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50 (145) 2021

Interviews

A sense of responsibility for the people’s lives and health during a pandemic

Wiktor Janicki, country president, AstraZeneca Pharma Poland, talks to the BPCC’s Michael Dembinski about the vital importance of R&D for the future of healthcare and Poland’s role in developing future therapies.
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AstraZeneca has been in Poland for 30 years – it was one of the founding members of the BPCC. Since then, it has expanded its activities from just selling medicines to becoming a major R&D site for AstraZeneca, employing in total over 2,300 people here. What factors led to Poland becoming such a good location for growth over that time?

The 30th anniversary of the company in Poland is a very important moment for us. These years of presence on the Polish market demonstrate the unique partnership between AstraZeneca and Poland, and a long shared history of spectacular growth. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved – the crucial one being the delivery of breakthrough therapies to Polish patients, a huge commitment, investment in R&D,  close collaboration with scientists – areas which for AstraZeneca are the core of its business.
The long and successful activity of AstraZeneca in Poland was and is still possible thanks to a favourable business and scientific environment, including the wide availability of highly qualified professionals, strategic geographical location and great cooperation with the public sector. At AstraZeneca, we always focus on teamwork. Therefore we see potential for public-private partnership which,  in my opinion, is crucial for solving challenges posed by the pandemic.
An excellent example of our commitment is the Warsaw Health Innovation Hub – a platform for cooperation with key stakeholders established in June by the Medical Research Agency. The purpose of this initiative is to support the Polish biotechnology sector and the healthcare system. AstraZeneca is one of the strategic partners of this project. We are convinced that together we can work on the solutions for the most serious challenges facing healthcare system.

As well as R&D, Poland is also the location for AstraZeneca's Finance, HR, and Procurement hubs for Europe. How important is Poland for AstraZeneca from the point of view of a global business?

As I mentioned, Poland is a strategic partner and market for AstraZeneca. Several years ago, while planning the strategic development of our company, we strongly focused on Poland. The year 2011 was a milestone for our company's activity in Poland in the R&D area. It was the moment when we opened an R&D centre in Warsaw – the key AstraZeneca R&D centre in the region, and one of six in the world. Today, after few years of our effort and hard work, I am pleased to say that this year, for the second time in a row, our company in Poland was awarded the status of an R&D centre by the Minister for Development and Technology.

Observing the development of our company over the years, I can also say that Poland has become an increasingly attractive market for business development and R&D, as well as an excellent labour market, full of highly qualified specialists. Over the last 22 years, we have increased employment almost twelve-fold – from 195 employees in 2000 to around 2,300 highly qualified and talented employees this year. It’s worth mentioning AstraZeneca has also decided to open a second office – in Krakow, where our employees focus on the latest computer systems used during clinical trials in the area of managing the trial process or collecting clinical data. This is another perfect example of how important Poland is for AstraZeneca.

The healthcare sector is highly dependent on knowledge and an educated workforce. Cooperation with universities is crucial in R&D, as is recruiting top talents. Please outline your strategy for developing your relationships with Poland's tertiary education system based on public-private partnerships.

Close cooperation with the scientific community – scientists, researchers, technology transfer centres or young biotech companies, start-ups are crucial for us. In 2019, we started strategic cooperation with the University of Warsaw; in the following months we signed the Agreement of Academic Centres Technology Transfer (PACTT). Together with the academic community, we are searching for projects and collaborations to further develop scientific discoveries.

Another great example of our commitment is global initiative – AZ Exchange Programme – which is our investment in building multi-level and multi-threaded cooperation with university centres and scientific institutions in Poland. This programme offers support, knowledge exchange and networking between the university community, biotechnology companies and business. As part of the Exchange Mentoring Programme, the company's experts from around the world offer their knowledge and experience to Polish universities and start-ups. The programme aims to explore the key problems faced by biotech start-ups and to expand cooperation between the biotech industry, academia and the public sector.

