As the world’s population grows, so does the average human life expectancy: 1.5 billion people are expected to be of retirement age by 2050.
How are the world’s pharma companies responding to this?
Danish-born Henrik Wulff, Commercial Divisional Head Pharmaceuticals & Senior Bayer Representative at Bayer Middle East, has been with the 150 year old company for 22 years. After stints leading the company in different countries around Europe, today he is in Dubai, at the heart of Bayer's operations in the region.
Henrik says that an increase in an older population means an increase in certain disease areas: "When people get to 60, 65, it's typically when they start to develop cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic conditions. We also face the challenge of a population increase of about 30 percent over the next 25 years.”
Thanks to new technologies, however, the future disease profile of older people may look very different from today:
“With gene editing and stem cell therapies, we will go from treating diseases to curing diseases. When my grandchildren reach my age, I don't think we will have cancer any longer. Just in the last five years, we have seen the birth of immuno-oncology, which is already now curing. If you are a patient with the right genes, you'll get this drug and we have two examples from Saudi Arabia where we have cured two babies.”
Henrik is optimistic that major breakthroughs are a matter of months, rather than years, away: "Bayer has become one of the leaders in gene editing and stem cell therapy. We are working collaboratively with an ecosystem of startups and promising companies. For example, Blue Rock is in phase one in Parkinson, and the possibility of curing or restoring the brain function is there. Gene editing is not about one disease. It's about many diseases. When you master stem cell therapy and gene editing, that technology can be used across many diseases. It turns our research totally upside down.”
Henrik believes that we are on the cusp of truly transformative treatments for chronic diseases: "We are going from treatment to curing. I don't think it's far away. We will have a more healthy aging population, which offers a fascinating world with a lot of promise.”
The treatment of serious illnesses, then, could be set to change dramatically. But health outcomes will improve through consumer health approaches, as Mohamed Galal, Vice President & Head of Bayer Consumer Health Division at Bayer Middle East, explains: "Dispensing products over the counter [OTC] without prescription increases accessibility for consumers to improve their daily life. We’re talking about antacids, some skincare products, and nutrition.
Bayer has had a presence in the Middle East for more than 90 years. Thanks to developments in the OTC business, however, it has become the second highest growing region after Latin America.
Mohamed says: "Bayer is looking at how we can reach our consumers to improve their daily life with personalized health. We are not talking about diseases, so we can be available easily in each home and improve daily life for our consumers here in the Middle East.”
Again, technology is driving this trend - though rather than reaching cells within a body, technology is enabling Bayer to reach consumers with information. Mohamed explains: "Even before COVID, Bayer employed different digital platforms to reach our consumer with accessible scientific information. When talking about COVID, we needed short 15 or 30 second messages through different channels, which was very new for us.”
Taking a leaf from the FMCG playbook enabled Bayer to flip the conservative pharma business model.
“The main difference between FMCG and consumer health is the speed of action. Bayer is creating a new umbrella of consumer health, reaching healthcare professionals and consumers through platforms such as webinars where we talk about how consumers can improve their daily health. We see how we can invest differently to reach our consumer and give them the right products, proper information, and resources to increase their prophylaxis and improve their everyday health.”
Henrik Wulff and Mohamed Galal represent two ends of the spectrum for Bayer: consumer-targeted products for general health, alongside groundbreaking therapies deployed by the most skilled physicians. Mohamed believes that the health of our aging population will see huge positive change:
“We will be able to control some diseases early, improve the quality of life, and reduce costs to health institutions because the consumer will not need to meet healthcare professionals or undergo investigations.”
“We will have to reinvent ourselves,” says Wulff “but we are on the right track.”