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AstraZeneca President talks about i2.JP current situation and future vision!

Interview with the Top management of AstraZeneca Japan to identify key challenges faced by the healthcare industry, and his Vision for “i2.JP” co-creation forum

The i2.JP “Innovation Infusion Japan” is a healthcare innovation engine to realize "patient-centric" business models. The Japanese arm of global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca launched this open community in November last year based on their belief that "there must be much more we can do beyond drug discovery”. Celebrating its 1st anniversary, i2.JP has expanded to 128 members, and it continues to grow in size with many more potential members.

The i2.JP aims to realize "patient-centric" business models. It has attracted a broad range of members who share the same vision, including startups, academia, public sector, pharmaceutical companies, venture capitals and insurance companies.Over 50 business matchings took place out of this community and several PoC cases were already performed to achieve actual implementation in society.

TOMORUBA is running a series of articles featuring i2.JP titled "Challenges to Healthcare Innovation". In its 4th edition, we are joined by Stefan Woxström, President of AstraZeneca K.K. The top management executive versed with global healthcare markets, speaks about the company’s vision, where i2.JP is right now and it is heading for, and how he sees key challenges and trends in the healthcare in Japan and internationally.

Key healthcare challenges we need to address in Japan and global

――First of all, please share with us your background.

I have been with AstraZeneca for about 25 years. During that time, I have worked in many countries around the world. I believe my main responsibility is to go into the markets and inspire innovation. I took the role of heading AZ’s business in Japan four years ago, and I have constantly challenged myself to take Japan to a new level. I am committed to transforming the mindset of our employees to be more future-oriented, while at the same time driving business growth in Japan.

――How do you see the Japanese healthcare system, based on your previous experience of driving business in many markets?

I believe that Japan has built an excellent healthcare system, which is generous to patients. It is a system to provide patients with relatively easy access to specialists across the country. However, the future is not without challenges. Japanese demographics are changing. I think we are approaching to the time when our healthcare system needs to adapt to the changes in its demography. The question is, how we can support this challenge? We would like to find solutions to these challenges together.

――A dynamic shift is taking place in the global healthcare market. Is there any trend or issues you specifically focus?

The healthcare today is under big pressure. I think we need to think more carefully about resilience, the ability to recover from a crisis. And we must see this from a completely different angle than we did before. The current pandemic taught us that healthcare systems in many countries were strong enough, and its vulnerability has been unveiled. Japan is not an exception to this.

As we look into the future, we need to make more resilient healthcare system. We should be prepared for another pandemic. To achieve this, more drastic changes will become necessary. It is not only pandemic that affects us. Natural disasters are happening from time to time – these are typhoons and earthquakes in Japan. I believe that we need to develop the healthcare system which can demonstrate resilience at the time of contingency including natural disasters.

――You mean more robust healthcare system capable of responding to pandemics and natural disasters?

Yes. In addition, as I mentioned it earlier, the population mix is gradually changing. The same is true for other developed nations. The change is slow, so it doesn't get much attentions in many countries. However, Japan's birthrate is steadily falling with fewer number of children. On top of it, the life expectancy in Japan is one of the world’s top level. Thus, the country continues to get grayer, and the trend will remain.

When I came to Japan in 2018, about 28% of the Japanese total population were above 65 years old according to some statistics. 60% of the country’s healthcare spending is consumed by the elderly, aged 65 years old and above. As the number of the elderly population is increasing, this cause a significant challenge in this country. That is, ‘How can we increase resilience against pandemics and natural disasters” and “How can we respond to the changes in demography” are the key challenges facing Japan and the world right now.

――I see.

But it’s not only a bad news. A variety of technologies are emerging. 5G and IoT are getting more widely spread, and amazing digital technologies like AI and machine learning are being developed. These technologies support fast data analysis. We see this as an opportunity. So, how can we combine these opportunities to address the challenges, is very important.

――How can we successfully combine the "challenges facing the healthcare system" with "digital solutions" at this timing?

After all, "collaboration" is the key. AstraZeneca seeks partnerships to solve healthcare challenges.

The No.1 pioneer in transforming the lives of Japanese patients through innovation

――Next, I would like to hear about the direction and vision of AstraZeneca Japan.

