A unique partnership committed to change diabetes in Bangladesh

Ayesha Kabir | Update:

Corporate vice president for Novo Nordisk’s Oceania and South East Asia regions Sebnem Avsar Tuna looks on as managing director and CEO of Eskayef Pharmaceuticals Simeen Hossain speaks to Prothom Alo. Photo: Zahidul KarimDanish pharmaceutical giant and the world’s largest insulin maker Novo Nordisk recently signed an MOU with Bangladesh’s Eskayef Pharmaceuticals for the transfer of state-of-the-art advanced technology to Bangladesh for the manufacture of insulin devices. In an interview with Prothom Alo, Sebnem Avsar Tuna, corporate vice president for Novo Nordisk’s Oceania and South East Asia regions, and Simeen Hossain, managing director and CEO of Eskayef Pharmaceuticals, talked about this partnering, the benefits that this technology transfer will bring to those living with diabetes in Bangladesh, and the various successes and challenges involved.

Ayesha Kabir and Mohammad Jahangir Shah took the interview.

Prothom Alo: The partnership of transferring Danish advanced state-of-the-art technology to Bangladesh for insulin devices manufacturing is a great initiative. How is it going to help people living with diabetes in the country?

Sebnem Avsar Tuna: There are seven million diabetic patients living in Bangladesh so far as we know, but if you look into the prevalence rates globally, it should be even much higher. That means there are many more patients, either not knowing that they are living with diabetes or are not able to get access to the treatment. When you are diagnosed with diabetes, ultimately the solution or the treatment is insulin. Without insulin, as a diabetic you cannot live after a certain point of time. So insulin is a life saving product and at a certain stage of the disease you need it. Being an insulin-leader company globally, Novo Nordisk produces 50 per cent of the global demand for insulin. This means that the Bangladeshi people diagnosed with diabetes are also going to need it at a certain point of time. We have been here with our insulin for 60 years. There are government initiatives to make it locally produced and provide it to the patients. We have been able to see that and have been able to bring insulin in vials to this country with the partnership of Eskayef. Now it is even much more advanced technology with a pen used, the Penfill. We would like to bring it forward for the patients’ benefit. It is much easier to use and will be locally produced with the partnership of Eskayef. So the benefit is-it’s going to be locally produced. It is going to help the government’s policy in terms of getting the products locally. And also it is advanced technology, so it is going to be much easier for the patients to use and manage their diabetes in Bangladesh.

This Penfill technology, with the partnering schedule, has not been transferred in any other country, except as of today, in Bangladesh. So we will transfer the technology to Eskayef and they are going to be producing it here in Bangladesh. So it is by itself quite unique and shows the commitment of Novo Nordisk to Bangladesh for changing diabetes together with Eskayef partnership and the different stakeholders.

Prothom Alo: Eskayef is one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh. How do you view Eskayef’s relationship with Novo Nordisk and how will this technology transfer benefit Bangladesh?

Simeen Hossain: First of all I would like to mention that we have had a wonderful eight years with Novo Nordisk manufacturing the insulin vials. Throughout these eight years we have always got outstanding technical support from Novo Nordisk in every sphere of the business, in quality, management, production, and that has been a great learning for us in Bangladesh, as one of the leading pharmaceutical companies, and also I think, for the entire pharmaceutical industry. It has helped us develop our quality standard and has helped us to take this quality standard across other aspects of the company. So that is something which we greatly benefitted from Novo Nordisk.

Regarding this particular technology transfer, it is a historic moment for both the companies, Novo Nordisk and Eskayef. As you know, we have been manufacturing the insulin vials. And I am proud to say that the quality that we manufacture here is exactly same as the quality that is manufactured in Denmark. Today, with this MOU signing, it is a historic moment for us because, in the Novo Nordisk world, they do not manufacture this modern Penfill insulin in any part of the world other than Denmark. And Bangladesh will be the first country, and Eskayef will be the first company, that Novo Nordisk is partnering with to manufacture this. In terms of the country, this is a historic moment not only for us in Eskayef, but a historic moment for Bangladesh because with the number of patients growing in the diabetic sector, having this modern insulin manufactured locally in Bangladesh will benefit the country and the people of Bangladesh. So I believe it’s a historic moment not just for Eskayef, but also for Bangladesh.

Prothom Alo: Novo Nordisk has taken many global initiatives in the country. How are these initiatives helping people living with diabetes to live a better life?

Sebnem Avsar Tuna: Non-communicable diseases and particularly diabetes are a big, big burden not just because of the number of the patients, but because of the economy or scale that it is coming up with. Diabetes continues with complications. If you cannot manage diabetes, you can have problems with your eyes, your kidneys, your heart, your limbs which may even have to be amputated. So it is a big burden, both from an economic perspective to treat diabetes as well as socially having an impact on the patients as well as the caretakers. We say in Novo Nordisk, treating diabetes is not expensive, but not treating diabetes is very expensive.

