“We need to get better at putting the patient at the centre of what we do”
Klaus Dugi, EVP, Chief Medical Officer, Ferring Pharmaceuticals
Interviewed by Kirstie Turner | Content Manager, EMG-Health
Klaus Dugi is the EVP, Chief Medical Officer at Ferring Pharmaceuticals. We spoke to Klaus during this year’s virtual eyeforpharma Barcelona event about his leadership style, tackling the spread of misinformation for patients, and contributing to the industry’s mission of patient centricity.
Q: Following your medical education, what inspired to you to start working in the pharmaceutical industry?
A: At the time, I was a consultant at the university hospital in Heidelberg and I was offered the opportunity to work in a new area for a privately-owned pharmaceutical company in Germany, called Boehringer Ingelheim. I was to become part of a team that developed new medicines for patients with diabetes. My feeling was that I could have a greater impact on health this way than I could have treating individual patients in a hospital setting. It was a strong motivator to start something new and have the potential to impact the health of people all around the world.
Q: How does your position teaching medicine at Heidelberg University, Germany, help you in your role as Chief Medical Officer at Ferring?
A: This role keeps me grounded. I can see through bedside teaching how some of the latest scientific and medical innovations are being implemented. It helps me see that there is often a time lag between a new publication and how it is being applied in day-to-day medicine. Working with students is great because sometimes they will ask me a question and I don’t have a good answer so then I can go away and sit down to find out the answer for them. Overall, I am kept grounded by seeing the implementation of innovation in a hospital setting and from the interaction with students who sometimes have great questions.
Q: In what ways has your approach to people-management and leadership evolved over the years?
A: Initially when I joined pharma, I was more directive than I am now. This is probably due to the fact that I come from academic medicine which, at least in Germany, is quite hierarchical and directive. But I realised over time that a more effective leadership style is one that is more inclusive, and utilises a team approach that values diversity, where we can listen to each other to hopefully come to a consensus. Of course, there will always be situations where you must make a decision on your own. But I would say that is the biggest change for me: from a directive approach to a team approach in leadership.
Q: To what extent is digital technology becoming part of Ferring’s overall strategy, particularly in reproductive medicine and maternal health?
A: When we overcome the current COVID-19 situation (hopefully sooner rather than later) I think we will realise that the world has changed. I think there will not only be more openness to digital, but also more demand for digital approaches to increase flexibility. Like many companies, Ferring needs to be on top of that and use digital to better understand our customer needs, then use it to satisfy those needs and deliver a seamless customer experience. Since we want to be a leader in reproductive medicine and maternal health, we also have to be prominent in digital channels and use those to inform healthcare professionals.
Q: With misinformation rife in areas such as reproductive health, how can pharma ensure that patients are receiving reliable, unbiased medical information?
A: This is a great question – which unfortunately does not have an easy answer! We work with patient advocacy groups and last year, we started working with patient advisory boards, not where we advise the patients, but where the patients advise us. They tell us about their journeys, and it was interesting to learn about the information gaps that they have. When patients receive unbiased, factual information, they sometimes struggle to understand exactly what we are saying. We also want to work with professional organisations and with vendors to make sure that there is factual information out there. Where possible, we want to be a channel of information for patients, but obviously not about our products as that is not possible outside of the US. We will never 100% be able to avoid misinformation on social media or other platforms but we have to work with others through partnerships to try and give patients access to as much factual information as possible.
Q: What is one thing you would like to achieve during your time working in the pharmaceutical industry?
A: This falls in line with my previous answer. I really want us to be able to walk the talk of patient centricity. Our time working on our first patient advisory board was an eye-opening experience: to hear from the patients about their journey and to learn that sometimes patients have different priorities or opinions to their doctors. For example, in reproductive medicine, a lot of clinics will find it easier to use the same approach for every patient as that makes it less complex, but a patient will want to be treated as an individual, with a personalised approach. We need to get better at putting the patient at the centre of what we do so that we serve their needs – ideally, these would be the same needs as the physician but sometimes there are differences. It is the patient that counts. We have seen a lot of positive developments over the last few years, but we are not there yet. If I can help address that and move pharma a little closer to achieving patient centricity, then I will be very proud of that.