A portrait photograph of Johannes Galantsanos
It’s our duty to bend the curve of life for as many patients as possible.

Johannes Galatsanos

Johannes Galatsanos is Head of Data for Digital Core Transformation at Novartis, supporting the company to be at the forefront of Data & Digital in the pharmaceutical industry. Until recently, he acted as Global Head of Product Lifecycle Management & Change Control, governing all lifecycle events of the global medicinal portfolio of Novartis. With a strong technical background in Data, Artificial Intelligence and Product Governance in regulated environments, Johannes Galatsanos gained broad industry experience in several consulting roles before joining Novartis in 2018. He holds a degree from Goethe University where he specialized in Artificial Intelligence.

7 minute read
05 March 2021

Related topic COVID-19 Purpose Health
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As coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, politics and corporate agendas, a new normal is beginning to take shape. EY asked various thought leaders and decision makers to take stock and share their insights into what’s next. Through this interview, Johannes Galatsanos, Head of Data for Digital Core Transformation at Novartis, discusses the nature of uncertainty in the pharmaceutical industry and why the current spotlight on health is an opportunity to build trust within society.
How did COVID-19 first affect your business, and how does it affect you now?

COVID-19 has had a huge impact for all of us. Luckily, research and manufacturing of medicines are still considered essential – arguably even more so than before the pandemic.

At the start of the crisis there was a lot of uncertainty in many regards – we worried for our health, our loved ones. But there were also questions around how to continue supplying life-saving medicines to our patients. During the first wave, the challenge was adapting and keeping the manufacturing sites running, starting with “simple” things like getting enough disinfectant and masks. At the same time, our supply chains were operating in a hugely restricted environment that was changing daily around the globe.

Today we’re focusing on resilient and lean operations, and ensuring a strong pipeline to address current and future needs of patients across therapeutic areas. In terms of daily business, Novartis adopted a “home office for life” policy, which allows all office-based employees to work remotely permanently without manager approval. This is a significant experimental step and we’re gathering experience and data on what the long-term effects of this policy is, but believe the trust we place in our people will make life easier and more flexible for everyone.

How do you cope with uncertainty?

I think the pharmaceutical business is inherently uncertain. Only a small portion of early R&D will ever make its way to market, significant investment is necessary and there’s never a guarantee of success. We’ve had to learn to live with uncertainty in all business areas. But we can use risk management. For example, even before COVID we’d been mitigating supply chain risks by having alternative suppliers at multiple locations, and a diversified global footprint so as not to be too dependent on specific countries and local situations. Our Risk Management & Business Continuity team has taken lessons learned from COVID-19 to further enhance our existing processes.

The pharmaceutical business is inherently uncertain. Only a small portion of early R&D will make its way to market.
Johannes Galatsanos
Head of Data for Digital Core Transformation at Novartis
What does social responsibility look like for you in this crisis?

As a major pharmaceutical company, it’s our duty to bend the curve of life for as many patients as possible, especially also for those who don’t have access to the full spectrum of the modern pharmaceutical portfolio. We pledged early in the crisis not make any COVID-related cost increases in our generics portfolio, and not to have any COVID-related rationalizations. Our CEO is also partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation on accelerating the development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19. Last but not least, we recently partnered with several companies in developing innovative COVID therapies in various stages of development.

Within our organization, we also made sure that we kept addressing important social wellbeing aspects beyond the crisis. So that’s things like diversity – we support pride month and a recent transgender awareness week – but also openly showing leadership support for social issues like Black Lives Matter.

Besides keeping your people healthy, how are you supporting the mental health and wellbeing of your workers?

Novartis had an organized emergency response team, which helped immediately and has also enabled us to respond beyond the immediate crisis. We focused on a couple of different support programs during the pandemic. When schools closed, for example, we offered extra vacation days and flexible plans for parents of young children. We also realized how important it was to have regular online – and when the situation allowed offline – informal meetings within teams. We checked in with people more than before through virtual coffees, team meetings, even virtual exercises. We got creative about how to build up a rapport. We also encouraged employees to keep a healthy work routine tailored to their individual needs, and, of course, to still take vacation.

Is resilience something you have, or something you can learn?

You can certainly build resilience by being prepared and navigating each crisis as best you can. However, a business’s resilience is also situational to the nature of the crisis. With this coronavirus crisis, airlines have naturally struggled to be resilient against a backdrop of frozen mobility and an airborne pathogen. On the other hand, a blue-chip pharmaceutical company is well-equipped for a health crisis and can develop even more resilience in favorable conditions.

You can certainly build resilience – but resilience is also situational.
Johannes Galatsanos
Head of Data for Digital Core Transformation at Novartis
Is the crisis an opportunity or a threat for your industry?

The current spotlight on health is an opportunity to build trust within society that we as an industry are here to help people and patients through any health crisis. The crisis is a major catalyst today for digital services and healthcare as a whole and I hope that we’ll see faster and more digital approval processes in the future. All partners, healthcare providers and patients will benefit from a more digital ecosystem.

In terms of threats, it’s vitally important that we don’t neglect other diseases like cancer as COVID-19 overshadows regular healthcare including screening. Another bigger risk is potential of negative fallout from COVID vaccines and treatments. What if there are distribution fights, unknown side-effects or poor communication? This could impair societal trust in vaccines and the pharmaceutical industry in general. We’re witnessing a huge moment for the industry, and all eyes are on us. This is an added challenge for everyone who’s been working tirelessly to help us get out of this crisis.

The crisis is a major catalyst today for digital services and healthcare as a whole.
Johannes Galatsanos
Head of Data for Digital Core Transformation at Novartis
They say that every crisis is an opportunity – how does that apply to this one?

I started my career in consulting, so my bread and butter was mitigating crises and identifying potential for improvement in those situations. This has shaped me as a person – I’m always looking for the positive. But the pharmaceutical industry itself has been shaped time and time again during a crisis. We have come a long way from drug development and manufacturing from the early 20th century to today, and crises played a significant role in this. The digital transformation and accelerated approval process we’re seeing now could become the new normal in the pharmaceutical industry of the future.

What lessons will you take from this crisis to help you in any future crisis?

In the future, even if things seem very dire at first, I’ll have more confidence that we will find a way to adapt and come out stronger. We’ve seen that trusting employees pays off – our people will go more than the extra mile to make a positive impact on patients and consumers, no matter how bad things get. It’s taught me to see the glass half full a bit more!

If your video conference tool had a “time machine” feature, what would you tell your 2019 self?

Buy Zoom stocks and stock up on disinfectant!

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