Aylin Tüzel shares with AmCham Germany a range of topics central to the company. Such aspects include learnings and challenges from the pandemic, priorities of the company and the healthcare industry, improvement of research and development as well as improving Germany as a business location for the healthcare sector.
How has Covid-19 affected Pfizer? Are there any particular challenges the company has been facing during the global pandemic?
The challenges posed to us by the pandemic are diverse, from building and maintaining global supply chains for our therapies and vaccines, to contributing to pandemic response with developments such as the mRNA vaccine and the Covid-19 oral antiviral, to our efforts to maintain intensive interaction with our stakeholders despite the lack of face-to-face contact.
But this situation also presents us with opportunities. The last year has shown us what we are capable of when we join forces and work toward a common goal. To me, the most striking example is our collaboration with BioNTech, a transatlantic partnership. Within nine months, BioNTech and Pfizer have developed a Covid-19 vaccine that was approved by the authorities and is now available to people.
It was thrilling to see how this challenge was managed in collaboration and how all the players pulled together: the regulatory authorities, the governments, the industry and many more. I was really impressed by the forces that are unleashed when we collaborate across systems and country borders.
What topics do you see as priority of the company and for the healthcare industry for the near future?
A major opportunity I see for the whole healthcare sector is that the pandemic highlights the relevance of health. A health crisis like the one we are facing now has an impact on almost every area of life, and it shows us room for improvement in the healthcare system. Our task for the coming years will be to make this system more resilient.
Even after we beat the pandemic, the healthcare system will be put to the test, be it by the accelerated spread of infectious diseases due to increasing mobility or the increase in age-related diseases due to demographic change. Targeted preventive care can help us meet these challenges, and it can make a decisive contribution to people maintaining their health, living better lives with their diseases or even overcoming them.
It is my hope that through collaboration, we can manage a shift of focus from treatment to prevention in the healthcare system. Prevention should play a significant role in the healthcare of the future – from health promotion to vaccination to early disease detection, including predictive medicine. This benefits each individual, but it also relieves the burden on our healthcare system as a whole.
What are the challenges for your company in Germany? What ought to be improved for your industry?
Pfizer employes around 2.500 people in Germany. Besides our headquarters in Berlin, we also have a distribution center in Karlsruhe and a manufacturing site in Freiburg. Our plant in Freiburg is one of the world's most modern production facilities in the pharmaceutical industry and one of the most highly automated factories in the production of medicines in tablet and capsule form. It is also the largest packaging plant for solid dosage forms in Pfizer's global production network.
When I think about factors that could strengthen Germany as a business and R&D location, several factors come to mind. Let me highlight the two most important ones.
- The protection of intellectual property: High standards for intellectual property and the advocacy of these standards within the EU are the basis for innovation and gravitation for young researchers and founders. If these are secured, it will create incentives for medical progress and Germany will remain an attractive business location.
- Access to data: Research with health data and access to cross-border, coherent, comparable, up-to-date data is key to medical progress in the future. Unfortunately, as is the case in many countries, data in Germany lie compartmentalized in separate systems. There is a lack of compatible formats according to national and international standards. We also need international security concepts for data protection. If Germany does not catch up in this area, I believe we will see two effects: First, the German translation gap will widen, meaning that know-how "made in Germany" will not be translated into products and services "made in Germany." Second, Germany's peripheral role in an important future field is being cemented. In other words, this research will then take place elsewhere.
Which legal framework is needed for cutting-edge research with health data in Germany?
Beyond clinical trials, a vast amount of health and research data is collected in the health care system today. But it is not currently accessible to pharma companies for their research and development activities. Let’s take the digital patient record ePA, for example. From 2023, patients will be able to decide whether and which data they want to make available to medical research in anonymized encrypted form, this is sometimes called data donation.
But, the planned research compatibility of the ePA is not secured. As of today, the ePA will not be able to effectively support medical research projects by the planned date of January 1, 2023. This is because the current design of the telematics infrastructure, in conjunction with the legal framework, hinders practicable use for research.
In the current stage of the implementation, health data of consenting patients will only be accessible for physicians who are connected to the telematics infrastructure via their primary IT system. This would exclude large areas of medical research from using this data for an indefinite time. This means that the large potential of this data remains untapped. Imagine if we had insights into the full continuum of care from development of medicines and treatments through the full patient journey for particular subgroups. This would enable better measurement of outcomes, empower patients and create new ways of communication between health care professionals and patients.