As we look beyond COVID-19, Daniel Breitenstein, General Manager of Astellas Pharma Germany and Head of the DACH Region, shares how collaboration, trust and agility is key to success in this brave new world
Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a raft of unprecedented challenges. But it also revealed opportunities to embrace new ways of working; driving collaboration, digitisation and technological advancement at a pace never-before seen.
Without doubt, the pandemic has served to intensify pressures on health systems deepening nurse shortages and accelerating economisation of hospitals – on top of the existing demands caused by ageing populations and growing burden of chronic disease.1 As the needs of patients, physicians, policymakers and payers constantly evolve there is, understandably, demand for measurable results showing the true value of innovative science and medicines.
There has also been far greater scrutiny of global healthcare players, and rightly so. All of us working in healthcare have a duty and role to play in supporting health systems and ensuring that we are striving towards the same goal of better patient care outcomes. Collaboration and agility have been – and will continue to be – critical to ensuring people can access and benefit from innovative new healthcare solutions.
When the pandemic catapulted the economy and society into a ‘New Normal’, our corporate culture – a culture focused on togetherness – was really put to the test. This also extended to how we work with our customers. Open and frequent communication has been key to developing strategies that have allowed us to respond quickly and to navigate through the ‘New Normal’ we found ourselves in and we worked closely with employees and customers to adapt, learn and find solutions to their individual situations.
Here, in Germany, for example, we established taskforces from across the company to gather a variety of perspectives and rapidly identify new ways of working and collaboration to ensure we maintained connectivity with our customers in a virtual environment, while protecting everyone’s safety.
Throughout the pandemic, we were lucky to foster a genuinely positive culture with openness and trust at the heart; and it’s been critical to maintain this open approach at all levels. Now, nearly 2 years on, it’s clear that many of the changes are here to stay, including the opportunity to work from home and hosting fully virtual all-company events.
Shining a light on collaboration
While the pandemic threw up many challenges, it also served to shine a light on the depth of the collaborations and interconnectivity spanning the healthcare ecosystem. What has been key during this time has been the ability to listen and be an agile partner. Globally, we have been fortunate to support healthcare professionals, patient organisations and local communities, including maintaining a consistent supply of our essential medicines for patients during this crucial period.
Astellas teams around the world worked to rapidly understand the unique needs of their local markets and how to best respond, whether that was working directly with patients, doctors and health professionals on the front line or at a more bespoke level. In Germany, we provided support to conduct a study (Covid Kids Bavaria) investigating the spread of coronavirus in day care, elementary schools and nurseries / kindergartens, and the impact of the pandemic on children’s physical and mental health.
Even in the best-case scenario, we know the strain on global health systems will continue for years and we simply can’t risk falling back on traditional models. We are living in an age of scientific creativity and innovation, and it is critical that we continue to harness and propel these advancements.
Turning traditional models on their head
As part of this, we have created an innovation-focused organisation where employees are empowered to act entrepreneurially and where collaboration thrives. For us, this means turning the traditional model of medicines discovery on its head and, instead of starting with a narrow focus on one therapy area, we approach drug discovery, research and development from multiple perspectives. We then apply this focus to disease areas where there is high unmet need in under-served and serious diseases, and where we can deliver significant and meaningful value to patients with limited, or no, treatment options.
If you look at Astellas’ mid- to long-term pipeline, we have launched into cutting-edge areas such as cell and gene therapies through our acquisitions of Audentes Therapeutics, Mitobridge, Inc and most recently Dyno Therapeutics. These therapies may have the potential to transform patients’ lives in one or only a few treatments by addressing the root cause of the diseases rather than the symptoms. For me, our partnerships are key to innovation of the future, bringing together knowledge and expertise from multiple fields to develop the best health solutions for patients.
Alongside this science-first approach, our entire portfolio is guided by patients. From lab to clinic to individual, we take time to understand the real-life experiences, needs and behavioural drivers of care to achieve better outcomes. When you combine a science-driven purpose and a determination to make a difference for patients, the rest just comes together.
For example, in Germany, we launched the “Changing Tomorrow” podcast during the pandemic to explore the holistic needs of patients and their relatives in maintaining quality of life. We invited experts from various fields to discuss topics including psychotherapy following a cancer diagnosis, physiotherapy to reduce treatment side effects and the benefits of pain therapy. What all these topics have in common is that they speak to the need of collaboration between different specialists to really impact on quality of life.
Learn, adapt, collaborate and innovate
It’s incredibly motivating to play a part in developing new and innovative healthcare solutions that deliver measurable value for patients. However, looking beyond the pandemic a critical challenge we all face will be continuing to work closely with one another, right across the healthcare and technology ecosystems.
Those organisations that remain agile and able to adapt to the external environment, will be the ones who succeed. This means identifying the obstacles, learning fast, collaborating, and innovating in every aspect – and not just in the lab. Having the right corporate culture is integral to this.
Astellas has defined four “agile mindsets” that the company strives for: customer orientation, personal responsibility, cross-functional collaboration and innovation. An agile culture should benefit the sense of community among employees through collaboration, learning from each other’s experiences, exchanging ideas, trying new approaches and having the courage to make mistakes.
Our aspiration is to bring the best brains together, to provide them with world-leading capabilities and a unique structure that fosters real agility and entrepreneurial spirit. We can each make a tangible difference, working locally in the areas we know best, while drawing inspiration from new insights and expertise. This is a hugely exciting time to play a part on the global health stage and there has never been a better moment to bring about meaningful change to people’s lives.
About the Author
Daniel Breitenstein is General Manager at Astellas Pharma GmbH, Germany and Head of Astellas DACH (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). He combines a results-driven leadership style with a passion for building and maintaining an inspirational working environment that fosters high-performing teams. He is looking to further grow the DACH business by accelerating digitalisation and building an agile mindset among employees. The underlying intent is the creation of innovative solutions to deliver improved health outcomes for the patients we serve.
- Tarricone R, Rognoni C. What can health systems learn from COVID-19? Eur Heart J Suppl. 2020 Dec 23;22(Suppl Pt t):P4-P7. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7757711/. Last accessed February 2022