WHAT YOU NEED NEXT

Panama 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jordi Fernández Capo, General Manager of Central America and the Caribbean at Roche Diagnostics, on Roche's aims in Panama and its contributions to development.

Why did Roche decide to enter the Panamanian market, and what is the regional importance of the country?

Roche affiliates were created in our Central American and Caribbean area, in Havana (1955), Nicaragua (1965), and Guatemala (1969). Today, Roche has two main divisions: Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics, the last one being the division we run from Panama. The Central America and Caribbean regional offices for the Pharmaceutical division are in Costa Rica. Roche, as a multinational, is constantly seeking new opportunities, and emerging markets are fundamental for the future growth of the Roche Group. As to why we entered this market, it is due to the potential of the region and of Panama specifically. We relocated the operations for Central America and the Caribbean Diagnostics division here from Guatemala in 2008. Panama has proven to be a hub in terms of communication and logistics, which facilitates our access to our markets. Another aspect is safety, as Panama is a secure place to live compared to other countries in the region. Additionally, you can hire good talent, with different background and nationalities, which also helps to make a sustainable business. Finally, Panama has a stable political environment under the Sede de Empresas Multinacionales law, which has fostered a favorable business environment. We have grown constantly since we commenced operations here. Overall, the main achievements have been the consolidation of strong growth, extending the use of our products and services in this territory to contribute to the improvement of overall healthcare practices. We have over 130 people working for this affiliate, of which 70 are based in Panama. Altogether, we can be more effective by managing the business from here.

Which countries are the most significant in the region, and what are Roche's plans for expansion in Central America?

All countries in this region are relevant for Roche. Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Cuba are maybe the strongest markets. But we do a lot of business throughout the entire region as countries are increasing their investment in healthcare. Due to this, we are also extending our presence in Central America and the Caribbean, by having direct employees in most countries as well as through a strong distribution network, a fundamental partner for our business success. The Panamanian market may require special attention because of its booming economy; we need to be ready to deliver the products and services that the governments and the society demand in order to improve the quality of healthcare in this region.

In terms of diagnostics in Panama, what are the most important products and services you provide?

We work mainly in the in-vitro diagnostics (IVD) business, providing routine and specialized testing for any type of IVD diagnosis that may be required to perform in a blood or urine sample, in a tissue biopsy, or in other types of specimens. We provide fully-automated technology and equipment for laboratories with the highest quality of diagnostic tests, covering the different parameters a patient needs in order to decide the best treatment alternative. Our product portfolio addresses unmet medical needs in a wide variety of clinical areas such as oncology, cardiology, infectious diseases, women's health and pregnancy care, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.

“All countries in this region are relevant for Roche. Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Cuba are maybe the strongest markets."

As the world's largest biotech company could you comment on what innovation means to you?

Innovation is fundamental, and is reflected in the sheer volume of investment in R&D we commit to annually. Some of that innovation is internal, but we also engage in the external collaborations that have proven to be highly successful in both diagnostics and pharmaceuticals. We constantly seek for new ideas and opportunities that enrich our portfolio with innovative solutions to improve the quality of healthcare.

How would you describe the financial performance of the region in 2013, and what are your expectations for 2014?

We have been highly successful in the region, having grown at a double-digit rate in the diagnostics business. We are very proud of this achievement in a region where budgets, although increasing, remain tight. That really shows that we are doing a good job in partnering with different countries in improving their access to a better healthcare system. Resources are being allocated adequately to improve the healthcare policies in many countries, and the outlook for this year is that we will be able to maintain solid and positive growth. That means we will keep investing here, hiring more people, and developing the business. We see very positively the partnerships we have established with both public and private customers in many countries, from which we are providing best-in-class solutions to many hospitals and healthcare services.

In your opinion, what differentiates Roche from its competitors in the region and in general?

At Roche we are committed to providing the best quality of products and services to our customers addressed to help in the diagnosis and treatment of unmet medical needs. We always partner with our customers seeking for improvements and innovation that can be beneficial for patients. Our key focus in the region is still providing the best solutions available for all patients, regardless of whether the customer is a public or private institution. Finally, at Roche we are highly committed to doing business in an ethical manner, all based on high standards of integrity and respect. Any business we enter absolutely needs to be aligned with the corporate values we live up to. This belief underpins our overall strategy.

How many jobs has Roche created in Panama, and how are you contributing to national development?

By being based in Panama we are reinforcing the country's role as a regional hub for Central America and the Caribbean and, to some extent, for the entire Latin-American region. We annually increase the number of new positions, both through direct and indirect (outsourced) hiring. In the community, we are involved in a variety of projects with the government addressing important healthcare needs such as the support in women's health initiatives for the early detection of cervical cancer, through screening programs of the papilloma virus (HPV). Also, Roche is collaborating to improve the early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes nationwide.

The Panamanian government has made a huge investment in different initiatives in the health sector over the past few years. What is your evaluation of these efforts?

This investment in healthcare means greater and better access to healthcare for the population. The government is already undertaking many programs, including the construction of new hospitals nationwide and the implementation of other preventive healthcare initiatives mentioned before. The government is sending a clear signal that it believes that better healthcare contributes to faster development for the country.

What are Roche's priorities for Central America and the Caribbean and, more specifically, for Panama?

We need to keep growing this business because that is what allows us to invest more in the market, increasing our staff and growing the organization. We need to be more effective in commercializing our products and services, working together with the public and private healthcare sector to facilitate the access to our high medical value portfolio. This is our challenge this year and in the years to come in Central America and the Caribbean. In this regard, Panama has achieved significant progress in improving access to healthcare, and we want to contribute to this increasing effort by focusing our support in preventive care and early diagnosis, to facilitate the best choice of medical treatment and to have a more efficient healthcare system. Ultimately, it is all about improving the quality of life of patients here in Panama by “Doing now what patients need next."

© The Business Year - June 2014