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Medicine Woman

In Focus
NAME:Pelin Incesu
POSITION:Area Vice President, Middle East & Africa
LOCATION:Cambridge, UK
Previously a medical doctor herself, Pelin Incesu understands patients better than most pharmaceutical executives. Now Area Vice President for AstraZeneca in the Middle East and Africa, she is making a huge difference to patients, partners and employees alike.

There’d be few people on the planet who aren’t aware of AstraZeneca, but for such a high-profile brand, the diversity of its offering and the culture of the company are perhaps less well-known. Having been with AstraZeneca for 21 years, in positions encompassing medical, marketing, government affairs and commercial roles, Pelin Incesu is the perfect person to share her insights. 

“It’s beyond the pill. At AstraZeneca, we are trying to provide the solutions,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “Healthcare is a big ecosystem and we can play a significant role helping to shape the environment for the benefit of patients.”

As for those patients, Pelin understands them better than most. “I am originally a medical doctor and psychiatrist, so I know the patient’s needs,” she says. “I like touching people’s lives, making changes and creating an impact – and the pharmaceutical industry has given me that privilege.”

Describing AstraZeneca as a “pure pharmaceutical company”, it is clear from talking to Pelin that her organisation has very strong values, and great expertise in a number of therapeutic areas including respiratory, immunology, oncology, cardiovascular, renal, metabolism and diabetes. 

As a business it already has a very strong global presence, but it is the emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa that are Pelin’s focus. “We aim to be at US$2 billion (€1.8 billion) by 2025,” she states boldly. “Our focus is growth through innovation and being more patient-centric.”

AstraZeneca has already made a huge difference in the region through flagship programs such Healthy Heart Africa and the Young Health Programme.

Helping build infrastructure

As Pelin explains, while the company is eager to do more, the infrastructure of the countries she now works with can sometimes hold back progress. “In some of our countries the infrastructure is not mature and ready enough,” she admits. “But we’re not just waiting, we’re working with local associations, authorities and governments to help build the infrastructure.

“It’s very diverse. There are around 70 countries in the Middle East and Africa and we are in 46 of them. But in terms of socio-economic and political climate, and infrastructure, they are totally different, so we need to tailor our solutions.”

“I like touching people’s lives, making changes and creating an impact – and the pharmaceutical industry has given me that privilege.”

As well as hitting the €1.8 billion target by 2025, the company wants to be reaching more than 20 million patients in the area. 

And of course, for AstraZeneca more than most, COVID-19 has accelerated everything. To deal with the onslaught, the company wisely narrowed its focus to home-based care solutions. Such patient-centricity is something Pelin believes differentiates the business. “From the very senior to the very junior employees of AstraZeneca, we truly put the patients at the heart of everything,” she says. “This has been a long journey but I can proudly say it’s now part of our DNA.”

A commitment to people

What also differentiates the company is its commitment to people – not just to patients, but to its employees and partners. Teams are encouraged to take risks, to stretch and develop themselves. And there is also a huge focus on inclusion and diversity. Importantly, this includes tangible initiatives such as the Middle East and Africa Women in Leadership Programme and an Anti-bullying Anti-Harassment: Not Here … Not Anywhere! campaign.

“We are champions of inclusion and diversity because we believe that building an inclusive culture and leveraging the unique strengths and diversity of our people in the region will provide a competitive advantage,” Pelin explains.

The company is also very selective in picking its partners. “For me, the definition of a strong partnership is that it should be long-term and trust-based,” she says. “So we are quite sensitive in deciding our partnerships. But once we start it becomes bigger and bigger.”

With close to 100 key partners in the region, Gendius and Axios are two great examples.With Gendius there is a shared vision of empowering patients, by facilitating a virtual platform for healthcare professionals and people with diabetes across Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Meanwhile, Axios International is working with AstraZeneca to develop healthcare solutions that tackle challenges such as affordability, adherence, education and home-based care. Together, the companies are focused on tangible action plans created to improve access to medicines in the region.

With 10 organisational awards received by the Middle East and Africa region this year alone, it is clear AstraZeneca is succeeding on all fronts: with patients, with partners and with employees. And Pelin is a strong female leader playing an integral part in that success.

“It is one mindset and one heart fighting together on the same objective,” she says passionately. “At AstraZeneca, we’re committed to pushing the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines. It’s what binds us, and it underpins all that we do.”

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