Same dif­fer­ence: Drug chief ’s dis­may at de­lays on copy­cat of­fer

Irish Independent - Business Week - - IN PERSON -

It said, how­ever, that the HSE is run­ning a sep­a­rate biosim­i­lar strat­egy in its acute hos­pi­tals drugs man­age­ment pro­gramme, and that this is “mak­ing con­sid­er­able progress us­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach led by hos­pi­tal phar­ma­cists”.

It did not give a spe­cific an­swer when asked when leg­is­la­tion will be in­tro­duced.

An­other source of frus­tra­tion for McKeon is Brus­sels, where man­u­fac­tur­ing rules are de­priv­ing Europe – and Ire­land – of jobs, he says.

As of now, gener­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers can­not start mak­ing a drug in the EU un­til a drug has come off patent.

That, McKeon says, has had the ef­fect of ben­e­fit­ing other coun­tries, where the drug can be man­u­fac­tured and stock­piled be­fore the patent ex­pires, and then sent out to mar­ket as soon as the time comes.

“Every­body out­side the EU can start man­u­fac­tur­ing when they feel like it, and on the day when the patent goes off all the prod­uct can come in.

“We’re ac­tu­ally shoot­ing our­selves in the foot with this and that’s one thing that we push re­ally hard on, say­ing they need to get rid of that.

“We’re not go­ing to start sell­ing be­fore the patent goes off but we just want to have the abil­ity to [be ready to go on day one],” McKeon says, adding that some of that new man­u­fac­tur­ing could come to Ire­land.

My­lan likes be­ing here, he says. It likes the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the ac­cess to mar­kets, and even sim­ple things like the lo­ca­tion be­tween the US and Asia which means the time zone is con­ve­nient for deal­ing with var­i­ous parts of the world.

He re­ports into My­lan’s re­gional di­vi­sion, which cov­ers Europe – a rapidly ex­pand­ing part of the com­pany which has seen turnover go from $1bn to $4bn since pur­chas­ing Meda. That’s meant much more fo­cus from head of­fice in the United States.

De­spite Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s drive to bring US jobs and prof­its home, My­lan’s plan for Europe and Ire­land hasn’t been af­fected, McKeon says.

“The vi­sion that My­lan have about com­ing to Europe and grow­ing the mar­ket is still there, that hasn’t changed at all no mat­ter what Trump says.

“I mean he has repa­tri­ated some of the prof­its – to be hon­est that doesn’t af­fect us [in Ire­land] be­cause that’s sit­ting some­where else, that’s sit­ting in some trea­sury in Hol­land or some­where,” McKeon says.

An­other po­ten­tial threat to the Ir­ish op­er­a­tion is of course Brexit, and all the po­ten­tial dis­rup­tion that new cus­toms ar­range­ments would en­tail.

McKeon says his busi­ness and oth­ers are work­ing with the health au­thor­i­ties to iden­tify any po­ten­tial medicine short­ages.

He says the com­pany doesn’t have much prod­ucts com­ing out of the UK, but some does come through Bri­tain to Ire­land and this might re­quire chang­ing lo­gis­tics ar­range­ments in or­der to take ac­count of any po­ten­tial cus­toms de­lays. “We should be OK and the coun­try should be OK,” he says.

Less of a threat and more of a chal­lenge is changes in the way drugs are be­ing pre­scribed,” McKeon says.

“If you look at some of the stuff that’s be­ing de­vel­oped from an AI point of view, from a di­ag­nos­tic point of view, you could have peo­ple in Germany di­ag­nos­ing your dis­eases,” he says, re­fer­ring to on­line doc­tor ser­vices like, for ex­am­ple, Ir­ish firm Videodoc.

But de­spite be­ing a “drug pusher”, as he puts it, for the last 40 years, he be­lieves Ir­ish peo­ple are too re­liant on the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try.

“We are not tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for our­selves health as a na­tion, we don’t re­ally do that. We think there’s a pill for very ill. Al­though I’ve been a drug pusher for 40 years I don’t be­lieve there’s a pill for ev­ery ill.

“And we are be­com­ing very de­pen­dent on health sup­port for all sorts of things ... a huge amount of ed­u­ca­tion needs to be done.”

McKeon be­gan his ca­reer as a phar­ma­cist, but quickly moved into the drug­mak­ing side of the in­dus­try, join­ing a busi­ness called Knoll.

He worked for a num­ber of dif­fer­ent firms be­fore even­tu­ally set­ting up the Ir­ish sub­sidiary of a Swedish com­pany called Meda, which grew strongly over a 10-year pe­riod.

“I was man­ag­ing the UK and Ire­land for Meda up to three years ago, and then My­lan bought us out and they said: ‘Look we’re a big en­tity in Ire­land and we need some­body to come back and run Ire­land’. That suited me fine to come back home rather than do­ing that com­mute over and back to Stansted. So for the last two-and-ahalf years I’ve been back man­ag­ing My­lan over here.”

Hav­ing worked across a num­ber of ar­eas in a pharma in­dus­try ca­reer, from fi­nance, to mar­ket­ing, to reg­u­la­tory af­fairs, he says sales is the hard­est role of all. Nev­er­the­less that’s what he sees his key func­tion as: man­ag­ing and mo­ti­vat­ing My­lan’s Ir­ish sales team in sell­ing the com­pany’s prod­ucts to phar­ma­cists and med­i­cal providers.

But reg­u­la­tory af­fairs is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant, which is prob­a­bly a fac­tor be­hind his out­spo­ken com­ments on this coun­try’s biosim­i­lars strat­egy.

How much longer he’ll have to wait for the busi­ness op­por­tu­nity to prop­erly man­i­fest it­self is any­one’s guess.

Owen McKeon, coun­try man­ager (Ire­land), My­lan. Pic­ture by Frank McGrath

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