Merck is dedicated to some of the most pressing questions of our time and always has been leading the way for science development. That’s why we’re focusing our most innovative research & development on issues that have world-changing potential, says Merck Serbia Director Ina Bulat, speaking for CorD magazine.
Merck is one of the world’s leading innovative companies today, despite recently celebrating its 350th anniversary. Can you tell us more about the work of the healthcare sector at Merck?
– The work of our healthcare business helps make a difference in millions of lives. We put our patients at the centre of everything we do. Working as one for patients motivates us always to give our best and continuously improve our efforts. Our work is based on innovations that help to create, improve and prolong lives.
Making a positive difference, and with a holistic approach, we design and develop medicines and intelligent devices that provide ongoing care for patients beyond their treatment. This includes new medicines to treat conditions such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, but also innovative technologies that make life easier for patients.
Our goal is to support people at every stage of life – including when it comes to helping create new life. We have helped many women and couples achieve their dream of having a baby. As the leader of the global market of fertility treatments, we do what we do with passion – and we think further ahead.
Can you tell us what will shape the future of healthcare?
– Precision medicine is set to change the delivery of healthcare fundamentally. We are moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach towards prevention and treatment strategies that are tailored to individuals.
Every patient and their disease is unique, which is why many ‘one size fits all’ treatments benefit only a minority. For example, current untargeted drugs are effective in around a quarter of all cancer patients; three out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s disease and just over half of patients with diabetes. We need to change our approach to precision medicine radically. New biotechnologies enable us to understand diseases much better than ever before.
At the same time, digital technologies – such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data – are opening up new possibilities. When the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, the cost of generating one human genome sequence stood at some 54 million U.S. dollars. Twelve years later, that same procedure costs around a thousand dollars. However, when it comes to the most common diseases, our genetic blueprint can only predict what might happen in the future – with the complex interactions between our genes, lifestyle and environmental factors determining our exact trajectories.
Precision medicine offers unprecedented opportunities to use this increasingly detailed information to prevent, diagnose and treat disease – to improve health outcomes for individuals. Its successful delivery relies on several interconnected areas – the development of sophisticated tests that enable much earlier, more precise diagnosis of a disease, a range of personalised interventions that can prevent or delay its onset, and a battery of new, molecularly-targeted medicines that can treat an individual’s condition more precisely and with fewer side effects.
Do you think Serbia also recognises health as a worthy investment?
– I believe that it is of key importance for the state to understand cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, which is the driving force behind innovations and development, striving to extend people’s longevity and make their lives healthier. It shouldn’t be overlooked that one of the greatest achievements of this century is actually in the field of medicine. I’m very satisfied with the openness and cooperation that we have in Serbia because this is the only way we can secure the solutions needed by the citizens of our country.
The Serbian Government recognises the importance of therapies that help people’s lives, among many priorities, especially as these are innovative medicines that citizens cannot afford when confronted by disease. I believe that Serbia – with the presence of the world’s leading innovative companies in healthcare – will support innovations in medicine and that it recognises their importance to human health.
Ensuring better and longer lives for people is our mutual goal. We recently introduced an innovative therapy for multiple sclerosis to the Serbian market that allows the patient to “forget” about the disease and provides conditions closest to an actual cure. Merck continues to invest in the development of MS therapies, offering personalised treatments, and we are looking forward to seeing future developments both globally and in Serbia.
We are present in Serbia, as in all major countries around the world, in the fields of cardiology, diabetes, endocrinology, oncology, IVF and neurology. The medicines that Merck brings to Serbia are of the highest world standards, manufactured in the same place, from the same substances and by the same technological processes as for the world’s most developed countries. Merck sets the same manufacturing quality and distribution standards in all of its representative offices around the world.
We will continue supporting and advancing the Serbian healthcare system, bringing new therapies to Serbia every year, as well as innovations in existing therapeutic areas. That’s something that our citizens deserve.
You’ve said that Merck’s reputation and focus are based on science. Could you tell us more about Merck’s developments and contributions to science?
– We believe that science is for good, and our work is dedicated to some of the most pressing issues of our time. That’s why Merck awarded the Future Insight Prize – a one million euro research grant – for the first time this July. The Future Insight Prize puts forth a vision for ambitious dream products and is intended to trigger curiosity and creativity worldwide in making this vision a reality. Merck aims to award this grant annually for the next 35 years, in order to incentivise work, enabling significant progress towards making this vision a reality by discovering new groundbreaking science or by developing enabling technologies.
More than 6,000 Merck scientists are today working on a variety of research, disease control and new technologies. Our investment in research & development is huge – we invested 2.2 billion euros in 2018 alone. As a vibrant science and technology company, Merck has been pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for more than 350 years. And we will continue to do this in the years ahead – with technologies that can change the rules of the game in entire industries and make a difference to the lives of millions of people every day.