The pandemic has shown the importance that pharmaceutical companies, characterized by their innovative muscle, have for the economy and society. Although marked by the controversy with the European Union over its distribution, the rapid obtaining of the Covid vaccine has been a milestone for this sector. In Spain, the crisis has also served to highlight the strategic role of this industry.
“We are not a large-volume sector, but we understand that we are an example of the high-knowledge production model on which society should be based,” he says. Humberto Harness, general director of Farmaindustria, who is convinced of the importance that the sector is going to have to overcome the health crisis and for the economic reactivation of Spain. He does not hide his pride in seeing how this industry has responded to the great challenges posed by the pandemic. “We have responded just as society could expect of us. Being very responsible. We guarantee the continuous supply of medicines both in ICUs and for the 25 million Spaniards who take medicine and who did not lack their medicine, ”recalls Arnés. What’s more, Spain is the first European country and the fourth worldwide in clinical trials and treatments for Covid.
The pharmaceutical industry groups 200 companies in Spain and employs 42,500 people, of which 5,000 are dedicated to R&D. In addition, there are 170,000 jobs that it generates indirectly and induced. The turnover in 2019 was 15.2 billion euros (24% of all high technology) and 12.1 billion euros were exported. It is the leading sector in industrial R&D, investing 1,211 million euros, 19% of the entire industry. And when talking about employment, 94% of the jobs are permanent, 52% of the employees are women and 28% of the new hires are young people under 29 years of age. “There are sectors that are strategic and vital, and the pharmacist is one of them”, points out the general director of the employer’s association.
The consulting firm Deloitte also highlights the role of the pharmaceutical industry as one of the most strategic sectors in any economy. “First, for its evident role in improving the health of the population and, in particular, their life expectancy, as well as in the efficiency and quality of health systems,” he says. Jorge Bagán, Responsible Consulting Partner for Life Sciences and HealthCare at Deloitte. «Secondly for its social, economic and industrial contribution. And thirdly, because of its strong weight in research, development and innovation ”, he adds. They are all fundamental elements “to create a solid, competitive and structurally sustainable economy.”
At a time when the vaccine has become the great hope for society and to reactivate the economy, the role of the Spanish pharmaceutical industry is key. «We are talking about very sophisticated operations because vaccines are biological drugs with very high production difficulties and very high levels of demand ”, Humberto Arnés begins by pointing out. “Participating in any phase of the vaccine is very complex and requires significant technological capacity. And four Spanish companies are participating. The country’s potential in this field was unknown ”, he points out. Remember that the great challenge of the sector was to scale industrially to be able to manufacture the necessary doses of vaccine. At a global level, we are going from having a production capacity of 1 billion doses of influenza vaccines per year to 10 billion doses of vaccines for coronavirus. “That is why the participation of all those prepared to participate has been sought”, adds the general director of the employer’s association who also recalls that it is normal for a new production line to be prepared between a year and a year and a half and on this occasion, «In record time they have been equipped with additional machinery to be able to join production. It has been a tremendous effort that people are unaware of. Not forgetting the difficult logistics of the distribution of messenger RNA vaccines, where “they cannot be improvised, experience is required and we are proud to have responded.”
«It is one of the sectors with the highest component of stable, qualified and diversified employment in terms of gender. In this sense, it historically shows ratios much higher than the Spanish average of the different sectors of activity, both in stable employment (full-time permanent contracts), qualified (university graduates) and diversified (general female employment and percentage of women in committees management) ”, says Jorge Bagán. “It is a very attractive sector for young people. They do a lot of training, not only in the field of pharmacy but also in health and the role of the patient. It is a very dynamic industry in which personnel are trained a lot, also in management and organization ”, highlights Paloma Alonso, profesora de IE Business School.
At FarmaIndustria they believe that the sector offers one of the most attractive jobs in Spain, “qualified, young, diversified, stable and based on knowledge that gives our young people prospects for professional growth”, highlights its CEO. The Economist Anton Costas argues that “each euro invested in health and innovation has a multiplier in terms of economic growth and employment much higher than that of investment in any other economic activity.” He is one of the authors of the book “Healthcare innovation to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis” where experts in economics, health management, medicine and research participate. Costas believes that the pandemic «It has made us see that we had the wrong priorities; that investing in public health and health innovation improves, on the one hand, the equity of a country and, on the other hand, it increases the economic efficiency of that country ».
R&D in DNA
Concepts such as innovation, R&D or knowledge are part of the DNA of this industry, its culture and the normality of its strategic and operational agenda. “Regardless of the fact that each sector presents particular contexts and dynamics, there are certain elements of the culture and business models of the pharmaceutical sector linked to innovation and R&D that may be applicable to other sectors”, considers the partner from Life Sciences and HealthCare from Deloitte. It is in biomedical research where Spain is making a difference, and in addition to being an economic component, “it improves health care in the country and allows many patients to find an alternative to other treatments to cure their diseases,” says Arnés. He believes that after having lost many trains of technological revolutions, “in this Spain it has to go up.”
When talking about challenges in the sector, Jorge Bagán recalls that, from a sector context perspective, the pharmaceutical industry must face the evolution of the health sector towards models with greater budgetary pressure, more based on health outcomes and with a greater focus on areas such as early diagnosis and prevention.
Paloma Alonso, who is also the director of the program New Models of Public-Private Collaboration in the Healthcare Environment at IE Business School, is clear that “public-private alliances, long and medium-term agreements, are essential. So we will get out of the crisis. It stands out all the good functioning that occurs in Spain in the pharmaceutical industry, where logistics companies also play an essential role in guaranteeing the storage and distribution of medicines, something that does not happen in many countries.
Last January Farmaindustria presented to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism the ‘Expression of Interest of the project Essential Medicines and Strategic Industrial Capacities for the value chain of the Innovative Pharmaceutical Industry in Spain’. It is an initiative led by this organization in which it brings together 14 national and multinational pharmaceutical laboratories. belonging to the association and 21 auxiliary companies, and represents an initial investment of 500 million euros. “We made an appeal to our companies to know in record time the investments to develop essential drugs and develop strategic industrial capacities”, explains the general director of the employer’s association. “We are sure that new companies will be incorporated to duplicate the offer presented. We want to generate national security and employment, “adds Arnés. The objectives of the project are to increase strategic manufacturing capacities to have greater guarantees in the supply of strategic medicines for our country and improve the productive competitiveness of the pharmaceutical industry in Spain through its training in knowledge, technology and digitization.
The employers recall the project’s driving effect in the face of the challenge of the economic and social reactivation facing Spain. Not only because of the favorable impact on the growth and consolidation of strategic pharmaceutical companies that manufacture medicines, but also because of the new hires that each of the companies will need to carry out to undertake this project.