Interview with Teresa Millan, Corporate Affairs Senior Director, Lilly Spain and Portugal. This post is the second in a series featuring Lilly’s people from across the EU, in which we explore the state of healthcare in their countries, the EU elections and their implications, and more.
What are the main issues affecting your business in Spain?
One major issue we face is the slow adoption of innovation, which results in slower access to medicines and treatments, and inequalities between regions. This is mainly due to multiple assessments. Once approved at European level, new medicines are subject to several evaluations at national, regional and even local level. And there is little we can do about it given the structure of the country, in which 17 regions have high autonomy, and healthcare is managed regionally. But the government is looking to improve matters, in part by involving more regional authorities in national-level assessments in order to reduce the need for them to repeat work later, although improvements will not be immediate.
Another key area is access. In the European indicators, Spain is in the middle of the table. This may seem reasonable, but if we take into account our size, population, economic potential, and quality of our health system, we should be among the leaders. We need to improve, and as an industry, we will do whatever we can to work with others to help bring about positive change on access.
Last but not least, we’ve had political instability in the past months. This has led to several changes in government, with multiple agendas, making it hard for actors in healthcare to establish clarity and work on well-defined priorities. With the new government now in place we have had more stability, and we know its main concerns: recovering the social agenda, restoring universal healthcare coverage, and removing co-payment. This political stability has also had a positive impact on the relationship and work between the government and the pharmaceutical industry on the renewal of the collaboration agreement on public pharmaceutical spending. This requires the growth of public spending on medicines to matches that of growth in GDP, to allow the government to meet its budgetary objectives and facilitate access to innovative medicines.
Why is Spain a good place for a biopharmaceutical company to invest?
Spain is just a great place to conduct research! It really meets all the necessary conditions for investment. We have a high-quality national health system that is renowned around the world. In addition, we have a highly developed scientific ecosystem (of which Lilly of course is a part) that allows many different actors to work together and carry out very sophisticated research. This is supported by the extraordinary qualifications of our science and health professionals. These factors all help to explain why Lilly invests so heavily in Spain (€52,3 million in 2018). Our plant in Alcobendas is one of just 8research laboratories that Lilly has around the world, and the biggest we have in Europe, with over 100 researchers working every day on oncology, endocrinology, and pain.
What is Lilly Spain looking for in the next EU mandate?
We hope that the EU institutions will continue to make the necessary efforts to support and promote European competitiveness. We need to keep building an economy that is based on knowledge and innovation. That’s the key to smart and sustainable growth, and continued competitiveness, in an advanced and global marketplace. Specifically, I’d mention digital transformation as one area where Europe may be falling behind and has to move faster to remain ahead, or at least in line with, other advanced regions and countries. In healthcare, we have a great opportunity. We have excellent data, and very advanced health systems across the continent, and should be at the forefront of developing highly advanced, outcome-based health systems that have digital as the foundation.
But how do we maintain high levels of innovation? Or increase innovation? Obviously, we need to keep investing in R&D. And to provide value to society, so that we preserve the public’s license to operate and can keep investing. We also need high-quality public-private collaboration. Especially in life sciences, which is so complicated, so we need the wider scientific ecosystem to be well-developed. No one is powerful enough to run their own show. At Lilly, we work on dozens of pan-European projects through IMI, and in Spain specifically, we’ve had a lot of success working with hospitals and the national health service, and in particular with the national center for oncology (CNIO).
We of course also need adequate protection of intellectual property (IP), essential for the development of innovative medicines. The current EU system for IP is strong and should stay that way. Without it, Europe will be left behind as long as other regions can guarantee more protection.
I also hope that the new Commission and Parliament will maintain open channels of communications with stakeholders like industry. Given how important our sector is to the European economy, and more importantly, the health of our citizens, we want to be able to carry on working productively with decision-makers in order to bring new medicines to the market, and to create a legislative framework that works well for everyone. In particular, this framework should be long-term! Our business is long-term by nature, given how many years it takes to develop medicines, and we need long-term certainties to stay competitive against other regions of the world.
Looking into your crystal ball, what are your hopes for healthcare in 10 years?
I’m positive. I think that in 10 years, innovation will have been a real engine of change. Not only pharmaceutical innovation, but also technological innovation. Technology, especially the digitalization of health, will create a totally different landscape in which both detection and treatment will be far more advanced. And I think that Spain will play a big part in that, in part because Spanish people are comfortable with digital health. In Lilly’s recent Citizens’ Perception Survey, Spanish respondents were amongst the most comfortable both with the idea of providing their healthcare data, and using digital health personally. In 10 years, machine learning will allow us to process data faster and more efficiently, which will contribute to making research far more rapid and effective, improving the lengthy timelines and processes tied to drug discovery. In addition, at the individual level, it will permit better diagnoses for all patients, which is really important for chronic diseases, which will be one of the greatest challenges of the next years. Artificial Intelligence will help doctors by speeding up their work and giving them more time to follow-up with patients. This is all easier said than done, of course. We will need to see patients involved closely in all digital developments, to make sure they serve them fully. And we must have access to the best data. But done well, we can succeed!
For those who do not know you, what can you tell them about Lilly in Spain?
Lilly has been present in Spain since 1963. In Alcobendas, just outside Madrid, we host a major manufacturing plant and Lilly’s main R&D center in Europe. Overall, we account for 8% of the company's total turnover, so we’re a big player in the Lilly family, as well as one of the major players in the biopharmaceutical space in Spain.
We’re very proud of some of the accolades we’ve received. We are number 1 in Spain’s ‘Best Place to Work’ list. We have made the list every year since 2003 and are the only company that has been classified for 17 years in a row. Moreover, the Spanish Ministry of Industry has given us the highest rank (excellent) in its PROFARMA PLAN, which rates companies in the biopharmaceutical industry in Spain based on variables like the investment in new industrial plants and technologies, and promoting R&D.
Lastly, I’d also mention Emprende inHealth, a program that boosts social impact entrepreneurship in the health sector in Spain through investment and mentorship. Now in its 4th year, we run the program with UnLtd, an organization that has significant experience in support programs for social entrepreneurship. So far, 91% of the employees participating in the program consider that the experience contributes to their professional development, and the entrepreneurs increased their income by almost 60% and their financing by 63%. Most importantly, the 12 supported startups, 24 entrepreneurs and 129 Lilly employees have directly contributed to improving the quality of life of more than 15,000 people in the health sector (patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals etc...).