Lilly SA: Taking a lead on diabetes

Incidents of diabetes are fast becoming a chronic concern across the globe. According to the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), in 2010, 285 million people were living with diabetes – approximately 4.6 per cent of the world’s population. The WDF anticipates that these figures will increase to 438 million (7.8 per cent) by 2030. In South Africa, the problem is growing to a similar extent, with global organisations like Lilly South Africa working hard not only to provide medical solutions, but to educate doctors and patients alike.

Lilly_0445Whilst it is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of lives Lilly SA is enhancing through its range of diabetes, men’s health, neuroscience and oncology medications, it is fair to say that hundreds of thousands of people across the whole sub-Sahara region are benefitting from the expertise that comes from a global operation.

In fact, Lilly SA has been assisting patients for 75 years, a landmark which is being celebrated in 2013, as Ann-Marie Hosang-Archer, Managing Director, explains:

We opened our first office in Johannesburg back in 1938 and had our first representative the following year. This is a very old affiliate for us (Eli Lilly, the global brand) and we are really proud to have been here that long.

We are in the middle of planning a series of events to celebrate the 75th anniversary, and during the week of the 25th of February, the President of Emerging Markets and Head of HR for Eli Lilly came to South Africa in order to participate with our staff and customers”.

Today the business is still based in Johannesburg, albeit in a new office in Bryanston. Due to the prescription nature of products for diabetes treatment and men’s health products, the bulk of Lilly SA’s customers are doctors and general practitioners, although Hosang-Archer indicates that the medical insurance market is also of extreme importance to the company. Pharmacies are another source of business, where the company representatives will visit and provide education to the pharmacists.

We also have a clinical research department based in South Africa, and provide support for Elanco, which is Eli Lilly’s Animal Health arm,” she adds.

Lilly_2893Hosang-Archer has experienced the opportunities and benefits of working for a global pharmaceutical business first-hand. The Jamaican-born businesswoman spent many years in Toronto, Canada, and to date, her Eli Lilly journey has taken her to work placements in four countries, with South Africa having been home for the past 18 months.

The South African operations have many advantages, one of which is the ability to call upon global expertise and in-house guidelines on quality. This, says Hosang-Archer, has proved helpful, particularly as the company expands its reach across the sub-Sahara region, where different countries adopt different sets of regulatory requirements:

One of our core values at Lilly is integrity, and we will go above and beyond to obey the rules of new territories. We also adopt our own in-house Lilly global rules, which are often stricter than those of the country we are entering – and we will always run our operations using whichever are the stricter terms.

We also work with governments on legislation where possible, and ensure that we are never at odds with regulatory requirements from country to country.”

Lilly_4853Lilly SA has a strong focus on its diabetes treatments, with the disease increasing with alarming alacrity in South Africa, in line with the rest of the world:

It is not just current levels that are of great concern to us, but the suggestion that cases will double in SA and increase by as much as 98% in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030,” Hosang-Archer impresses. “What is important is lifestyle and weight and the tendencies are similar here to the rest of the world. It has now got to the stage where the government is making diabetes a priority, and we need to take drastic measures to prevent that increase.”

Lilly SA no longer manufactures its products in South Africa, relying on imports from Europe and North America. The process has to be very carefully managed, not only to ensure sufficient supply of treatments, but also to maintain quality.

The company’s drugs, including insulin, have to be temperature controlled and temperature tracking procedures are put in place at every stage of the distribution process. Hosang-Archer says that South Africa requires post importation testing and Lilly SA also conducts its own checks, meaning that the company’s quality control team has developed a close relationship with its distribution partner UTi.

Our quality organisation ensures that we adhere to all requirements on how the product reaches the country and how it is kept once it arrives here. We work closely with our logistics partner on storage and distribution. The integrity and safety of the product to the patient is our number one priority at all times, so we are not just planning forecasts for our supply chain, but involving quality and integrity at every stage.

Quality is part of our culture, and direct reporting may come to me but compliance is also a requirement outside of the affiliate. Doing the right thing is at the forefront of what we do – it is not just about the sale,” she emphasises.

A new kind of compliance is on the horizon with the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act, which may have implications for the way representatives are able to sell or educate customers about Lilly SA’s products.

We are treading very carefully to ensure that customer interaction is appropriate and customers are aware of the safety requirements of our products. Our sales force does not communicate directly with patients, instead we have a medical team which operates separately and provides education. The sales force talks to pharmacies and doctors about registered products only, and the way we interact must be in accordance with our internal guidelines and the new marketing code,” Hosang-Archer affirms.

Compliance also means having properly trained staff who know their ethical sales boundaries and products. Hosang-Archer accepts that finding a ready-made pharmaceutical sales force is not feasible in South Africa and says that the company puts enormous emphasis on training new recruits:

There is a difficulty, and we look to recruit graduates and look for traits in learning agility. One of our biggest challenges is to train and retain staff, as we are seen as a good trainer of people who then become very attractive to the market.

In South Africa we have over time developed an excellent reputation for moving staff into higher positions around the world – indeed our Emerging Markets Head of HR is from South Africa. One of our objectives is to build on this and continue to forward people’s development.”

Lilly_1741The transfer of skills and opportunity to gain invaluable life and work experience through travel is something very close to Hosang-Archer’s own heart. It is, she says, one of the great benefits of working for Lilly:

There are a number of advantages for our company, with the global firm’s focus on integrity a major factor in how we do business. We are able to call upon experience from different countries and the support that comes with that.

Our employees also have the chance to travel and that provides a mix of experience and opportunity around the globe. The more that we can do that, the greater the opportunity becomes to improve attitudes towards tolerance and understanding in different markets.”

South Africa has benefitted greatly from Eli Lilly’s presence, as the global business has also centred on the country for major investment in two corporate social responsibility programmes.

In 2003 the Lilly-MDR-TB (multi drug resistant tuberculosis) partnership was launched and has been fighting the disease by providing access to medication and education. We have also transferred technology to a local pharmaceutical company in order to manufacture the medicine. We are now launching phase 3 of the partnership which will have a 5 year term.

We have also focused on NCDs (non-communicable diseases), such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. We work with two local partners and the government to look at how we manage diabetes in community settings – both urban and rural, in a way that works and provides good research and provides replicable solutions.”

Lilly has invested between $8 million and $10 million in South Africa on these important issues. Such work will help to lay the foundations for better understanding of these diseases and better treatment for sufferers. As for Lilly SA’s own future, 2013 will of course be a time for reflection upon an incredible journey over the past 75 years.

We are also on a journey to ensure we create a strong stamp as a diabetes fighter in South Africa, and the next 12 months will see us focus on educating healthcare professionals.

We have also, in recent years, expanded into the sub-Saharan region, and there will be further investment to increase our presence in countries like Kenya and Nigeria. We will create job opportunities both in those countries and here in South Africa, to ensure that the process runs smoothly,” Hosang-Archer confirms.

And of course new recruits will go through the education process. It is hard to quantify the social impact of any business, but one can safely assure that Lilly SA is leaving a positive legacy on South Africa.