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Dejan Lakovski, Country Cluster Director, AstraZeneca

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AstraZeneca is among the leaders in the research and development of innovative medicines, as part of efforts to deliver the most advanced therapies and scientific achievements. Based in Cambridge, UK, AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries, while its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide

This company has delivered over 1.3 billion doses to over 170 countries in the space of just one year! Nothing on this scale has ever previously been attempted, but AstraZeneca managed, in a matter of months, to do what would normally take years. And it has done so for the benefit of all, without any financial interest.

In which therapy areas are you most dominant?

– AstraZeneca is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company. Our business is organised to deliver our strategic priorities sustainably, supporting continued scientific innovation and commercial success. We focus on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines in Oncology and BioPharmaceuticals, including Cardiovascular, Renal & Metabolism, and Respiratory & Immunology. In addition to our core therapy areas, we added a fourth engine of growth recently, with the addition of Alexion’s rare disease business.

The financial results you published recently were quite good, as covered widely by the media. Could you share more details?

– AstraZeneca is on a strong growth trajectory. We have grown at a double-digit rate for the last two years. We are accelerating our double-digit growth this year and expect the company to continue growing in double digits until 2025. Growth is robust across all regions and disease areas, as we continue to advance our portfolio of life-changing medicines.

With increased investment in R&D, we continue to invest in the future of Astra- Zeneca and build on our already significant achievements.

AstraZeneca in the Balkans is no exception and contributes strongly, with 12.7% growth this year to date, while introducing innovations to meet significant need across the area.

Serbia is equally positioned within our Balkan cluster and is doing very well in a challenging environment. We have a great team in place and will continue and accelerate our growth and investement plans moving forward.

Growth is robust across all regions and disease areas, as we continue to advance our portfolio of life-changing medicines

AstraZeneca has become very well known globally over the last year. Is this due to the fact that you quickly developed an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus?

– The company has been present for well over a century. Astra was founded in Sweden in 1913. And it was in 1999 that it merged with Zeneca Group PLC, which was formed when ICI Pharmaceuticals (a UK-based company founded in 1926) demerged three of its businesses.

The Vaxzevria vaccine was developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group. The partnership with Oxford University is unprecedented. It was negotiated in just 10 days, as an urgent response to the escalation of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The team at Oxford recognised that a partnership with AstraZeneca would accelerate global clinical development, scale up manufacturing and crucially drive broad and equitable access around the world.

Are you proud that AstraZeneca was among the leaders of this global, life-saving project?

– Yes. We are incredibly proud of what we’ve done and the difference we’ve made. We save lives. This is a vaccine for the world and AstraZeneca has done more than any other company to make the vaccine available, at no profit, to countries regardless of income level.

The majority of our vaccine doses have gone to low- and lower-middle-income countries, accounting for more than half of all COVAX deliveries, which we were the first to sign up for across the entire industry.

The pandemic has shown that continuous and wise investments in healthcare are important for both the life and health of the people, but also for the economy and stability of a society. Have we learned our lesson for the future?

– While the vaccine is the key element that will help the world return to normal, we must also look beyond and at the way in which we rebuild our health systems.

Dejan Lakovski

The broader issue of the resilience and sustainability of healthcare systems must be where our attention shifts once we overcome the immediate challenges of the pandemic. That’s why, alongside our partners at the World Economic Forum and London School of Economics, we initiated the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR).

From new models of care to innovative financing mechanisms and breakthrough technologies, the PHSSR aims to identify solutions with the greatest potential across multiple healthcare systems and assess ways to support their adoption, with the ultimate ambition of better understanding the policy options and other tools that can build healthcare system resilience and sustainability.

We brought together policymakers, academics and the private sector to discuss how to implement these findings to really make a difference on the ground. The first phase of the PHSSR concluded successfully in March 2021, while the second phase has just begun.

AstraZeneca has specially designed programmes for the youth. Could you tell us more about that?

– Wherever we work in the world, we aim to have a positive impact on people and their communities. An example of that is the Young Health Programme (YHP) that was launched 10 years ago. This is a global non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention programme with a unique focus on young people aged 10 to 24. In partnership with UNICEF, the YHP has reached more than 30 countries and 12 million young people with information about NCD and risk factors for mental health issues and obesity. This also includes acting on smoking prevention among the youth, which is the focus of the YHP that we’ve had in Serbia since 2018.

You invest a great deal of your time and finances on promoting illness prevention and healthy lifestyles, but your business is manufacturing and selling medicines. Are these two areas not contradictory?

– We believe they are not, as we recognise health as a human right. Our approach goes beyond our medicines. We provide healthcare solutions along a continuum of care – from prevention, awareness, diagnosis and treatment, to post-treatment and wellness.

Healthcare is our core business; we seek to prevent disease and support people on their path to better health. For those who have been diagnosed with a condition, we strive to ensure access to effective treatment.

Our bold ambition is to find a cure for cancer, by first transforming it into a chronic disease, but that is just a transition step and is already a reality

At AstraZeneca, we truly place patients‘ benefits at the heart of everything we do. One of the many examples of our values being put into action are our efforts in Oncology. Our focus is on some of the most hostile and hard-to-treat cancers. Our bold ambition is to find a cure for cancer, by first transforming it into a chronic disease, but that is just a transition step and is already a reality. AstraZeneca has medicines that are already established around the world and which provide, for example, more than five years with no signs of deterioration following a devastating ovarian cancer diagnosis, or three years of additional life for a person with lung cancer, both in the case of positive genetic predispositions.

And this is the type of reality that we also want to see being advanced in Serbia, through the improving of access to healthcare and investments in personalised medicine, as well as the implementing of principles of initiating treatment during earlier stages. The innovative medicines that allow earlier treatment of cancer are saving and improving patients‘ lives and also supporting the general efficiency of the healthcare system. We believe that we are working towards a future where all people in Serbia have access to sustainable healthcare solutions for life-changing treatment and prevention.

Tell us something about you, your career…

– I joined AstraZeneca at the beginning of March 2021 as Cluster Country Director, Balkans, which encompasses Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and other Western Balkan countries. I have over 20 years of experience in the pharma industry and an extensive background in successfully leading teams across countries in this part of Europe. Being a medical doctor by education, placing patients at the heart of every decision and action is my nature, so joining the patient-focused AstraZeneca was an intuitive step. In my new role, I look forward to building a diverse, strong and forward-looking team that plays a key role in accelerating the company‘s growth in the Balkan region, focusing on new launches and raising organisational capabilities by implementing an innovative model of customer and patient engagement.