AstraZeneca Japan sets the vision to be "the No.1 pioneer transforming the lives of Japanese patients through innovation". There are several aspects of this vision. First, what we mean by being the No.1 pioneer. By definition, a pioneer means someone who is the first to initiate something new and being the first. I also believe that a pioneer needs to be a risk-taker. Obviously, it's a calculated risk, but it's the risk that must be taken. Because, value will be created in taking the risks. And there are, in my view, two ways to create value.

――Two ways?

Yes. One way is to take a risk to deliver a successful project. If you succeed, you will get a first-mover advantage, which naturally creates value. The other way is to learn from a project even if it ends in failure.The learning creates a value. In other words, whether you succeed or fail, whichever of the ways you go, there is a value in it.

But what if you become a follower instead of a pioneer? There is no first-mover advantage, no opportunity to make mistakes, and therefore there will be no opportunity to learn. If you are a follower, the value will become zero. Therefore, I encourage everyone in the company to be brave and make the first move. We are trying to penetrate this mindset throughout the company.

――I see.

And all this is about is to improve the lives of patients. We want to help patients through innovation. We want to provide new solutions that no one has ever tried before. The three components of our vision are, “Focus on solving pain points of patients”, “be the pioneer”, “try to develop new solutions”. This is our vision and belief at AstraZeneca Japan.

Status of i2.JP - Various projects are undertaken by diverse members

――Based on the vision, i2.JP was launched in November 2020. How do you see the progress and i2.JP approaching to its 1st anniversary?

I believe i2.JP is moving in the right direction. What I think particularly impressive is that many players want to join this network and the forum is growing organically. Besides, the members of i2.JP are very diverse. In order to solve challenges patients are facing, we need to have different perspective and think about the challenges from different angles. That's why I think it's great that diverse members have gathered here in i2.JP.

Also, i2.JP aims to be an open innovation forum for its members. They do not necessarily work with AstraZeneca, instead they can collaborate among themselves. It is not mandatory to put AstraZeneca in the middle. Because of this nature, I believe many exchanges and collaborations can happen in the forum. I think we've been very successful in this regard as well.

――How many projects are in the progress at i2.JP now? Are there any projects you specifically are closely following?

Currently, there are approximately 20 projects under discussions between AstraZeneca and i2.JP partners. In parallel, some of i2.JP partners are connected to have about 30 ongoing projects without the involvement of AZ. Some of them are already delivered to patients as part of its PoC study.

One of the projects that I am particularly interested in is the one for severe asthma patients. AstraZeneca, with our partners, is developing a solution that enables direct patient communications. It helps patients to overcome their challenges so that they can stay on therapy without a break. We also provide asthma education about avoiding factors that may worsen their conditions.

――Is there any finding through interactions with i2.JP members?

Initially, I anticipated that it would be startups who would get excited when we launched i2.JP. My assumption was that startups would be most involved in driving innovations with us. That was right, and also wrong. Just like startups, we found big companies share the same, strong passions, curiosity, and entrepreneurial mindsets. I learned from our i2.JP initiative that there was no difference between startups, medium-sized and large companies when it comes to the level of energy for innovation. This is great and bit surprising. At the same time, I was really inspired.

In addition, many non-healthcare companies and organizations participated in i2.JP. Even companies who are not involved in healthcare are interested in discussing "How can we develop solutions for patients.” This was also unexpected for me. Furthermore, the speed is very fast, regardless of the size of company. So, what is left is combination. I expect that the fusion of large companies with sufficient funding, small companies and startups will create new solutions at a very fast pace.

――We understand that i2.JP was the 16th innovation hub in AZ globally. Are exchange and collaborations taking place with innovation hubs overseas?

Yes, we're making progress. AstraZeneca has built a global network of over 20 innovation hubs in the world. On the other hand, approach in each of AstraZeneca's innovation hubs can be different depending on the country. For example, some countries own their physical collaboration hubs, while others do only virtual activities. But we are aligned by putting patients first. We also follow the same approach of collaborating with external partners.

