Ipsen’s UK & Ireland MD on adapting business to COVID-19

Since entering the pharmaceutical industry as a graduate trainee in the late 1990s, Asad Mohsin Ali’s career has taken him across the business from Novartis, MSD and Tesaro, before joining global biopharma Ipsen. He tells us how the company has responded to COVID and how he’d like to see the UK industry grow in the future.

As managing director, Ipsen UK & Ireland, Ali heads up one of Ipsen’s three global hubs, as well as chairing a UK & Ireland Site Steering Committee overseeing 900 people.

“My primary goal on joining Ipsen UK&I was to incorporate and elevate the talents of our Specialty Care organisation, but also the 900 colleagues in the UK and Ireland, to ensure we bring maximum value to patients and healthcare systems,” Ali tells pharmaphorum.

Ipsen UK&I’s culture is based on the principle, “One Ipsen” he says.

“Being “One Ipsen” means acting together on what matters most to our patients, customers and our employees.”

As COVID-19 disrupted the world, the pharmaceutical industry was urged to respond quickly – primarily by ensuring continuity of medicines for patients.

“The level of response required by industry, the impact to business and the duration of the crisis have surpassed the extent of a lot of business contingency plans,” Ali says. “Government responses and restrictions put in place to contain COVID-19 have changed over time. So, businesses like Ipsen UK&I have had to stay agile, adapt and re-group to deal with the changes, whilst ensuring a strong crisis management team is in place, and the right subject matter experts advising on our approach.”

“Changes in treatment patterns and patient journeys – companies need to understand how some of the changes will be long-term; not just about how patients can be safely re-introduced to the healthcare system, remote consultation and treatment will be more widely used.”

Ipsen UK&I recognised early on there would be no “one size fits all” way of working, says Ali. “For our manufacturing site in Wrexham, which is classified as critical workers, not much has changed except for the need to have less people on site with more PPE. But for our field-based team, the transition to fully home-based working with limited external interactions it has been a complete change that required a lot more adaptation.”

The company also focused on providing wellbeing resources to employees such as virtual yoga, an online wellbeing hub, a network of Mental Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors and an Employee Assistance Programme.

“We implemented a COVID-19 volunteering policy, which enabled our employees to go back into the NHS or carry out volunteer work for local community groups for one day per week fully paid,” Ali says.

Going remote

With COVID-19 anticipated to change how pharmaceutical companies engage with healthcare professionals, Ipsen UK&I is preparing for a more remote and virtual healthcare system. Prior to the pandemic, 95% of all the company’s UK customer facing teams’ interactions took place in person at NHS hospitals.

“Overnight this became unfeasible so we invested a significant amount of time on how we could optimise remote interactions.  This took many forms, from instant messaging to full video-based interactions with interactive e-materials. We have learned that the way our customers interact with their patients has shifted significantly and maybe permanently, so this in turn will drive how they want to interact with us.”

Indeed, more virtual patient engagement across the board means that services and products allowing remote engagement will thrive.

“Changes in treatment patterns and patient journeys – companies need to understand how some of the changes will be long-term; not just about how patients can be safely re-introduced to the healthcare system, remote consultation and treatment will be more widely used.”

The pharmaceutical industry can also expect to face challenges with innovation and funding, Ali says.

“While the pressure on healthcare systems is at an all-time high, industry innovation is keeping apace, with industry pipelines indicating over 7,000 medicines are currently in development. Products launched by companies will enter a very different launch environment in the mid-term. This will impact on all aspects of launch preparation.

“For HCPs, innovations or technologies that reduce the number of patients that come into hospital for treatment are key; and for patients, innovations (remote consultation, self-care devices or therapies) that empower them to manage their treatment independently are just as important.”

UK industry potential

The UK represents 3% of the global pharmaceutical business, but Ali believes its importance is underplayed.

“With some of the best talent, academic institutions, scientific infrastructure and of course the one-of-a-kind NHS, the UK could play an even greater leadership role than it does currently. Given the UK is home to a large proportion of biotech start-ups across Europe, it has great potential to lead the way in innovation and medicine development with the right investment and recognition.

“What I’d like to see is a clear recognition of what value the pharma industry brings to the UK economy and an understanding of the very high standards we operate with. Without this our public reputation will continue to be mediocre as it has been for the last few decades.”

For Ipsen UK&I it will be focusing efforts on several underserved disease areas across Oncology, Neuroscience and Rare Disease.

“My ambition is to unlock this potential and lead the way in adding value in these areas to our customers and their patients,”Ali says.

About the interviewee

Asad Mohsin Ali Asad Mohsin Ali joined Ipsen in September 2018 as managing director, UK & Ireland, bringing more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Since entering the industry as a graduate trainee in the late 1990s Asad has worked in big pharma (with Novartis and MSD) and biotech (with Tesaro), and now mid-sized biopharma with Ipsen UK&I. Over 22 years he has held a range of positions – in sales, marketing, portfolio management, strategy, value and access, and latterly in general management