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Milena Argirović, MD, Country Head For Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia And Kosovo At Takeda

We Use Data And Digital To Improve Patients´Lives And Create Better Society

Last year was a very important one for Takeda in Serbia. It was a year ago that Takeda commemorated 10 years of operations in Serbia, 240 years of providing healthcare globally and, importantly, we celebrated an unbelievable 140 years of friendly diplomatic relations between Japan and Serbia

By bringing innovations to Serbia, Takeda not only provides products, but also establishes scientific and clinical centres of excellence that can support patients from all over the region. Nothing would be possible without working tirelessly and continuously with the different stakeholders – including policymakers ~ Milena Argirović.

The pharmaceutical industry has been among the fastest growing branches of the economy for decades already, thanks largely to innovations. Did the last year provide you with an extra boost; what did last year bring? It was really a special year. We had time to reflect on what we have achieved, to sit with our stakeholders from all over the world, including the Serbian Government and the Embassy of Japan to Serbia, and discuss where and how we want to together support Serbian healthcare in the future. We continue focusing on areas with the highest unmet needs, where we bring transformative products and services that add value to patients in need and the healthcare system as a whole.

You strive to ensure that your unique products and solutions reach patients in our region at the same time as they become available in EU countries, or only shortly afterwards. You really change people’s lives, restoring a sense of hope and dignity to many patients?

I would be even bolder here and state that in past years we brought innovations to Serbia not shortly afterwards, but even shortly before the EU! In every step we take, we strive to understand all the possibilities for our patients and to turn challenges into opportunities. In some therapy areas we ensured therapies for patients in need at the same time as those therapies became available in the U.S. and even before they were available in the EU. We are very proud that Serbia is also one of the first countries in Europe where patients have access to the first ever approved stem cell therapy. Nothing would be possible without working tirelessly and continuously with different stakeholders – including policymakers – because science, and especially medicine, is developing very fast. Therefore, in order to leverage the fast development of science, we have to be very agile with regulatory changes. This is something that we are constantly working on together with the Government. We cooperate closely together to identify various unmet needs of patients and effectively address them through regulatory change.

The future dream is not only to adopt changes that will support the needs of innovation, but to bring together scientists, academia, and industry in continuous collaboration and to be bold in implementing changes to regulations that will even precede the development of science.

And, more importantly, existing regulations, as well as new ones, have to be followed strictly, especially in the field of healthcare, because predictability and sustainability are critical conditions for companies like Takeda to stat considering an even stronger presence in Serbia.

A passion for innovation represents an indivisible area of your operations, whether that relates to new medicines and products, or the quest to find the best digital solution for a particular healthcare system. How far has Serbia advanced in this regard?

As a company that has been dedicated to improving patients’ lives for the last 240 years, we strive to provide value beyond medicines. As of last year, we established a regular “Open door” event where our teams dedicate time to listen to representatives of patient organisations and understand their challenges. Based on that, we create unique programmes that support patients and their families in every therapy area where we are present. Many of these programmes include, but are not limited to digital services.

During the last year we initiated two very important projects in close collaboration with the National Institute for Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering and the National Institute for Artificial Intelligence. We are very proud that we are able to support research and development in these centres with cutting-edge projects: one of them includes utilisation of optimisation of diagnosis of rare diseases using AI (artificial intelligence) tools and second is related to personalisation of IBD treatments or precise medicine, through pharmacogenomics, again using AI. These projects are aligned with the strategic direction of Serbian science focused on biotech development and we are proudly partnering for the future with Bio4, the most important and most ambitious scientific project in Serbia.

Despite being considered as belonging to the distant future, you have nonetheless already started implementing telemedicine in the public healthcare system. What have experiences been like for the patients and doctors who have felt the benefits of remote therapy?

Telemedicine has been our signature project for the last two years that we have implemented it in the public healthcare system. It is constantly evolving on the basis of continuous feedback from both doctors and patients.

Beyond the obvious and anticipated benefits for the patients and physicians, as well as tremendous cost-savings for the healthcare system, telemedicine has even more aspects. One of them is environmental protection, since that has significantly reduced unnecessary travel for patients and their families. This impact was carefully analysed and calculated by our team and the project was recognised within the scope of the initiative “Green Transition and Decarbonisation in Serbia” by UNDP, in cooperation with the Ministry of Mining and Energy and the Ministry of Environmental Protection. As part of this recognition, additional support was granted and, thanks to that, telemedicine is now being expanded to seven major clinical and hospital centres across the country.

RESPECTING DIVERSITY TO MANAGE WORK COMPLEXITY

To conclude, I have to stress that none of the aforementioned successes would have been possible without my amazing team, which takes a passionate and authentic approach to each and every project. At Takeda, one of our strategic priorities is diversity, equity and inclusion, but not only in the “traditional” sense of gender and/or racial equality. We go beyond by providing all individuals with the possibility to be different and bring their authentic self, to express their opinion and feel free to speak up, without being afraid of making mistakes. It is particularly important to our team that is led from Belgrade, but includes employees from five other neighbouring countries, with different cultures, languages, religions etc. I strongly believe that this “freedom” and inclusive culture enables people to grow and be courageous and bold in bringing their best in order to ensure better health for patients and brighter future for people.

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