"Enabling collaboration among member companies is the strength and success of the shqa."
In our Swizzard Champions series, Michael Zürcher, CEO of Swizzard Pharma AG, interviews experienced thought leaders from the world of pharma, biotech and healthcare and shares valuable industry insights.
Today’s guest is Christoph Lögler, Managing Director of the swiss health quality association (shqa). As an not profit oriented industry association with currently 80 member companies, shqa is "the" provider of training - and certificate programs for the pharmaceutical, medical technology and diagnostics industries.
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Would you recognize Zug as a pharmaceutical hub in Switzerland?
Definitely, in my opinion it’s underestimated. Especially if you have only worked for Roche or Novartis, you might think Basel dominates – but that’s not necessarily true. Given the federal system, cantons in Switzerland can have liberal policies in industry and commerce, with Zug as the best example. It started out as a place for commodity trading companies but nowadays Zug is a business hub with a great transport connection to Zurich or the Lucerne region. No wonder many life science companies even have their supraregional office in Zug.
Did you start your career in Zug?
I actually started out in the Lucerne region. After finishing my business degree in Lucerne, a lecturer inspired me to get into the fast-moving consumer goods industry. I started with food manufacturer Hero and then moved on to Colgate-Palmolive, where I had assignments in New York and Bangkok, among others. It was a valuable time working in a multicultural environment – I took my family along with me and we traveled the world. Returning to Switzerland, I reoriented from fast-moving consumer goods to pharma and started at Roche in the early 2000s.
You stayed at Roche for 18 years. Probably a time full of changes?
While I only have experience of Roche myself, I imagine people are expected to stay in their position for two to four years before moving to a new challenge at most large corporations. Restructuring and transformation processes are a constant in the pharma industry. Changes are a challenge, but they’re also inexorable so you must learn how to cope with them. Needless to say, then, changes offer great opportunities to develop further competencies and ensure that you stay “fit” in your career. To give an example, albeit at a smaller scale: Roche has switched from Microsoft to Google applications, it was a top-down approach with some rejections in the beginning, but the new solution enabled a new way of collaboration among team members and allowed me to learn new approaches and how to communicate more effectively.
… which also suits the “lifelong learning” mantra of shqa.
In Germany and Austria, the official qualification “Pharmareferent” is legally required to practice as a pharmaceutical sales rep, while in Switzerland it isn’t. How do you explain this governmental decision and is shqa filling the gap here?
Well, actually the Swiss government has simply never made a decision on this matter, reflecting its liberal economic approach. But your question does take us to the founding idea of shqa: we, as an industry, wanted to set quality standards and launch a certificate program for sales representatives of our own. By doing so, the industry regulates itself and sets high quality standards when it comes to customer interactions. So, enabling collaboration among member companies from the life science industry is the strength and success of the shqa, which currently has 80 member companies.
This must also be a great platform for networking. Is a challenge to manage an association with people from so many different pharma companies?
Indeed there are many people involved, e.g. for conducting the exam Pharma-Specialist which leads to the “federal diploma of higher education” we require 45 experts. We are non-profit, also everyone is working in an honorary capacity. At the same time, it creates a space for pharmaceutical experts from different companies to come together. Besides, we also host the roundtable “Leaders circle” three to four times a year. This exchange is very important, to keep the topics of our training programs up to date and also to discuss current challenges among leaders in the pharma industry.
Can you give an example of what you currently see as an important challenge or opportunity?
Market access clearly stands out for me. Especially the speed-to-market process for innovative drugs, that question of how we can make them accessible to patients as soon as possible. The legislator could do more to help out in this regard. I would also point out the ongoing constraints due to healthcare budgets, especially amid rising pricing for innovative medicines. So it’s really important to know the stakeholders and culture of the Swiss healthcare market. Small biotechs can struggle to get up to speed on these aspects. I think the key thing is to plan ahead taking these aspects into consideration before starting out in Switzerland.
Do Switzerland and Germany have a lot in common or are there more differences?
Switzerland has a lot of parallels to Germany: Both countries are nationalized. That means one negotiated price applies to the whole country, whereas in Spain or Italy a lot of things are regionalized, requiring much more time to process. Another shared feature is the favorable system for access to patients. In Germany, it’s easier to receive a concrete price, whereas in Switzerland we have seen in recent years that this process takes longer, especially for expensive innovative drugs. Having said that, Article 71 or other agreements with healthcare insurance companies are available to enable access to lifesaving opportunities faster. I’d finish by saying the Swiss health market has its own unique laws, and you need a lot of knowledge about these to save time and not make a fool of yourself.
The swiss health quality association (shqa) is a non-profit organization, founded in 2006, and the leading provider of training programs for the pharmaceutical, medical technology and diagnostics industries. Uniting 80 member companies it serves also as a networking hub, which also ensures the educational offerings being up to date to the highly agile market environment. For more details: www.shqa.ch
About Swizzard Pharma AG
Swizzard Pharma is a provider of support services for biotech and pharma companies in Switzerland. As part of the company’s mission to enable healthy lives in Switzerland, Swizzard helps clients maximize the value of their breakthroughs in the Swiss market. Swizzard offers a range of services, drawing on vast experience and exceptional connections to deliver fast and lean settle-in, market preparation and commercialization solutions. CEO of Swizzard is Michael Zürcher, an experienced general manager in the life sciences industry.