Roche plans new drug launches, says CEO and MD


NEW DELHI : Roche Holdings is planning new drug launches in oncology, ophthalmology, haematology and precision health segments next year, said Simpson Emmanuel, chief executive and managing director of the Swiss drugmaker’s India unit.

In an interview, Emmanuel said the primary healthcare system should be strengthened and seamlessly integrated into the secondary and tertiary healthcare sectors. Edited excerpts:

Now that the pandemic has eased, what are the company’s priorities in terms of new treatments?

A lot of new things are happening at Roche. We were never affected by the pandemic the way it affected the industry. Roche did not lose focus because the pandemic took us to a different level of efficiency and a sense of purpose, which got reflected in our work in the last three years. While the industry was struggling, we ensured to launch our products throughout the pandemic. We also completely transformed into a new organizational model in 2020 and did many partnerships. We responded aggressively during the pandemic and launched antibody cocktails in just 27 days. Now, we are going to have a very busy year in 2023, and new launches are coming in multiple segments, such as oncology, particularly for lung cancer drugs, ophthalmology, haematology and precision health compounds. We are also entering into neuroscience portfolios as well. We are also strengthening our base with respect to how we look at India. Besides, we are looking at ourselves as a healthcare firm where we are looking at patients holistically through our “Blue Tree Programme”. So next year is going to be a very busy year for us.

What should be the priority of the healthcare sector now?

The pandemic has exposed the gaps in the primary healthcare system. Though the government is putting a lot of effort into strengthening it, in isolation, this will not solve the problem. We need seamless integration between the primary healthcare system, the secondary healthcare system and the tertiary healthcare. And this could only be possible with technology and digital interventions. India is a classic case of where- “water water everywhere but not a drop to drink” because we have plenty of resources, but these are spread across isolated pockets, and people find it very difficult to access them when they need them. The funds are there, but they are not allocated in the right buckets. The system needs to be integrated as one unit so that they work together. There are certain parts of health systems which are overburdened, and there are many health facilities which have a tremendous amount of capacity. Besides, the doctor-patient ratio needs to be addressed. Quality of care should be of the right standard and at the right time.

Access to medication should not be dependent on where the person lives, and there has to be equity in healthcare when we look at a large population like India. So, these issues should be streamlined.

Roche recently launched a new digital platform for patients.

We recently launched a mobile app, “Blue Tree 2.0 mobile app”, for patients who are part of Roche’s Blue Tree patient support programme in India. Any individual can download the app across India regardless of the hospital he/she is taking the treatment. Around 180 patients were using the app as a part of the initial launch last month. Under Blue Tree Programme, we have registered more than 11,000 patients. So, in the coming days, the service delivery to our existing patients will be through our digital platform.

Recently, AIIMS faced a cyber attack. How are you keeping sensitive data of patients safe?

Roche has very strict norms for adhering to patient privacy mandates. We have a third-party partner for the data privacy of the patients under the Blue Tree Programme to support patients reeling with cancer, haemophilia and rare diseases. So, all data with respect to a patient is managed by Tata 1mg with their own security protocol, and we have also taken strict actions in the construction of the app for data protection and maintaining data confidentiality. There is no abuse of patient data, and it’s completely anonymous.

Do you see cyber-attacks as the next big challenge for the healthcare sector?

See, technology is an integral part of development as we go forward. Yes, cyber threat is a concern. But this threat is not only in the healthcare and pharma sectors, but it is also for every sector. In my opinion, any kind of new enterprise which has customer data and banking information is vulnerable to hackers. We at Roche are very conscious of it. We have ample diagnostics and pharma data, but at the same time, we have insights and a massive data arm. Within India, we have made heavy investments in technology fields and, for us, its Intellectual Property rights.

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