This year, our industry has been working around the clock to combat the COVID-19 virus, including developing effective therapeutics to treat COVID-19 and vaccines to prevent future infections.
I had the opportunity to connect with Kabir K. Nath, President & CEO of Otsuka North America Pharmaceutical Business, about the company’s efforts to address COVID-19.
Stephen Ubl (SU): Kabir, Otsuka has long been heavily involved and invested in the neuroscience space. Recently, you’ve warned about a potential second crisis we will face coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic – a mental health crisis. Can you speak a bit about that and what your company is doing to stem that tide?
Kabir Nath (KN): As a health solutions company in the mental health space, we are acutely aware of the impact of this pandemic on the mental health of people around the world. The continued uncertainty, disruption to routine, concern about health risks and economic toll induce psychological stress and trauma which can trigger mental health episodes. While more attention is being given to mental health than ever before, there are still exceptional challenges awaiting us for which it will be critical to prepare. We are seeing a measurable uptick in reported mental illness and suicide.
This is an opportunity for all of us – especially healthcare industry leaders — to implement practices that provide sustainable support for mental resiliency. In the near-term, we must ensure our basic mental health needs are being met. Prioritizing awareness and access to behavioral health experts — via hotlines or telemedicine services — is needed. Over time, it will be critical for us to brace for the coming onslaught of mental health illnesses. Offering broader access to screenings and continued scaling of services offered via telemedicine, alongside federal and state financial support will be imperative to prepare us for what lies ahead. There may not be a return to “normal” life before COVID-19, but we must seize the opportunity to recognize this coming crisis so the most vulnerable among us may be offered a better version of mental health care than available today.
SU: You’re also working to make sure your own employees are focusing on their own wellbeing as they deal with the anxiety, isolation and stress that comes from this pandemic. What changes have you made at Otsuka to help your employees through this difficult time?
KN: At Otsuka, our purpose – we defy limitation, so that others can too – is a thread that runs through our organization. It has allowed our organization to navigate this pandemic with courage, perseverance, and resilience. Our mission to improve mental health worldwide begins with ourselves; empowering our employees towards mental wellness is just a part of what makes us Otsuka.
To support our people as they faced the exceptional challenges brought on by COVID-19, numerous support tools and access to resources were made available for free to all employees, promoting and prioritizing their emotional wellness. At an organizational level, the entire executive leadership team has been unwavering in its dedication to prioritizing work/life balance for all employees. We recognize our Otsuka-people are juggling expanded responsibilities while working from home — supporting children in virtual schooling or caring for high risk family — while maintaining their own wellbeing. To support our employees’ mental health, we developed and launched value-added programs, such as:
- Mental health and well-being assistance, including expanded healthcare coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment and support services via our Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
- Digital well-being program which includes mindfulness resources.
- Care@Work program to help employees find caregivers for members of their family including children, parents/grandparents and pets.
- Virtual mindfulness and yoga sessions to assist in maintaining physical wellness
SU: That internal focus is such an important – and often overlooked – aspect of leadership. One other key area that you’ve really led the charge on is the industry’s response to treatment and access throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you speak about Otsuka’s commitment to equity and to ensuring all patients are able to get the treatments they need?
Beyond these measures, we have a fundamental belief of equity in business, which is more relevant in these times than ever. As part of this commitment, we have numerous corporate initiatives to help underserved communities in the therapeutic areas we serve gain access to treatment. Our goal is to bring equity to minority communities that are historically underrepresented and underserved by the healthcare system.
We believe these comprehensive efforts not only improve patient care and wellbeing now and in a post-pandemic world, but also reinforce our corporate purpose to defy limitation, so that others can too.
As always, you can stay up-to-date with the work the biopharmaceutical industry is doing to combat COVID-19 here.
Stephen J. Ubl Stephen J. Ubl is president and chief executive officer of PhRMA. Mr. Ubl leads PhRMA’s work preserving and strengthening a health care and economic environment that encourages medical innovation, new drug discovery and access to life-saving medicines. Ubl is recognized around the world as a leading health care advocate and policy expert who collaborates successfully with diverse stakeholder groups – including patient and physician groups, regulators, public and private payers, and global trade organizations – to help ensure timely patient access to innovative treatments and cures.