Diversity, inclusion in country’s biopharma industry put women in leadership posts 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated innovations and progress in various fronts, and this included advancements in the promotion of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the country’s biopharmaceutical industry where women are assuming leadership roles in this time of global health emergency.

While milestones have already been achieved in ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership as defined in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, the pandemic saw the rise of more women leaders taking charge amidst the immense challenges of COVID-19.

One of the sectors which is contributing to the rise of women leaders is the research medicines and vaccines industry in the Philippines where women occupy leadership positions in this crucial time of the pandemic. These women leaders, who are also members of the board of trustees of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, are leading the way in promoting D&I in the workplace to impact people’s lives and the healthcare system.

“Embracing the unlimited possibilities by embracing the uniqueness of what each of us can bring does have a transformative and lasting impact on our own lives, our patients’ lives, and the society we live in. We strive to build a workforce that reflects the societies we serve, and build a culture that ensures everyone can be themselves, does their best work, and thrive together,” said Dr. Diana Edralin, who has made her mark as the first woman president of research-based medicines and vaccines industry association in the country. She is also president and general manager of Roche Philippines.

As a testament to its commitment to D&I, Dr. Edralin said that 60% of the senior leaders at Roche Philippines are females.

For her part, PHAP Vice President and Zuellig Pharma Market Director Jannette Jakosalem explained that a key component of their organization’s thrust for sustainability is its commitment to D&I.  She added that Zuellig Pharma has embedded policies supporting D&I in recruitment, promotions, and work engagement among others.

“Having a healthy mix of people from different sexes, cultures and orientations within any organization allows for a healthy and dynamic exchange of ideas.  Studies show that companies that encourage and openly practice D&I are more productive,” said  Jakosalem who is also a private sector representative in the government’s T3 (Test, Trace and Treat) taskforce mandated to craft strategies to contain the pandemic. 

For Zuellig Pharma,  Jakosalem said that they are purposive in striving for  the inclusion of women in leadership roles.  As of today, more than 44% of its management are females coming from less than 10% some five years ago.

AstraZeneca Healthcare Philippines Country President Lotis Ramin is also proud of their strong D&I culture, which recognizes the value of women leadership in the organization.

“As the First Filipina Country President for AstraZeneca Philippines, I am a living testament to how the organization values and encourages women leaders. Inclusion and diversity is one of the main pillars of our People strategy that drives innovation, effective engagement and strong sense of connection and belonging. We believe that our success as a company depends on how we foster a culture of innovative mindset anchored on having a diverse workforce,” said Ramin who is also a PHAP trustee, and a recipient of the 2021 Woman of the Year Award from the American Association of the Philippines.   

Abbott Pharmaceuticals General Manager Melissa Ellen Belvis said that their organization is fully committed to promoting D&I by making colleagues aware of its importance, and having a robust talent management process to guide leaders at all levels. 

“Diversity in leadership is so important because it supports the success and sustainability of an organization.  Personally, I am passionate about diversity in all aspects: gender, opinion, and experience.  Remaining competitive through challenging current thinking and re-examining our beliefs is only possible when you have different, and sometimes dissenting, points-of-view,” said Belvis who is also a trustee of PHAP, and the first woman head of Abbott Pharmaceuticals in the country.

Leadership to save lives

The pandemic has highlighted the value of biopharmaceutical innovation to counter what was then a novel coronavirus. As a science-based industry, PHAP members have been in a position to respond to the pandemic through the research and development of diagnostics, medicines and vaccines against COVID-19.

For AstraZeneca, Ramin said that it had a clear mission of making the COVID-19 vaccines available to the world and the country at no profit during the pandemic. 

“We were not a vaccine company and so everything was new to us.  We formed a local core task force and had to think on our feet to deliver the mission. I am proud to say that despite all odds, my team, through relentless collaboration with different stakeholders and partners in both private and public sectors developed the first of its kind multilateral agreement to secure access. This paved the way for policy change and served as a partnership model for other manufacturers,” said Ramin. 

In the area of ensuring continuous delivery of care to COVID-19 patients, Roche demonstrated agile leadership in expanding partnerships that led to more collaborations in a determined effort to save more lives especially at the peak of the pandemic.

“Exploring new ways of delivering medicines by finding alternative sources for the drugs used in the management of COVID-19 was a bold move. By doing things differently, we were able to provide a 5,000-percent increase in the pre-pandemic supply of these life-saving medicines,” said Dr. Edralin whose organization also amplified efforts on health systems strengthening in various parts of the country during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has likewise emphasized the importance of pharmaceutical supply security amidst lockdowns and global demand for medicines being used for COVID-19.

“During the pandemic, we took it on us to make sure that we continue to operate to bring the much needed medicines to hospitals, clinics and drugstores.  Our warehouses never ceased to operate and in life and death situations, we would deliver 24×7,” said  Jakosalem who was also in the forefront of supply chain requirements for COVID-19 vaccines.

It was not only the supply of medicines for COVID-19 that was challenged at the height of the pandemic. Belvis stepped up to this supply challenge involving vitamins and flu vaccines even as she focused on the welfare of the people in the organization.  

“My role was to keep the organization running as smoothly as possible even with the challenges that come with hybrid ways of working.  Aside from this, it was critical to support the team and to ensure that people remained connected as much as possible even without the all-important face-to-face engagement.  Mental health at home and at work was a big focus for me,” said Belvis who is a mother of three young children.    

Environment conducive to innovation and collaborations

As the country moves to the endemic stage, it has the opportunity to review the lessons learned from the pandemic. For one, the COVID-19 pandemic has  demonstrated the significance of promoting biopharmaceutical innovation and partnerships to address the threat of the pandemic.

“While we give tremendous efforts in innovating to bring substantial social, scientific and economic value into the country, we also need an environment conducive to innovation.  We envision transforming the Philippines as a center for biopharmaceutical innovation in partnership with the government and other stakeholders to revolutionize healthcare and health systems,” said Dr. Edralin on ways moving forward.

For the Philippines to realize this aspiration and be better prepared for any similar health emergencies, Belvis believed that there would be a need to put health high in everyone’s agenda.

“For the economy, it has never been more evident that the health and wellness of individuals and families are inextricably tied to the health of the economy, so we must nurture both. For us, we must also prepare a robust business continuity plan should we encounter a similar challenging situation in the future so that we are better prepared,” said Belvis.

Jakosalem, meanwhile, recognized the importance of close collaborations between the government and the biopharmaceutical industry as part of the whole of society approach to healthcare.

“The whole of nation approach enabled the private sector to work with the  government and support areas where needed.  A template was already formed with T3 and this should be replicated and continued. As a country, we should strive for health resiliency moving forward,” she said.  

Beyond COVID-19, Ramin advocated for healthcare sustainability to be able to respond to health threats that continue to impact Filipinos. “As we reflect on the journey with COVID-19 pandemic, we look forward to continue working with both public and private sectors to address the biggest unmet needs of patients suffering from potentially fatal non-communicable diseases aside from COVID-19, and enable a more resilient healthcare system,” said  Ramin who is also the President of the PHAPCares Foundation, the collective corporate social responsibility arm of PHAP.