'He was respected, liked and just a thoroughly decent person, who will be missed'

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The Australian pharmaceutical industry has lost one of its most respected and influential leaders with the passing of former MSD managing director and Medicines Australia chair Will Delaat.

Mr Delaat passed away earlier this week after a long battle with cancer.

He led MSD Australia for 11 years from 1997 to 2008 and served on the board of Medicines Australia from 1998 until 2012. He twice served as the association's chair - from 2003 to 2005 and then as its independent chair from 2008 to 2012.

Mr Delaat was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2012 for services to the pharmaceutical industry, the development of health policy and reform, and the community. He served as a non-executive director on a number of boards, including the Australian pharmaceutical company Pharmaxis.

Pharmaxis chair Malcolm McComas and CEO Gary Phillips paid tribute to Mr Delaat.

"Will made a highly significant contribution to the medicines and biopharma sectors over his long and distinguished 40-year career. His deep knowledge and thoughtful leadership encouraged innovation and medicine access and his work has undoubtedly contributed to the better health of countless patients both here and overseas," they said.

"Pharmaxis was fortunate to benefit from Will’s experience as a global pharmaceutical industry executive. He served for 14 years on the Pharmaxis Board, fulfilling a key role in the company’s evolution including assisting with the international approval and marketing of two innovative respiratory products discovered in Australia, and helping to steer the company’s drug discovery and clinical work in fibrosis and inflammation.

"Will was a fine example of an executive who treated others with respect. In turn, he was held in high regard and affection. He will have a lasting legacy and will be sadly missed.

"He will be remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of the Australian pharmaceutical industry having made a major contribution during a period of significant strategic change."

Mr Delaat has been remembered as a leader who earned the respect and admiration of senior decision-makers across the private and public sectors.

He was a major driver of the industry's contribution to the negotiation of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement that saw changes to the PBS evaluation and listing process that remain a feature of decision-making today.

He was a key figure in arguably the most important reform in the history of the PBS, namely the allocation of reimbursed medicines to formularies based largely on patent status. This change unlocked significant savings for the government, in the form of lower prices for generic medicines, but broke the pricing link between patented and off-patent medicines.

Mr Delaat chaired Medicines Australia during the negotiation of its first-ever formal agreement with the federal government - the 2010 Memorandum of Understanding.

He was also a major contributor to industry policy through forums like the ministerial 'Pharmaceutical Industry Working Group'.

"He actually was absolutely crucial to creating a much better relationship with the policy-makers," said Professor Jane Halton AO PSM, whose leadership of the Department of Health coincided with Mr Delaat's leadership of MSD and Medicines Australia.

"He was able to credibly communicate the commercial issues impacting companies but also respected and understood the policy and Budget issues confronting ministers and their departments.

"Will also demonstrated a real preparedness to do the work and this led to an important era of reaching productive agreements that ultimately benefited patients. He was a real negotiator who believed in win-wins. He was respected, liked and just a thoroughly decent person, who will be missed," added Professor Halton.

Dr Brendaw Shaw of Shawview consulting, who served as the chief executive of Medicines Australia during Mr Delaat's chairmanship of the association, said, "Will was a great leader, role model and friend. He had a unique ability to lead with grace, bring people together and all the while do it with a laugh and a joke. He was one of those leaders who could inspire people to work together and it was a privilege to work with him. Many improvements in Australia's health, government and business sectors we enjoy today are due to Will's efforts. He will be missed."

Medicines Australia chief executive Liz de Somer said, "Will Delaat was on the Board and then Chair of Medicines Australia when I joined the association in 2008 and continued to provide advice to the industry ever since. Personally, I found that Will was not only a kind and thoughtful leader, but he was also immensely generous with his time and his wisdom and always ready to help or provide support. Will was an incredible listener and was able to draw everyone’s views together and find a credible way forward, whether it was with members, Departments or Ministers. Everyone who knew Will, will remember his kindness and generosity. The world will feel a little bit emptier without him."

John Young worked with Mr Delaat on the Medicines Australia board during his tenure as the country manager of Pfizer.

"He combined an insightful and strategic perspective on the key issues facing the industry, and engaged with key stakeholders and policymakers on the issues of the day with persistence, passion and grace," said Mr Young.

"I experienced these qualities as he patiently guided me as an inexperienced newcomer to the MA Board and Australian industry. Will and I kept in touch periodically after I left Australia and I know he retained his passion and personal advocacy for access to innovative science and medicines for patients who need them, even as he battled his own illness for so long. He will truly be missed by so many people who will remember not only his outstanding career accomplishments but as a man of great integrity and kindness. He will be missed," added Mr Young.

The chair of Better Access Australia Felicity McNeill PSM, who worked with Mr Delaat when she led the area in the Department of Health responsible for the PBS, said, "Our health system is the better for Will’s work but will be the poorer for his absence. He laid the foundations for many things your readership takes for granted today.

“Will was old school. He believed in policy and structural reform, not just the quick sale and took the time to see an issue from all sides.

“From the reform of our organ and tissue donation and transplantation programs in Australia, to structural changes to the affordability and timeliness of access to medicines - Will never just sat at the table or walked the corridors of Parliament House, he took the time to listen to all those around him in order to find a way to look after the health of Australians today as well as tomorrow.

"Working with Will on the PBS, organ donation, medicine returns, fragile-X awareness, clinical trials, or just talking about the broader issues at play in Government, he taught me as much as he listened to me.

"A gentleman, an intellectually curious and respectful interlocutor and collaborator, I will truly miss his counsel and support," said Ms McNeill.

Biointelect's Jenny Herz added, "I joined the MA board in 2003 when Will was chair. It was my first board role and my first MDs job, I was 36. To this day I hold dear the fact that he always held true to his personal values, and was such a decent, kind supportive and encouraging person. He led the board in a collaborate style, was strategic, decisive and fun to be around. I learnt good governance from him and credit him as one of my most important industry mentors."