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Nebojša Škuljec, Managing Director At Merck Sharp & Dohme

Cancer Is No Longer An Incurable Disease

Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) has been among the global leaders in medical innovations and a pioneer in immuno-oncology therapy discovery for 130 years, while it has even shifted the paradigm of oncological disease treatment and enabled significantly better outcomes

Our company’s main task is to work together with decision makers in the health care system, from the moment an innovative drug receives a usage license, to find a way for that drug to reach patients as soon as possible – says MSD’s MD for Serbia and the Balkans, Nebojša Škuljec, before explaining everything that his company is doing on this front.

Discoveries made at your laboratories have contributed to extending longevity. Are vaccines and immuno-oncology drugs the best example of this?

– Our company is among the leaders in medical innovations that have enabled this kind of outstanding progress in treatment, where it is estimated that innovative drugs have contributed 73% to extending longevity at the beginning of the 21st century.

MSD has made available to millions of patients worldwide a drug that is currently used in the treatment of over 20 types of malignancies, while clinical trials are underway for other types of tumors. This class of drugs that is specific in that it activates our immune system in the fight against cancer has already enabled a certain number of patients in Serbia to survive for significantly longer and to have exceptional quality of life even in the disease’s most severe, metastatic stage.

How is it possible to make the maximum number of innovative medicines available to patients in Serbia?

– Although our country has narrowed the gap in terms of the availability of innovative medicines compared to EU countries over recent years, that gap is still evident. We will give our all, through joint efforts of the state and the private sector, to move as close as possible to European and world treatment standards, with a special focus on malignant diseases. This is very important because Serbia is a country with a medium risk of contracting disease (ranked 12th among 40 European countries), but has an extremely high risk of dying from malignant diseases – ranked as high as second place in Europe, immediately after Hungary.

The HPV vaccine was received by 24,000 children in one year in Serbia, thanks to which cervical cancer is set to soon become a rare disease

A major breakthrough in the prevention of cervical cancer occurred last year, when children were immunized – at the expense of the RFZO [national health insurance fund] – against infections caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the main cause of this disease. Serbia thereby also joined the WHO mission to eliminate cervical cancer. That goal is also within the reach of countries that have been implementing this type of prevention for the last 15 years. This vaccine was received by 24,000 children in one year in Serbia, which gives us hope that cervical cancer, which currently claims more than 600 lives in our country each year, will soon become a rare disease.

Is the pharmaceutical industry focused on personalized medicine?

– It is expected that personalized medicine will become a powerful new weapon in the fight against many diseases, including malignancies. A prerequisite for applying personalized medicine is the acceptance of the principle of decision-making based on data, which is an area where Serbia has taken a big step with the digitalization of health care and the launch of the BIO4 project – an ecosystem that is becoming increasingly attractive for the development of innovation, cooperation between academia and industry, and future commercialization.

MSD Serbia has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of the Republic of Serbia pertaining to our company’s support to the development of the BIO4 scientific campus. We expect this strategic partnership to enable the creation of new solutions and the better use of data to achieve sustainable financing and improve unequal and suboptimal health outcomes.

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