Interview with Abbott’s Diabetes Head Asia Pacific: Andreas Amrein

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After we’ve had an interview with the amazing and insightful Dr. Bryan Vartebedian as well as the inspirational Lisa Chu, we thought that we should also talk to somebody who’s on the pharma side of the healthcare industry. Dr. Andreas Amrein, who is the Senior Area Director for the Diabetes Unit of Abbott in Asia Pacific, thankfully took some time to answer our questions on the intersection of technology and diabetes. Diabetes is clearly a prevalent problem in civilized countries and to us it seems that pharmaceutical companies are still slow in developing disruptive technological solutions for diabetic patients.

Andreas, who was originally trained as a phycisist as the prestigious ETH in Zuerich, has some insights on how a globally acting pharmaceutical company thinks about a global healthcare problem and its solution within healthcare. Initially, the contact between Andreas and MedCrunch came from the Virtual Pharma Summit, where Andreas and MedCrunch will participate in a virtual round table. Join the event here and have fun with the interview!

MedCrunch: Dear Mr. Amrein, thanks for your time. To give us and our readers a little background, please let us know how you came into the pharmaceutical business.

Originally I am a physicist with a master’s from the ETH in Zuerich, Switzerland. After some time in research I went into banking where I worked in equity research, risk control for derivative instruments, asset management and private banking. Subsequently I went to INSEAD in Fontainebleau to get my MBA. From there I got recruited into Novartis where I worked first at corporate level in the group’s strategy department and then in mergers and acquisitions. Aiming to become more operational I finally transitioned into the pharma division where I worked in strategy, business development, marketing and sales. Not the classical path.

MedCrunch: You are heading Abbott’s diabetes care team for Asia Pacific. What responsibilites does your job involve on a daily basis?

My job includes responsibility of our whole business in Asia. From India to Japan, from China to Australia and all countries in between. Mainly it can be summarized as ensuring that we optimally allocate our investments and resources across this extremely diverse and dynamic portfolio of countries. My scope extends across all functions and I invest a very large part of my time in ensuring that we also have the right talent to execute our global, regional and local strategies.

MedCrunch: Mobile health and e-health are hot topics at the moment. Are you aware of any digital venture initiatives by pharmaceutical companies such as Abbott or other global companies?

Yes, here and there you find initiatives. Especially in the area of diabetes where management of the condition depends on proper behavioral and treatment changes which depend themselves on the correct interpretation of data such as the blood glucose levels at different moments of the day. Diabetes could be a classical example where continuous monitoring and data interpretation have to be combined with the right treatment to maximize the quality of life of the patient.

MedCrunch: The pharma business has significantly changed throughout the last years. Singular corporations that formerly covered the whole life-cycle of a molecule from discovery of drugs to sales are now being replaced by acquisitions of biotech companies and licensing of patents. Many walks have changed, however it seems that sales, in terms of sales reps selling to doctors, hasn’t changed. Do you agree? If so, what are (or could be) disruptive approaches to leverage drug sales?

Correct, the classical “call” to the doctors or other decision makers has not really changes. Yes, you find more and more technology, such as the use of iPads and Closed Loop Marketing, but the fundamentals are the same. We observe also the increased importance of the blogosphere and the fantastic opportunities for everybody to get any kind of medical information, to share experiences, etc. The best companies watch this area very closely as it allows them to gain additional insights on the patient, the doctors, the caregivers, the payers and all others stakeholders and subsequently offer better products and services that have a better impact.

MedCrunch: Type-II Diabetes is increasingly becoming a global phenomenon – smartphones as well. Are you aware of any companies that help diabetic patients through technology, specifically mobile technology?

Yes, you can find companies which have begun using the smartphone technology to provide a new customer experience. We are just at the beginning and it looks like the first experiments have highlighted quite some difficulties, warning letters had to be issued and products had to be removed from the market. The real challenge is that here we are not just talking about “another app” with a nice interface. To manage diabetes, the patient has to rely on accurate data that is absolutely trustworthy. If a glitch, a crash, or an inaccuracy happens, this could cause a patient to wrongly dose insulin with devastating consequences. It is just a matter of time before the newest technology will provide this security, but we are not there yet.

MedCrunch: Pharmas are mostly very structured, regulated and heavy behemoths. Why can’t they be more agile, disruptive or innovative – especially in terms of marketing?

Very simply: selling pharmaceuticals or medical devices is not like selling mobile phones or a shampoo. Use and misuse have a direct impact on a patient’s health. This is why this market is so regulated and every single claim has to be substantiated scientifically. It is in the interest of all of us, as all of us sooner or later need drugs.

MedCrunch: Mr. Amrein, thank you very much for this interview.


Andreas Amrein

Andreas Amrein leads the Abbott Diabetes Care Division in Asia Pacific covering Japan, China, India, Australia, South Korea and all SE Asian countries based out of Singapore.
Previously he had been working with Novartis for 11 years with a track record in Marketing and Sales, Business Development, Finance, Strategy and leading complex projects in both Western and Asia Pacific markets.

He is a physicist (ETH Zürich) and MBA (INSEAD) who started his career in banking and then leveraged his experience by coordinating the Novartis Group strategic planning process, building up the Asia Pacific Strategic Planning function covering 14 countries, and developing corporate-wide M&A procedures and business valuation models that have been used in 150 acquisition projects within 2 years.

His marketing and sales experience includes heading the Marketing & Sales Operations of China supporting commercial operations with sales of USD 430m and of close to 2,000 FTE, a BU with USD 230m sales in Germany and the primary care organization including the supporting functions in Indonesia with a team of 190 FTE during a reorganization process. Through his different roles at corporate, regional and CPO level, Andreas has solid experience in leading teams to expand, restructure, upgrade and evaluate businesses operations.

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