as possible, I believe the health system and this plan in particular will suffer from long-standing problems. We should keep in mind that Colombia enjoys a universal health system, which is not something of which every country can boast. However, public opinion toward the health system tends to be negative due to its inherent problems. That said, I think Colombia's healthcare system positively compares to those of other countries worldwide.

You have stated AFIDRO's aim of putting the patient at the center of clinical research. How do you plan to do that?

Colombia has long been working on the financial sustainability of the healthcare system, consequently forgetting the centrality of the patient. Financial sustainability has monopolized the health debate in the country for many years, and I believe we should try to make sure we prioritize health indicators among the Colombian population.

What role can AFIDRO play in achieving such goals?

I think it is important to provide objective and reasonable arguments to the current debate in the health sector. As part of the pharmaceutical industry, we are a very important player in the health system and our opinion is always well analyzed. We think we can play a more active role in the debate and the further development of the health system in Colombia. In my particular case, I have been professionally engaged in all fields of the health system, including the government. Our industry is committed to complying with all the necessary regulations to help institutionalize the system and show the country that rules can be respected. At the same time, we have interim ethical codes and auto regulatory policies for the pharmaceutical companies in terms of product commercialization, and consumer rights. If found to not be in compliance with them, companies could face severe fines from within the association.

© The Business Year - April 2014