Merck's Josie Downey talks leadership and the need for real outcomes

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Josie Downey, the recently appointed managing director of Merck Healthcare Australia and New Zealand, says her first few months in the role have been a time to learn about the organisation and its external priorities.

These commercial roles included establishing and building MSD's oncology business unit in Australia.Ms Downey joined Merck from MSD, where she led commercial operations in the Asia Pacific region, having previously held a range of other senior commercial roles.

Ms Downey told BioPharmaDispatch she was attracted to Merck as a leadership opportunity and also its product portfolio that includes PBS-listed therapies for multiple sclerosis, cancer and assisted reproductive technologies.

She says her initial impression has been of an organisation with "long-standing and extraordinary" relationships across the health system, particularly with clinicians.

"We have people who have been working in our key therapeutic areas for such a long time. They are so highly capable in terms of their relationships and their therapeutic expertise. I think the length of that tenure also says something about the sort of organisation we are as an employer but also a partner."

Ms Downey said she has spent her first four months in the role building her understanding of the organisation, its people and priorities for the period ahead.

"We have priorities and, like all companies, they are a combination of the internal and external. The external priorities ultimately reflect our commitment to meet the needs of Australian patients.

"The Australian market is challenging and, as a matter of principle, we accept that. There is no argument that we, as an individual company and part of a wider industry, need to demonstrate the value our medicines provide patients.

"However, I do think we all need to consider the extent to which this 'challenge' is currently serving the needs of patients and the wider health system.

"This was an issue identified in almost every submission to the recent parliamentary inquiry. Were they heard and what will change as a result? This is a very important question.

"The fact is that new medicines are taking a long time to navigate the PBS funding process and then, when they do, it seems we are often engaged in a never-ending pricing discussion. That is before you get to the range of price cuts applied to medicines during their patent life.

"The industry has accepted the need for price cuts but I doubt anyone expected decision-making would get even tougher. What are we trying to achieve?"

Ms Downey said she would like to see fewer process reviews and more of a focus on actual actions and outcomes.

"I think we need to find a way to break this cycle of process-driven outcomes that appear to deliver very little. We should challenge the idea that decision-making cannot improve and I do not mean new processes. I sometimes wonder whether we as an industry often fall into the trap of perpetuating the idea that access can only ever get more difficult and that the solution is new processes.

"This is an important issue. It might be a discussion between us as an industry and decision-makers but, in the end, it is Australian patients that live with the consequences of any outcomes, good and bad, and we cannot lose sight of that."