While thinking about the power and strength of science, it is also worth mentioning our initiative implemented in cooperation with the Nobel Foundation – the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative, addressed to students, doctoral students and young scientists who can meet Nobel Prize winners. We want the Nobel Prize winners' stories to be an inspiration for young generations, who have the potential to further science and discover breakthroughs. Inspiring young scientists, showing them opportunities and career paths, is extremely important to us. In Poland we have already had the opportunity to organise this event twice, gathering over 1,000 participants.

What is AstraZeneca doing in the war against climate change? What are your corporate targets, and how are you setting about reaching them? How green are your offices?

For AstraZeneca, environmental issues are crucial. These factors are becoming increasingly important to both consumers and the public side. Therefore, our company makes efforts to identify and minimise the impact of its activities and products on the environment, ranging from R&D, through the introduction of drugs to the market and their use and ending with waste management. AstraZeneca's flagship environmental initiative is the Ambition Zero Carbon programme, under which the company is committed to reducing its carbon footprint to zero by 2025 and achieving a negative carbon footprint along the entire value chain by 2030.

AstraZeneca's Warsaw office significantly contributes to the group's goals. 85% of our car fleet consists of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. By the end of 2021, it is planned to increase this to 100%. As part of the AstraZeneca Forest campaign, the group organises annual reforestation campaigns, implementing an ambitious plan to plant 50 million trees by 2025. In Poland, by 2019, a total of over 9,000 trees were planted and in 2020 and 2021, despite the pandemic, respectively, we planted 1,000 trees in gardens and estates and 3,000 trees in Bory Tucholskie. Since August 2020, the Warsaw headquarters of AstraZeneca uses certified energy obtained only from renewable sources, such as wind farms. The team also cares about biodiversity – since last year, there is a five-beehive apiary on the roof of the office building, in which nearly half a million bees produce pesticide-free city honey.

Are there any CSR programs in Poland that are unique to AstraZeneca that you are particularly proud of?

For three decades of our activity in Poland, we have been actively involved in many CSR initiatives and actions. We also organise many campaigns aimed at patients and their families, we actively supported the global and Polish community in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic not only by developing and delivering a vaccine, but also by supporting the medical community in providing tests for SARS-CoV-2 virus or personal protective equipment.
At AstraZeneca we are aware that, as a global pharmaceutical company, we have a responsibility to constantly explore innovative solutions to save patients' lives and health. For this reason, we decided to invest, among others into a strategic partnership to build a resilient and sustainable healthcare system. We strongly believe that through such partnerships we can develop solutions for the benefit of societies and patients.  Being focused on this goal, Poland as one of eight countries worldwide, taking part into a programme developed in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the London School of Economics (Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience - PHSSR). This programme aims to develop solutions that will help the world's health systems to be more resistant to shocks such as pandemics and to develop in a more sustainable and flexible manner. Now is a great time to consider, on the one hand, about how to make this system resilient to the challenges and enormous stresses of a pandemic, and on the other hand, to think about the sustainable development of this system, to optimally make it patient-centred.


Finally – AstraZeneca has become a household name during the pandemic as a leader in the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine. How is AstraZeneca seen in Poland today with how it was perceived before the pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic completely changed our lives, creating a reality with new challenges and approaches. It was certainly a special time for our company. This is the moment when we focused even more on our key value – the well-being of the patient.

It has been a priority for us to develop an effective vaccine against the virus that has paralysed the world and to give people a chance to return to normal, everyday life – we wanted to provide patients with additional vaccination options, give them a choice. We are extremely proud that together with the University of Oxford we achieved this goal so quickly. We also made an important decision during this time – in a sense of responsibility for the life and health of people during a pandemic, we deliver our vaccine at a cost, which means that the company does not make money on it. We are also aware that the world won't overcome a pandemic until we have adequate vaccination coverage around the world and equal access to prevention and prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 infection, that is why we are involved in initiatives like COVAX that bring vaccines to less developed countries.

Being aware of the enormous challenge posed by the pandemic, we have not stopped and we are continuing to develop therapies, solutions that could help us fight against Covid-19 and protect the patients' health and lives.

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