"Our multi-year collaboration with Microsoft combines the capabilities of our scientists with computational services, data and AI."
UCB is one of the largest European biopharma companies. How important is the Italian branch?
Italy is one of the top five European markets for UCB. Headquartered in Milan, UCB Italy hires 140 employees, while at the beginning of 2020, we were only 102 employees, having grown substantially this past year. This growth is underpinned by our ambitious plan to launch six new products in six years.
How is UCB’s therapeutic focus evolving?
UCB is focused on two main therapeutic areas: immunology and neurology. However, we are supporting an important continuous growth campaign through expansions. For instance, we are investing on the PSO (psoriasis) dermatological space through a new extremely promising molecule. For osteoporosis, we are also bringing to the market an injectable able to finally provide some innovation in this area after years. Also, UCB is complementing the portfolio of chemical drugs with new therapies, including gene therapy. As an example, in the neuro-inflammation field, we take a special interest in myasthenia gravis, a rare neurological disease.
UCB and Microsoft entered a collaboration to accelerate drug discovery and development. How do you see the importance of AI in pipeline development?
Our multi-year collaboration with Microsoft combines the capabilities of our scientists with computational services, data, and AI. AI can manage and corroborate huge data volumes, especially coming from clinical trials, which speeds up the discovery process. Secondly, AI enables much closer customization to factors such as gender, a key element in developing precision medicine.
UCB uses telemedicine to connect with epilepsy patients. How is digitalization shaping patient-doctor-pharma interactions?
UCB has a strong legacy in the epilepsy market, and I strongly believe in the possibilities that digital can bring. Both the Italian government and the EU are also prioritizing this aspect of healthcare: an important focus of the 20 billion euros PNRR (Italy’s recovery fund) in reshaping healthcare will be that of telemedicine with the goal that the medical needs of over 10% of the over 65 years’ old can be attended through telemedicine by 2026. As a company, we don’t only support this broader plan, but we also support an app for care, seeking to empower patients to register symptoms - just like they would in a diary - and to connect within a consultation. The first part of any doctor visit is filled with administrative tasks, so by registering drug history or symptomatology through the app, the consultation time can be more effectively spent. The pandemic is a chance to design a better normal rather than a new normal, and digitalization is surely part of this.
What is UCB’s approach to sustainability? How are your climate efforts translated at a local level?
Globally, UCB invests about 30% of our turnover back in R&D, in the hope we can impact society by answering unmet medical needs. In terms of climate actions, we have very clear, science-based targets for the next decade, against a 2020 benchmark: to reach carbon neutrality, to reduce water consumption by 30%, and to curb pollution by 25%, all by 2030.
Italy has one of the world’s oldest populations. How does this impact the focus of the industry?
Italy is a very interesting ecosystem for what’s been named “the silver economy.” With the world’s second-largest share of people aged 65 and over (after Japan), prevention will be critical to ensure continued wellbeing, but also the country’s budgetary sustainability. In the long-term, a higher geriatric percentage puts increased pressure on the economy, but also on healthcare, especially in a public healthcare model. More focus on prevention, healthy lifestyles, and potentially curing therapies like gene therapy will be fundamental.
What are your main priorities in the medium term, and what is your message to our audience?
UCB has three key priorities: The first one is to become the preferred biopharma company in Italy through our patient-centric services via a concept of connected healthcare: We seek to put patients at the same decision table with other stakeholders for decisions regarding their therapies. Secondly, we want to stand out as an innovative and digital player. Finally, UCB wants to be known for its sustainability efforts. To be successful in the future, we need three key characteristics: resilience as a team, agility (and moving fast with the market), and diversity to embrace different perspectives.