There are also interactions between the hubs. It is good to have exchange with peers outside Japan, because solutions and innovations can go beyond the borders. Valuable solutions for patients in Japan may also benefit patients overseas. That's a win for the patients. There is also a win for the business. You can find partners from all over the world, which expand your options. In addition, innovations born in Japan can spread overseas. That’s why we would like to increase interactions and exchange between our hubs in the future.

――Have you seen any change in the mindset of employees through these activities?

Yes, the mindset of our employees is shifting. This is about the mindset to support “we can take risks”, and “we can try new things”. I believe these are the core of driving innovation. Being the size we are, i.e. employing 3,000 employees, it is also true that we have high hurdles to change the mindset of all employees. Still, I think all employees started to positively think about “taking good risks”.

When this mindset penetrates in the entire organization, I am sure that innovation will be driven in all departments. All departments including the HR, finance, marketing, and sales, can implement innovations of big and small sizes. If we add up all of them, we will be able to achieve innovation of an enormous scale. As a result, we can solve more problems, which will become our competitive edge. I say this because it takes a considerable amount of time to build an organizational culture that embraces new challenges, and it cannot be easily copied.

Future of i2.JP - Becoming the most productive innovation hub

――What are your expectations for i2.JP?

I believe the value of i2.JP lies in its outcome, not its scale. The outcome means “what kind of solutions we have developed for patients”. That is the absolute, only value of i2.JP. Obviously, you need a certain scale to deliver the results. But the most important thing is the final outcome, not the scale. We can be successful only when we can deliver the outcome to patients. So, my expectation for i2.JP is to become the most active and productive open innovation hub, generating the largest output.

As I mentioned earlier, various projects have started both inside and outside AstraZeneca. Some projects which benefit patients are happening, so we’ve made a great start. In the future, it is important to expand and accelerate this initiative to deliver more solutions to patients.

―― It is true that many co-creation projects are not successful in the end. What is key to achieve successful open innovation?

The key is to clearly identify pain points. What is the need here? It is often the case that we see very innovative solutions focus too much on the solutions itself, and not enough focus on the pain points. Unless the pain points we want to solve are clarified, it could direct us in the wrong direction. Then, we need to start it over again. Therefore, we should first clarify what are the pain points we need to address. It's often the case that that was not clear.

Then, the question is also about funding. Startups, in particular, don't have extravagant funds. Some projects may stall due to lack of funding. In that sense, i2.JP is the perfect place to be. Its members include venture capitals and large corporations with sufficient funds. In here, you may have an opportunity to access to necessary funding.

――In closing, please send a message to companies and organizations that are considering to join i2.JP.

We welcome companies and organizations at our i2.JP who agree on the three things: First, patient centricity. We welcome companies and organizations who desire to collaborate in order to solve patients’ issues together. Second, collaborations and solutions are borderless. This means that you will gain a global perspective. Third is agility. We want to move projects as quickly as possible. If you are in a company or an organization who also share these views, we are very happy to have you all in the i2.JP. Let's explore opportunities together. You have nothing to lose. You can only win.

Postscript

i2.JP is celebrating its first anniversary. It has grown into a large ecosystem with more than 128 partner companies and organizations. However, its priority is not chasing its scale. As discussed in the interview, the focus is placed on delivering the outcome. Mr. Woxström shared a powerful statement that delivering outcome is “only absolute value that i2.JP has to create”. What solutions are going to be developed out of i2.JP, and how are these implemented in society? And how will these solutions solve patients’ issues? We would like to keep track, and update you on those. If you are interested in working together to realize patient centricity, please contact here, AZ’s i2.JP page.
(Edited by Yukitake Sanada, Written by Wakako Hayashi)

カニッシュ・トーステン(Torsten Kanisch)
Mr. Stefan Woxström
President, AstraZeneca K.K.

Joined AstraZeneca in Sweden as a sales representative in 1996. After taking key positions in Sales and Marketing, he moved to join the team in Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa (CEEMEA). As a Business Director, he established the oncology business unit and led a significant growth in the region. Also served as president of AstraZeneca Turkey; Ukraine/Central Asia/Caucasus; and Nordic and Baltic clusters. He has been on the incumbent position since January 2018.

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