Infected With Enthusiasm – Evolution of the Serbian Pharma Market

Elina Markovic, the Country Manager of Medis Serbia and the Board Member of Medis, has experienced many changes in the pharmaceutical industry in Serbia during her 25-year-long career. She shares thoughts on opportunities, challenges and the current situation that they are experiencing amid the coronavirus crisis, as well as its influence on the fastest-growing pharmaceutical company in Serbia in 2020.

With over 25 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry in Serbia, you have witnessed many changes. How would you describe the sector from your point of view? 

Everyone in the pharmaceutical industry expects that the Serbian pharmaceutical market will grow faster and that we will “catch up with the world” by bringing novel therapies to the market. There have been significant changes in recent years; however, in terms of the availability of innovative therapies, Serbia lagged behind significantly in the 2010s. Over the last few years, the National Health Insurance Fund and the Ministry of Health improved value and enabled access to some innovative medicines and modern therapies.

The focus shifted to ensuring a longer, healthier and more productive life for the patients. This has also been addressed in terms of reducing the number of hospitalisations, complications and co-morbidities. The major shift was done at the end of 2019 when the important financial governmental boost in the introduction of modern therapies started, so we could say that the quality of and access to innovative therapies have improved significantly.

In the past, the structure of the market was very monopolistic – 80% of the market was owned by one generic company. We had a very long period (five years) during which no innovative medicine was included on the reimbursement list. But, since 2016, more than 40 innovative treatments have been launched, including selected medicines for rare diseases. 

Furthermore, the system in Serbia is sometimes quite complex. For example, national registration is still mandatory when entering the Serbian market. Only a local company can be a marketing authorisation holder. Every import must be planned and coordinated in advance, because local serialisation with special, controlled labels and analyses of every batch is required. 

In conclusion, I would say that while we can see improvements, there is still a long way ahead before sustainability is achieved.

According to the IQVIA, Medis Serbia is the fastest-growing pharmaceutical company in 2020. What is the crucial factor of this success?  

Medis is indeed one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical companies in Serbia, and therefore it makes an important contribution to the improved patient outcomes. 
We are among the first companies that enabled access to several new innovative medicines; for example, in the field of neurology and rare diseases, which was in the past unimaginable and is now considered as a great local success.

Changing patients’ lives and making a difference has always been our main mission and goal, although we have started as a small company. Currently, when we are faced with coronavirus, I can compare the work at Medis with a “positive viral infection”. We are infected with enthusiasm and willingness to show how many miles a diverse, but an agile team, can conquer. 

However, to answer the question – an excellent team is for sure a key element for success. The employees are extremely important, they are the driving force of our mission. Local knowledge and networking are also essential, as that is something crucial for doing business in Serbia – it is in our DNA. 

Among your prime therapeutic areas are neurology and rare diseases. Why did you choose these therapeutic areas and what are other areas you focus on?

With the rare disease portfolio, we wanted to identify and address alarmingly underserved medical needs. We have now introduced therapies that (if you rewind five to ten years) were non-existent and unknown. We are proud to see them being delivered today. This is a story that is in its middle chapters, there is still a long way to go, and we would like to work more closely with patients, doctors and medical professionals in order to continue writing the upcoming chapters.

In neurology, our focus is on multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and dystonia. Due to the complexity of the diseases, strong medical support is required in all areas, and Medis is proud to provide this support at a high level together with our partners. We have also played an important role in supporting patients with our ophthalmologypulmonology and allergology portfolio. In addition, we are one of the strongest players in providing of plasma derivatives. Through our Consumer Health Care Division, we serve customers with our innovative products for immune system support and infant nutrition

We are proud that Medis is recognized as a trusted partner of the world’s most respected pharmaceutical and biotech companies. The cooperation with our partners is based on the common desire to bring innovative products to the Serbian market for every patient in need. Strict adherence to the highest quality standards, business ethics and regulations are our top priority and value.

You are known at Medis as a great coach, as your passion for educating and training others is one of your key personality traits. What do you think is the main element of a successful team like yours? 

I like to share my knowledge, and I realised early that it motivates me to learn more. I feel true happiness when my “students” progress and surpass me in proficiency and skills. Learning is the vital part of the organisational culture at Medis. It results in better, faster, higher quality of work, but also in satisfaction, motivation, and self-confidence. It is a space in which I gladly develop the collective and individual characteristics of employees, by which I also grow and develop. When you find an atmosphere that fits your core values, where your learning progresses and good results are rewarded, then you stay and grow with the company.

How has the coronavirus lockdown affected your team? 

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Medis, like other pharmaceutical companies, was locked out of the HCP's offices and had to find new ways to approach the market quickly. It was not easy to remotely manage a team of more than 30 employees overnight, most of them working in the medical field and local sales. We worked very hard on an immediate reorganisation, with focus on providing the same quality of medical, marketing and sales service through the Veeva digital platform.

Medis has already stepped on the path of digitalisation in 2018, which has clearly paid off during the lockdown. Already then we have added new communication channels to our ongoing activities. During the Covid epidemic, we focused our communication through approved e-mails, webinars, interactive presentations and detailed video information, in addition to the classic phone conversations. Customers responded well and quickly adapted to the new communication standards, which is certainly a result of the successful cooperation in the past and the customer-centric approach in the tactics we implemented.

With all that said, where do you see Medis Serbia in 2025? 

Our goal is to become the leading medical marketing company in Serbia, with fully committed employees behind us. A modern, digitalized company that continues to put the patient at the centre of its activities. We will remain ambitious and aim to introduce the same standards of treatment as in the EU.

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