MSD Thailand chief on a mission: affordable quality medicines for all
MSD is on a mission to provide affordable quality health solutions for Thai people with the latest innovations in drugs and vaccines, says its country chief.
Mary Srethapakdi, managing director of MSD (Thailand), said a major challenge in being a biopharma leader is not only innovating to create new drugs but also making them accessible and affordable to the majority of society.
Innovation is MSD's standard, but it would be pointless if the resulting drugs did not help people, Srethapakdi explained.
"We have been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases in pursuit of our purpose to save and improve lives."
MSD, also known as Merck & Co in the United States, is a global biopharmaceutical company founded more than a century ago. Its primary mission is to discover and develop new therapies, vaccines and medicines that address unmet medical needs in order to save and improve lives.
Focusing on cancer
MSD Thailand's main focus is combating cancer, which is the Kingdom’s leading cause of death after traffic accidents.
MSD’s breakthrough cancer treatment is known as immunotherapy. It uses the body's immune system to kill cancer cells without damaging normal healthy cells.
In addition to new cancer treatments and medicines, MSD has developed vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer – and research is ongoing to determine their potential in preventing other types of cancer. Other MSD vaccine innovations protect against the viruses, fungi, and bacteria responsible for a wide range of diseases, including pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.
Meanwhile, the company has produced Molnupiravir, the world’s first pill to treat symptomatic Covid-19, which is now being rolled out across the world.
Making drugs accessible and affordable
As the leading pharmaceutical company in Thailand and the region, MSD has invested heavily in bringing global clinical trials for new drugs and vaccines to Thailand, said Srethapakdi.
"Every baht of our investment in conducting a clinical research study generates around three times the ROI [return on investment] for the Thai economy, according to Deloitte’s clinical research impact study in Thailand," she said.
Beyond the heavy investment in research and development (R&D), the company is also looking at innovative ways of securing additional public funding to tackle the challenge of access to drugs.
Although Thailand is an upper-middle-income country, not every citizen can afford to pay for medicines. Therefore, many patients are unable to obtain drugs and vaccines if public funding and other solutions are not provided, she said.
In her view, a strong and sustainable healthcare system can only be created by involving its multiple stakeholders.
The pandemic, she said, has reinforced this by showing the importance of partnership between the government, medical experts, and the private sector in solving healthcare challenges of Covid-19. For example, MSD collaborated with Thailand’s Public Health Ministry as well as medical experts to deliver antiviral Molnupiravir pills for Thai Covid-19 patients in March this year.
Meanwhile, MSD Thailand was also able to supply the first full-cohort HPV vaccine for 400,000 Thai girls in 5th grade, as part of the government National Immunisation Programme (NIP). Vaccination will protect the girls against developing cervical cancer in later life.
Supporting Thailand’s medical tourism hub
Apart from helping Thai patients to access and afford the latest drugs and vaccines, MSD is backing Thailand’s mission to become a regional hub for medical research and development.
"We believe this will also strengthen the country’s position as a medical tourism hub in the region as well," Srethapakdi said.
To boost that mission, MSD is running several clinical research studies that provide Thai physicians with early experience of new technologies and therapies, allowing them to strengthen their expertise and reputation as leading experts in the region.
Another advantage of clinical research studies is that Thai patients get early access to newly invented drugs.
MSD believes that Thailand is now in a good position to bolster its status as an Asian medical hub. Thailand already provides high-quality, internationally recognised, and cost-effective medical services.
"We believe it is critical for Thailand to continue to ensure the availability of innovative or cutting-edge medicines in order to strengthen its position," Srethapakdi said.
Meanwhile, with Covid-19 set to become an endemic disease, the company is committed to pushing scientific breakthroughs that address unmet medical needs in order to save and improve lives.
"As a leading research biopharmaceutical company, we will continue to develop new medicines/drugs and vaccines to combat new and emerging diseases as well as other existing health challenges," she added.
Infectious diseases continue to be a significant health burden in Thailand, and MSD has a robust portfolio that includes antivirals, antibacterial, and antifungals to address patient needs in Thailand.
"We are optimistic about the trend for the biopharmaceutical industry in Thailand and globally. And I think that the pandemic has increased awareness as to the importance of healthcare.”
She added, however, that the main challenge is to develop the drugs and ensure they reach patients and consumers worldwide who desperately need them.
Listening is the key to success
To meet that challenge, MSD encourages employees to be innovative. And the key to creating a culture of innovation was to listen, explained Srethapakdi, the first woman to become MSD managing director in Thailand. An environment of trust and respect comes first from listening, she added.
Besides creating an open and transparent environment and co-working relationship, her role as leader is to help employees succeed with their goals – not to tell them what to do.
"That means coaching them, supporting them and very importantly removing the challenges or things that block them from becoming successful.”
She also expressed her passion for the “speak-up culture” at work, in which people feel safe to share different ways of thinking and are not afraid to say if they disagree or think differently.
To that end, the company actively promotes diversity and inclusion, breaking down hierarchies so that people at all levels of the organisation feel safe to speak up.
Meanwhile, since MSD's ultimate goal, said Srethapakdi, is to improve the lives of patients and consumers, the company must first and foremost be a trusted partner of the healthcare ecosystem. Only then can it make a real difference in three areas that MSD believes will ultimately drive access.
The first is Awareness. This entails working with the MSD medical community to provide more information about diseases and treatment options.
The second is Availability: Making sure that Thai patients and consumers have the latest drugs and vaccines available to them.
And the third, which is possibly the most difficult, is Affordability. This requires collaboration with government players to find a solution for self-pay patients, she said.
"We at MSD Thailand are very committed to working with all partners within the healthcare ecosystem to improve the well-being of patients and consumers in this country.”
She concluded by pledging to expand access for Thai patients and consumers as well as engaging the entire organisation to drive for greater collaboration, increase the speed of action, and enhance creativity to achieve MSD's aspiration of improving patients and consumers’ lives in Thailand.