“This region is known for being one of the best-performing in the world,” said Fabrice Chouraqui, who recently arrived in Miami to take over as head of Novartis’ medications businesses in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada.
Born in France and in his fifth year with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Chouraqui says the region — which is called LACan by the company — shows strong growth for pharmaceuticals because tens of millions have entered the middle class in Latin America in recent years and have better access to healthcare.
“Demand is growing, especially in Latin America, and we now want to take it to the next level,” said the new regional director, who earned a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Paris and an MBA from INSEAD, a leading international business school in France. “We make a difference in the lives of patients, bringing our innovative therapies to the right patient at the right time,” he added.
Novartis expects demand to increase across the region “in the high single digits over the next 12 months,” said Chouraqui, who headed Novartis’ international neuroscience division before taking over LACan, and before that ran the company’s operations in Belgium. “Afterwards, we should ramp up to the low- and mid-double digits as new medicines become available,” he said.
The company projects the highest regional growth rates in Argentina, Canada, Colombia and Brazil.
One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, Switzerland-based Novartis opened its regional headquarters in Miami about 14 years ago and now has 25 employees here.
Chouraqui also oversees 3,800 employees in the countries he manages. For example, Novartis LACan has 1,040 employees in Brazil, 590 in Mexico, 570 in Canada, 360 in Argentina, and more than 330 in Central America and the Caribbean. There are other large offices in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.
In Brazil, Novartis has a manufacturing plant that supplies medications to other Latin countries. It also imports drugs from other manufacturing sites around the world to meet demand in its regional markets.
The new regional head of Novartis arrived in Miami in mid-September to take on his new position. He recently spoke with the Miami Herald in the lobby of the Hilton Miami Airport hotel, where he was staying while he looked for a home in Miami for himself and his family.
Chouraqui has extensive international experience, having previously worked at Bristol-Myers Squibb for 10 years, serving as vice president for commercial operations in the Asia Pacific region and general manager for Southeast Asia.
In the LACan region, Novartis reaches millions of patients. Its biggest markets are Brazil and Canada, with Argentina and Mexico tied for third place.
Novartis has strong competition in the region from other multinational pharmaceutical firms and local manufacturers.
It also faces tough issues, such as long approval times from local governments for new medications it wants to introduce; strict price controls on many products; controls on foreign exchange that limit the company’s ability to obtain dollars or euros for importing products and sending a share of profits out of the country; and ensuring that time- and temperature-sensitive products reach patients when needed, sometimes in distant rural areas.
How does Chouraqui plan to confront these challenges?
In Brazil, for example, one of Novartis’ key regional markets, “It takes a long time to get new drugs approved,” he said. “As a result, sick people who could benefit from a new medication have to wait longer.” Often, drugs that have been approved in Europe and the U.S. and have been shown to be effective there must pass through a long, complicated approval process in Latin America, thus creating longer waiting times for sick people.
This local approval process comes on top of the seven to 10 year period it takes for a new drug to be identified, manufactured, tested at different levels, approved by health authorities in Europe and the U.S., and then sent to market.
Also, in Brazil and other countries, governments often apply strict price controls, which are a problem for pharmaceutical companies since the controlled prices sometimes do not allow a profit.
“Governments impose price controls and want socialized medicine, but these policies don’t allow medications to reach people,” Chouraqui said.
To overcome obstacles like these, Novartis negotiates with government health representatives and insurance companies.
“We engage the authorities, the public and private payers, to ensure that more patients have access to healthcare and to our innovative products,” said Chouraqui, whose company helps renovate and improve hospitals and schools in the region and assists people in need. “Drugs must have a positive effect on a disease, but also must be cost effective.
“While we’re not a philanthropic organization, our mission is not to sell our pills at any cost. It is to ensure that eligible patients benefit from our therapies.”
Chouraqui, who started out in R&D, later decided to move to the commercial side of the pharmaceutical business. “I’m passionate about science, and about making a difference,” he said.
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“At Novartis, we can make a difference in the lives of millions of patients.”
Business: One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, Novartis develops, manufactures, tests and sells medications and other products for therapeutic areas such as oncology, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, organ transplantation, ophthalmics and dermatology. Worldwide the company has 135,000 employees and sells its products in more than 140 countries, reaching more than 2 billion patients. Novartis LACan in Miami is the head office for its medications businesses in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada.
World headquarters: Basel, Switzerland.
Headquarters for Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada (LACan): 5200 Blue Lagoon Dr., Miami.
LACan head: Fabrice Chouraqui, who holds a doctorate in pharmacy (University of Paris) and an MBA from France’s INSEAD, one of the leading international business schools.
Employees: 25 in Miami; 3,800 throughout the region.
Regional manufacturing center: Brazil, which mostly supplies Latin American markets. Other medications are imported from Novartis manufacturing centers in other parts of the world. Novartis also performs clinical trials in several countries in the region.
Ownership: Novartis is a publicly traded company.