Sara A. Pedraz is Innovation Manager at Merck Spain where she leads the Local Innovation Office and innovation initiative CHASE, focused on accelerating innovative thinking within the organization, providing knowledge and tools and generating new revenue streams.
Good morning, I will be interviewing you today due to Merck’s role as a Sponsor in Barcelona Health Hub’s upcoming event; the BHHSummit. Thank you in advance for making this interview. To start off, could you briefly explain what Merck does? What is your role within Merck?
Merck is a more than 350-year-old science and technology company with business around Healthcare (personalized treatments for serious diseases and enable people to achieve their dream of becoming parents), Life Sciences (our tools, services and digital platforms make research simpler, more exact, and help to deliver breakthroughs more quickly) and Performance Materials (we are making future mobility safer, homes and devices smarter, and technology more sustainable.) with the goal of promoting the progress of people everywhere: from helping create, improve and prolong life and collaborating with the global scientific community to developing specialty chemicals for demanding applications.
Merck Spain is committed, together with other social and business agents, to respond to the country’s great economic and social challenges, including the development of female talent, the impulse of scientific excellence and the changes that technology and innovation introduce in our society.
I work as an Innovation Manager for Healthcare, managing the Local Innovation Office in Spain which includes: our innovation program, CHASE, focused on developing internal skills, rapid prototyping and running fast and lean experiments to launch new products or services and on our ecosystem of partners and collaborators. Addressing innovation is critical at this point: within the complex current context of R&D and innovation in health, to develop a partnership network and to boost the right mindset to continue being relevant in the future is critical for a company like Merck.
As a pharmaceutical company, how does Merck intend to contribute in the transformation of the health sector?
First of all, we are much more than that! We have three different business lines and all three are equally important for our future.
Regarding Healthcare, Merck is absolutely committed to improve our patients’ quality of life and to be a key player shaping the future of our country by providing people, activities and solutions. All of our initiatives are fully aligned to this so we are currently covering the end-to-end healthcare process being completely patient-centric: from preclinical research, where we are integrating AI to speed up the drug discovery process and to reduce the time to market needed to help people recover from serious diseases or where we are using blockchain to guarantee data protection and data sharing rights, to the experience, where we are launching a “beyond the pill” digital behavioural change programme in diabetes or with our partnership with Tencent in China, where we are exploring the innovative combination of patient-centric healthcare management and digital platforms.
Our focus is clear: investing in R&D to deliver high-quality treatments, guarantee quality of life for our patients and helping them throughout the experience with the disease.
Merck has recently celebrated its 350th birthday with the motto “Always curious; imagine the next 350 years”. What do you expect for the future of the health sector?
We want to be relevant in the future of health no matter what it is. And, as all futures, it is uncertain. What is sure is that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are going to be part of this. In the short term, we know that models such as value-based healthcare or reaching an accessible and integrated system are challenges we have to tackle but as you have said, after 350 years, we have been able to adapt ourselves to multiple environments and that’s again what the future is going to demand from us.
Future sets out several challenges and one of them is aging, especially significant in Spain, the European country with the highest life expectancy and one of the lowest birth rates.
In this sense, we can consider the development of new technologies that will modify the human genome and epigenome and its impact on the prevention and treatment of diseases that currently cannot be treated.
Curiosity is important to Merck. What other traits do you look for in someone working on an innovative project in the health sector?
Curiosity is part of our DNA. Only with tons of curiosity you can become a 350-year-old company. But stimulating our employees to have an innovative mindset that let the innovation emerge, to be able to create customer value and to be able to understand what technology means to our industry and to adapt ourselves to the future.
In our innovative projects, we want our people to be challenged and fearless. Failure is part of our roadmap so we have created the spaces needed to fail as soon as possible. We also look for collaboration: sharing, co-creating and external validation are mandatory for us.
But our objective is also to challenge our mindset: innovation has to happen also outside organizations and should be boosted by all kinds of companies and stakeholders. That’s why curiosity is so vital, because the ability to bring valuable ideas to the table, to challenge yourself and to incorporate failures as part of the learning process require new mental models and tons of work inside and outside the companies.
What do you personally think are some of the most exciting innovative changes taking place in the health sector at the moment?
I think that the changes right now are focused on delivering high quality products and solutions, customizing the experience with the disease and empowering and supporting patients during their journey. These means new drugs, of course, but also new treatments, sometimes including digital devices as part of this. We can’t forget about the patient empowerment, who are more and more demanding and want to take control over the management of their health and the rise of new collaboration models with multidisciplinary professionals who are already innovating and need to transfer their knowledge into the healthcare system, something that we, from Merck, are supporting with our programs from the Innovation Center, for example.
How is collaboration important to Merck and, in such regard, what do you believe are some of the most important benefits of being a Barcelona Health Hub member?
Barcelona Health Hub is key for us as it is the biggest healthcare ecosystem in Spain. I think it is impressive to start a healthcare innovation hub in Spain and to have more than 100 companies onboard in less than a year, including all type of stakeholders that will be relevant in the future of health (corporates, startups, investors, public institutions). Barcelona potential in areas such as biotechnology or as a startup ecosystem is well-known.
Our collaboration with BHH involves being part of a vibrant ecosystem and in touch with local partners. Healthcare is a complex and diverse sector so all stakeholders must collaborate and be aligned. Barcelona Health Hub acts as a cluster, connecting the dots and letting everyone to connect with different challenges, market trends and patient needs.
What are you excited about regarding Barcelona Health Hub Summit?
I think Barcelona Health Hub Summit is a great opportunity to highlight how successful the Spanish healthcare ecosystem is. Our expectation is to use the Summit as part of our innovation agenda to show our most innovative initiatives and talk to our partners and customers about collaboration opportunities as a global company and added value services that we have launched in our different Business Units.
Thank you for your time.