Unprecedented challenge ahead

‘We need to reimagine our approach to health care’ says Audrey Derveloy, General Manager, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Ireland and Country President

26th January, 2021
Unprecedented challenge ahead

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Audrey Derveloy, General Manager, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Ireland and Country President

What are your day to day responsibilities?

As General Manager, I am responsible for the daily business of the Pharmaceuticals Division. My role as Country President means that I work closely with the General Managers of the Novartis Global Service Centre (NGSC), Novartis Ringaskiddy and Novartis Gene Therapies to deliver our ambition in Ireland, thanks to our large presence.

As the healthcare environment is changing so quickly it’s very important that we work closely with our stakeholders to ensure patients in Ireland have timely access to our innovative medicines. We cover different disease areas including a large portfolio in ophthalmology, neuroscience, cardio-metabolic, cell and gene therapies, respiratory, dermatology and rheumatology.

What is your professional background?

I am a medical doctor by training. I worked for several pharmaceutical companies in France and Asia and moved to Ireland in January 2020.

Due to my medical training, my passion for healthcare has provided me a strong sense of purpose and a desire to dramatically improve human health.

How do you think the healthcare sector is coping with the Covid-19 crisis?

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of having a strong health system and that a health crisis can have a significant effect on society and the economy. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to build sustainable solutions for the healthcare system, to be able to tackle major health challenges.

I think frontline workers and the healthcare system have made heroic efforts to fight Covid-19. However, as the pandemic continues to affect Ireland taking lives and filling hospitals, it also means that other debilitating and deadly diseases are left undiagnosed and untreated. As the Novartis CEO, Vas Narasimhan, recently stated, “… we aren’t merely facing a once-in-a-century pandemic. We’re facing a syndemic: the confluence of several epidemics”.

To meet the syndemic head on, we need to reimagine our approach to health care. Digital health technology can support a large percentage of patients’ needs, such as routine consultations, screening for many diseases some follow-ups.

Novartis has responded to Covid-19 in several ways: we’re trialling some of our existing drugs for use in coronavirus, we’re also making sure that our supply chain is robust and supporting the healthcare system in the move to digital. For example, our Razorbill clinical trial, conceived in Ireland, is assessing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in reading scans of the eye in people with sight-threatening disease, improving patient outcomes. We are also conscious of the huge role played by frontline healthcare workers in this crisis and we have supported them by donating equipment and PPE.

What will be the lasting impact of the pandemic on the healthcare system?

Hopefully, one lasting impact of the crisis will be the faster adoption of new innovations. For example, in the technology area, the crisis has provided us opportunities to use new smartphone applications, wearable devices, and software platforms driven by artificial intelligence to improve diagnosis and treatment, a massive leap forward in patient-centred and remote care.

So that the pace of these doesn’t slow down once the emergency is over, policymakers need to ensure a supportive policy framework that maximises the potential for telehealth.

The pandemic has generated huge public interest around science. Due to Covid-19, there is also a genuine appetite among the public to understand significant positive impact that science has on society. For example, while the media focus has been on the impact of a ‘bad virus’, e.g., coronavirus, Novartis Gene Therapies involves the use of ‘good viruses’ to develop ground-breaking treatments that change people’s lives for the better.

I hope that the pandemic will inspire a whole new generation to consider science as a career option. In March 2020, we were delighted to be able to welcome 30 new graduates to Novartis in Dublin, as part of our graduate recruitment programme. At Novartis we have the privilege of seeing first-hand the transformative, positive impact that science and medicine can have on people’s lives.

What will be the leading trends in healthcare in the coming years and how will the system need to adapt and change?

Globally, our industry and our customers face unprecedented challenges – not just sustainability, but aging demographics. Ireland faces the same challenges but has a great advantage due to its unique ecosystem of having so many technology and healthcare companies co-located here. Ireland can be at the forefront of addressing the sustainability challenge with structural reforms, using digital technologies to manage patients in their community, rather than in hospital. We need to work together to find creative, sustainable ways to fund innovative new medicines, e.g., payment based on health outcomes so that patients in Ireland can have access to new medicines, in line with patients in other European countries. The digital revolution is also going to change profoundly the way medicine is practised. Novartis is collaborating with Microsoft in artificial intelligence to accelerate the discovery and development of medicines for patients. In this collaboration, there will be co-working environments in Novartis in Switzerland, but also at the Novartis Global Service Centre in Dublin.

Audrey Derveloy is speaking at the 2021 virtual National Health Summit on February 10. See www.healthsummit.ie for full details and booking.

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