Five years on from Pfizer selling Discovery Park, the site’s current chief executive Toby Hunter tells PharmaTimes about the plans for its future

What is your vision for Bayer UK & Ireland?

It’s about continuously growing the contribution to health and society, and what I mean by that is going far beyond the pill. Traditional pharma business has been to provide the pill, but we go far beyond that.

We partner with society on many levels: our health partnerships in the NHS; with various charities across the country; R&D with universities; partnerships in medicine, agriculture and animal health - we span the whole life sciences. Most recently, earlier this year Bayer UK also launched its first UK BayLab, a purpose-built state of the art laboratory that provides free science education covering the UK national curriculum for school children. Children and teachers from across the UK come to Baylab and experience what science really means. They go home excited about science, many changing their minds about what science is, what it means to them and their understanding of the possibilities science can bring. We’ve had so much feedback from pupils saying that this is completely fascinating and that for the first time, they understand what science can be – it really does change their perspective.

What does your day-to-day work involve?

There’s a lot to be honest! My work is incredibly varied, and my first weeks have been fantastic. It’s a warm, open business, and it feels like I’ve now been there all along, but for a typical day it’s probably best to describe my last week: I’ve had a full day of meetings with doctors in North London, an all-day review of our operational business plans for 2018, I also undertook UK driver training (being new this is a must), attended a board meeting of Bayer CropScience in Cambridge, and, after this very interview, we will go through our staff development plans, which is actually the most important task this week because it is our people who make us successful and valuable to society. And then I will attend a management meeting in Berlin. There’s lots of variety, lots of hats and a very fast pace, all of which is incredibly rewarding and exciting for me.

Is the modern pharma business model very different from that seen a decade ago?

I really believe so, and I think that Bayer is at the forefront of leading that. The way we live the model now is to enable doctors and the system to fully understand the medical options that are available, and then apply them in the best possible way for patients. I mentioned we are engaged in partnerships with the NHS, in fact the most recent one we opened is the new Mobile Medical Retina Unit launched at Southampton University Hospital. This offers patients living in Hampshire and the South Coast flexible and convenient access to essential treatment, expanding and improving access to care for people living with a leading cause of vision loss – age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

We have numerous other interesting collaborations and hugely successful projects with the NHS, some of which are award-winning. For example we are providing advice on patient flow in ophthalmology practices; this has resulted in an increase in the national capacity for injections into the eye by 10,000 injections – a huge, significant contribution that has changed the way we work and the way the system can deliver medicine.

Bayer is involved in several NHS joint-working projects across the UK – do you believe in this approach?

Absolutely. You only have to look at our partnerships in the NHS to see their value. I think it’s a necessary thing at this stage. It gets us on the right kind of dialogue, we talk together about how to make sure that the right things happen for patients, and that beyond a drug’s availability, we have the right structure and the right people in place. It’s much more of a partnership dialogue. The product is at the centre of the value proposition, and now we enhance the value proposition further by also talking about how it can best be delivered, how it can best get to the patient. So we will definitely continue on that path.

What are the key advantages/disadvantages of linking so closely with the NHS and local communities from pharma’s point of view?

I see a lot of advantages, in particular that the quality of the dialogue we have is enhanced and it’s a real partnership approach, it’s a win-win-win – for the patients, the healthcare system and for us.

I’m finding it difficult to find the disadvantages. It is a significant investment, commitment and engagement from our side, and this all has impact on our costs, which we can’t always be sure of beforehand. Apart from that, it’s a very positive approach. It’s a really good opportunity to show to society and the broader audience that pharma is recognised as a partner by the NHS, and that our contribution is more about the investment we make through the competence and capability of the people we bring. It’s also a huge responsibility to get it right and something that we will continuously work hard at.

The UK is now the third largest Bayer market in Europe – do you think Brexit poses a challenge to this ranking?

Brexit certainly doesn’t make our lives any easier. We know change is coming but we don’t know at this stage what they will look like. I think it will in particular present additional administrative burdens, and we will have to deal with it as needed. I‘m sure the British pragmatism will help a lot in getting it done and getting it right. I don’t think it will change the ranking of the UK on the Bayer country list, and I very much hope there will not be any negative impact on our supply of medicine to UK patients. That is paramount, and I am relieved that the government has laid out plans or at least the intention to focus on that area, which is vital.
At this stage, we don’t exactly know what anything will look like, so we are preparing for all eventualities. However I don’t think it will fundamentally change the dynamics but our focus on patients and access to medicines must be key.

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement in your career?

Creating a market access mindset across all value chain functions in global Bayer Pharma throughout the last five years. Our market access positions with our very successful launches of the last years, in particular Xarelto and EYLEA, are very strong and the truly enabling basis for Bayer’s recent growth up the ladder of leading pharma companies.

Quite a few years back, I made the then Schering AG China business dynamic and we became one of the two fastest growing multinational pharma companies in China. The other one was actually Bayer, with whom we merged in 2006. Since then we have had a very strong development in China.

What are your passions outside of work?

Hiking and sailing – so it is the outdoors! Beyond that history and politics has always been a firm favourite so being in the UK is a great place for all of this.

What keeps you awake at night?

Having spent a large proportion of my career in market access, I’ve seen a lot of models all over the world. Ensuring that patients do not miss out on access to life-changing medicines is something I feel very strongly about.

In this day and age, I find it hard to see and hear of examples of this every day. Patients out in the field who are not optimally anticoagulated and therefore at a stroke risk higher than necessary – everybody can relate to how devastating strokes are on one’s life and this could be prevented. Only last week I heard about the devastating effects on patients who may go blind because the capacity is lacking to inject medication that can help prevent unnecessary blindness. When there is the right treatment, it is incredibly hard to hear this.

I feel very passionate about access to medicines – the right medicines that can be game changers for so many. It is something I feel we all, as a healthcare industry, need to work hard on together to make an even bigger difference to people’s lives.
By the way: Brexit does not keep me up as night, however it is currently giving me very busy days.