EB: Mr. Mitterhofer, how is UCB working to improve patients’ lives?
Peter Mitterhofer: We are tackling some of the big medical problems affecting patients worldwide. Conditions like epilepsy, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are largely hidden but compromise the lives of millions. Just as an example, epilepsy affects around 50 million people worldwide. For many of them, we can keep attacks at bay and allow them to live normal lives. In the 1990s, we developed an anti-convulsive drug that has proved highly effective in preventing epileptic seizures and continues to be prescribed to epilepsy patients today. We have also developed a biopharmaceutical drug that helps to reduce joint damage and pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and therefore allows patients to retain more of their mobility. Just 15 years ago, the outlook was much poorer for these patients. The extreme pain they suffered as a result of the destruction of their joints not only limited their mobility, it also took years off their lives. Today these drugs are changing lives for the better. However, our work carries on. We have a number of exciting molecules in the pipeline that will bring hope for millions more.
EB: When did UCB first start researching and producing biopharmaceuticals?
Peter Mitterhofer: UCB started out as a classic pharmaceutical manufacturer in 1928 and was very successful in that field. In 1980, the company launched a blockbuster antihistamine that has generated more than a billion EUR in turnover since then. However, we recognized that the market was changing and in 2004 decided to change direction, developing pharmaceuticals from biological sources. It was the right decision from a patient and economic point of view, and it has also allowed us to explore very exciting new avenues of research. We currently have a new drug undergoing phase three clinical trials which, if successful, will be used to treat osteoporosis, a disease that causes thinning of the bones in older patients and affects one in three women and one in five men.
EB: To what extent is Big Data changing your business?
Peter Mitterhofer: Big Data offers huge opportunities for the health sector now and in the future. The most obvious advantage is that we can collect so much more information about patients and about the pathology of these disorders. This is very important in finding the right answers to the open questions. We can also track individual data to tailor treatments to the patient’s specific needs. On the other hand, patients themselves are given ownership of their diagnosis and treatment. Through greater availability of information on the Internet in specialist blogs and forums, patients are often more clued in about their disease than their doctor, and they are much more vocal in demanding a cure. We always have to think in terms of creating a win-win solution – one in which the patient can see an improvement in his symptoms and quality of life and one that is affordable for the health insurance companies. We have to turn the debate from focusing on what a treatment costs to what value it offers.
EB: How do you create value with your products?
Peter Mitterhofer: We always ask ourselves: What is the value for the patient? This goes beyond the medication itself. That is the core of our philosophy. When we conduct trials, we recruit patients as partners and not simply as laboratory specimens. We want to understand not just how the medication effects their symptoms but how we can make it easy to use. Compliance is a huge factor in how effective a treatment is in practice. We give our patients electronic diaries in which to record their experiences in full and take on board suggestions for improvement. Communication is vital in maximizing the benefit.
EB: Knowing that you are making such a big difference to so many people’s lives must be very satisfying.
Peter Mitterhofer: It is an extremely important motivating factor and one that informs our entire corporate culture. As a science-driven company, we have to recruit from a relatively small pool of qualified people. In order to attract the best talent, we offer flexible working conditions and the opportunity to work largely autonomously. We want the best for our employees and their families, and have implemented measures that will help them to achieve a satisfactory work/life balance. With initiatives such as an office kindergarten, opportunities to work from home, job share or work part-time-we find that our employees are even more motivated. We also have links with leading higher education and research institutions or even other pharma companies. We are very open to everything that will help us achieve our goals.
EB: What other trends will shape the industry in the future?
Peter Mitterhofer: While companies focus on their core competences, they also have to offer a full service that includes patient services as well as drug treatments. We cannot afford to look at digitalization as a threat but as an opportunity that must be used much more actively. If we don’t, then we will find ourselves becoming suppliers to companies like Apple and Google. We have to establish our place in the digital world and use the benefits it offers to our advantage rather than ceding the initiative to others. This means creating networks and carrying out virtual studies and simulations with large numbers of participants. The speed and volume of the data collected will lead directly to better patient support.
EB: Mr. Mitterhofer, thank you for the interview.