Novo Nordisk Thailand: Looking at the Past, Present, and Future

Novo Nordisk Thailand: Looking at the Past, Present, and Future

Since its foundation in 1923, Novo Nordisk became a leading pharmaceutical company which specializes in diabetes care medication and devices. This long-established Danish company markets its products in 169 countries.

In Thailand, the company has been providing vital medication for patients with diabetes and obesity for over 35 years. Recently, Mr. John Dawber, Vice President and General Manager of Novo Nordisk Pharma (Thailand) Limited, shared the background, insights and challenges faced by the company, and the healthcare industry in general during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As we saw healthcare develop in Thailand, we realized that we could bring a commercial function, but also a clinical research function,” he said, adding that “The Thai government was supporting the investment in clinical research and development of new medicines in Thailand and Novo Nordisk saw that as a nice opportunity to bring research, clinical trials, and then set up a commercial function,”.

Novo Nordisk started in Thailand with its insulin business and later developed its biopharmaceutical business, serving patients with rare diseases such as hemophilia, and growth disorders. Mr. Dawber explained that insulin business is accounted for more than 50% of the company’s share of business. As their main business, diabetes-related products are responsible for around 80% of the total revenue, while obesity-related and other biopharmaceutical products make up for another 20%.

According to the Mr. Dawber, Thailand ranks second in ASEAN when it comes to the amount of overweight and obese people. Five to six million Thais are living with diabetes due to lifestyle and other health conditions. However, he believes that Thai government’s policy of universal health coverage is strong and respectable when compared to other Southeast Asian countries. He added that Novo Nordisk was formed 100 years ago to manufacture insulin for people with diabetes. After almost a century later, they are responsible for the production of more than 50% of insulin used globally. 

When asking about the situation of diabetes in Thailand, Mr. Dawber commented that “There are, perhaps, somewhere between 5 - 6 million Thais living with diabetes (…..) We have a big problem as a society to manage type 2 diabetes because of our lifestyle and healthy living,”. However, he is optimistic about the situation, adding that “the government policy of universal coverage and supporting everybody with access to good medicines is very strong and something to be respected, compared to other Southeast Asian countries and we are committed to partner with the government to further improve this.”

For the last two years, the world has been living with both public health and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March and April of 2020, Novo Nordisk Thailand has been facing logistical challenges that leads to high demand and low stocks, but luckily, they were able to manage their stocks without creating effects on patients. During the start of the pandemic, the company growth rate temporarily went up from 15% to about 50% due to stockpiling of medicines, and this caused the logistical challenges However, the pandemic also gives an opportunity for governments, health authorities, and pharmaceutical industry to come together and work fast towards the solution. 

“I think the pharmaceutical industry, and in particular the companies that have been developing COVID-19 vaccines have shown the value of the industry, working fast, running clinical trials fast, finding manufacturing capacity, all over the world, including here in Thailand. And I hope that improves trust between the public, the governments and the industry, long term,” he said. 

Mr. Dawber believes the ongoing crisis will allow the company to communicate more openly and transparently with agencies, and ultimately benefit patients. When asked about the management of COVID-19 in Thailand, he commented that in 2020 Thailand is managed the situation very well compared to other countries. 

On the overall trend of the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Dawber commented that the growth rate is as little as 0.2% due to the change of prices, products, and company portfolios. For Novo Nordisk, last year’s revenue was THB 2.2 billion, the growth rate was more than 20% in the past year, which is higher than 16% in 2019. He added that the success of the company can be described through four aspects: ‘Partnership’ with the government and authorities, ‘Products’ that are good, ‘People’ and experts who drive the company forward, and ‘Passion’ to improve the lives of Thai patients.

Looking towards the next 10 years, Novo Nordisk expects to have a strong partnership with Thai FDA as well as high level of expertise of Thai doctors. From 2021-2025, the company aims to raise the amount of clinical trial investment in Thailand million up to THB 300 million, after having invested THB 189 million from 2016-2020. Moreover, apart from continuing to develop diabetes and obesity-related products, the company will also enter three new areas, including liver disease, kidney disease and Alzheimer’s. 

In shorter period, Mr. Dawber explained about the Novo Nordisk direction that “We continue to launch new medicines. We launched one in 2020 right in the middle of COVID lockdown. We will launch a new, innovative diabetes medicine, a new obesity treatment, and a hemophilia treatment by 2023”. 

Additionally, the company will also be improving the sustainability initiatives throughout the next three years, for example, since July 1st, 2021, the company’s energy comes totally from green energy sources. Finally, the improvement of employee benefits is also a priority as the company becomes more successful. For example, Maternity benefit now includes half a year of full pay. Mr. Dawber believes that this is vital, saying that “As we earn more, we can give more back.”

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