INVESTING IN TOMORROW

Panama 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Stefan Bellinghausen, Regional Director LATAM at Acino, on the range of opportunities for those wanting to take advantage of the logistical as well as those wanting to enter the local market.

Stefan Bellinghausen
BIOGRAPHY
Stefan Bellinghausen studied molecular biology and business administration in southern Germany before working in the pharmaceuticals industry in Germany. In 2008 he moved to Venezuela to start the local operations of a multinational pharmaceuticals company. It was later bought over by a Japanese pharmaceuticals company and Bellinghausen was appointed General Manager for Venezuela. In 2014, he joined Acino as Regional Director in Panama.

What is the importance of Panama for Acino? Why did the company decide to base its regional operations here?

We have two operations in Panama. One is our regional office for Latin America while the second is our subsidiary in Panama. Our subsidiary is new; previously, we only had a distribution business in the country selling directly to distributors. Then, in 2016 we decided to establish ourselves as a Panamanian company for the local market. I am the legal representative of both companies. There are a number of reasons why Acino has its regional headquarters here. Panama is a strategic location in the Americas. It is easy to get to Panama for business. It is also relatively straightforward to establish a company here. Our regional management company has had an easy process attracting people to come here and work for us. Having both foreign and Panamanian staff is another plus. On top of that, Panama has the Canal and we have our distribution center in the Colón Free Zone. The geographical proximity of our operations within Panama is an advantage for managing our business.

Which specific pharmaceuticals segments is Acino focusing its activities on in Panama?

The private pharmaceuticals market in Panama is worth around USD300 million. That is a relatively small market compared to the rest of the region. Nevertheless, it is an attractive market that has double-digit growth annually. There is also a relatively sizable institutional pharmaceuticals market here. We estimate that the institutional market is more or less the same size as the private market. Panama also has a growing and an aging population, which is why Acino decided to establish a fully dedicated Panamanian company. We currently focus mainly on pain treatments and anti-infectives. We also have some over-the-counter (OTC), cardio and gastroenterology products. We are focused on more acute treatments.

How is the company positioned to promote a new “culture of prevention" within the country?

In 2016, we started some initiatives to run educational programs for the general public. We picked a few topics where we felt Acino could add value to the general population. We organized meetings with physicians to educate people on certain behaviors and the importance of prevention, for example, on ways to avoid developing type-two diabetes, improving eating habits, and the importance of exercise. Basically, we work on a program of health consciousness. To our surprise, the feedback was great and many people were interested in attending the doctors' presentations. The difficulty in promoting prevention is talking about it in a way that people can understand and can realistically embrace in their day-to-day lives. This depends a great deal on the people who conduct the prevention courses. The other initiative we did was directed more at healthcare professionals. We invited international speakers to talk on certain topics that we felt were important to the healthcare profession. It was mainly specialists talking to general practitioners about recent findings and new studies. The idea is to transfer knowledge to the local market.

How can Acino maintain a leading position and solid reputation not only in Panama but also at the regional level?

First of all, it is about quality and being ethical. We have to be conscious about the long-term impact that our company has. It is essential that we are conscious about the importance of this industry and deliver quality products while acting in an ethical manner. This approach will guarantee the future success of our company and our industry.

Where do you see increasing demand for Acino's products at the regional level?

Currently, we completely cover the Central American region. We have several export markets in the Caribbean and are also present in Ecuador. Acino is currently the fastest-growing retail pharmaceuticals company in Central America. No other company is growing faster than us in the private pharmaceuticals market. The institutional market is not audited so we do not know the exact figures for that segment. We want to maintain our high growth rate. We are making important investments in the region, such as establishing new legal entities in Panama and Ecuador. We are also bringing in more products to the region and investing in continuous medical education. We want to extend the reach of our Swiss-based quality products across the region. There is great demand and a great perception of our products in the region.

What are your main goals and ambitions for Acino in 2017?

We expect double-digit growth of around 20% for the region. This is roughly triple the growth of the pharmaceuticals markets we are present in. This anticipated growth is mainly based on the investments we have made, the new products we launch in the region, and our past good growth. In addition, we plan to expand in the region. I am positive in terms of Central America and even more positive about Panama. The overall environment here is promising for Acino. The overall environment here is positive. We see Panama being one of the top two drivers of growth in Latin America again in 2017; it is probably in second place after the Dominican Republic. We have expansion plans for Colombia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic in the near future to complete our Central America and Andean region business.