With this global initiative, we are firstly trying to increase the awareness among the people that they should test their blood to get diagnosed early. Secondly, a lot of professional training activities, because there are so many patients and they are all across the country. So there will be more physicians to bring the treatment forward. We are also trying to bring this concept of change in diabetes in children, free of charge insulin for the Type 1 diabetic patients who cannot afford the treatment. Last but not least, the diabetes registry to try to really understand how big the burden is and the areas in this country that need attention.

It is not only Novo Nordisk doing this. I would like to point to the importance of partnering. There is the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh (DAB) and so on. One thing we can highlight here is, when you have your product, it needs to be everywhere in the country, in a certain given period of time at a certain temperature level. Transcom is really helping us here and partnering with us to make it very high quality. It cannot be done only with one person or one company as such. It can be different stakeholders partnering or public-private partnership modeling which at Novo Nordisk we are trying to bring forward as a global initiative.

Prothom Alo: The pharmaceutical industry in Bangladesh has developed significantly and is flourishing. What sets Eskayef apart, makes it unique?

Simeen Hossain: One of the most important elements is our human resources. I truly believe we have the best people, professional people. We have people who are there, who create an impact, who use their talent in their professional lives. They are completely committed to the business. To me, that is the core competency of the company. It is the human resources. Because of the core competency, we are able to manufacture and maintain the highest quality standards in terms of manufacturing and all the other aspects of the business, and also in the most ethical manner.

We conduct every sphere of our business in the most ethical manner, maintaining the highest quality. A big endorsement of that are all the stringent global regulatory approvals that we have, including UKMHRA, TGA Australia, UNICEF and so on. That itself is an endorsement that we have the highest quality and we do maintain the highest quality, the global standards.

Another thing that we have is partnerships with global leaders who have the highest quality and ethical standards, one of them being Novo Nordisk. We are also fortunate to partner with Norvatis and Servier. These three companies are global pharmaceutical giants who are right up there is terms of ethics and quality. I think that is where we see ourselves, maintaining the highest quality with absolute ethics in conducting our business and that is where our human resources come in. They are practicing that every day.

Corporate vice president for Novo Nordisk’s Oceania and South East Asia regions Sebnem Avsar Tuna looks on as managing director and CEO of Eskayef Pharmaceuticals Simeen Hossain speaks to Prothom Alo. Photo: Zahidul Karim

Prothom Alo: Can you please give us an insight of your successful partnership with Eskayef?

Sebnem Avsar Tuna: I can only repeat that we have been very, very satisfied with our partnership with Eskayef. We first entered into partnership with them in 2009 coming to insulin vial production. As a global company, we have a lot of standards in terms of quality in bio-technology, so there are a lot of audits and good manufacturing practice requirements of the EU and FDA. The same standards were required and asked of Eskayef and they have been so professional, delivering all those requirements. Many patients in Bangladesh are already using Eskayef products. Due to the high quality and the trust that has already been established many years back, we are confident that Eskayef will take it further in the highest technology for the best quality products of insulin. Today’s signing the MOU is evidence of the ability to expand further.

Prothom Alo: Pharmaceuticals are considered as a sector with tremendous potential in Bangladesh. Being a female business leader, how do you face challenges in this competitive industry, while leading a company such as Eskayef?

Simeen Hossain: Earlier on when I first started up there weren’t many female leaders in the industry but fortunately that is rapidly changing. Now you see there are competent female leaders not just in the pharmaceutical industry, but I would say in all sectors of Bangladesh. As a professional, I have not faced any significant resistance in working or managing any company. To me, I think the most important thing in a leader is not the gender. The gender doesn’t matter. A leader, be it a male or female, has to be competitively competent to sustain in this fast-paced industry or any industry for that matter. I truly believe that gender doesn’t make a difference. It is whether you are competent and whether you are competitively competent.

Where Eskayef is concerned, I would like to reiterate one more time, it is the amazing pool of human resources, young talent that we have who are powering every day and has brought all the growth and all the wonderful things that the company has been doing for the past three decades.

Prothom Alo: How do you nurture these talents?

Simeen Hossain: I do not believe that any leader can do anything by himself or herself. I believe in delegation. I believe in empowering my team, with monitoring. I think that is the success of Eskayef or Transcom Group. We delegate and we empower. I really don’t believe in micro management. That is not my style of working. I believe any success is the success of the team as a whole, no one person.

Prothom Alo: Why did you choose Bangladesh to bring the Penfill technology?

Sebnem Avsar Tuna: Because of Eskayef! They can do it. The patients are there. They need our support and help and if there is a willing partner to do it, then it is our commitment to take it further and get the required approvals and bring it forward.

Prothom Alo: Thank You

Sebnem Avsar Tuna: Thank you

Simeen Hossain: Thank you

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