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What’s the True Focal Point of Your Business?

By Seth Kaufman

Dr. Julie Gerberding

Dr. Julie Gerberding, Former Merck Executive, Examines The End Game of Pharma

It’s easy to think of biopharmaceutical behemoths solely as researchers and manufacturers. But for Dr. Julie Gerberding, who spoke at a recent Vanguard Group Forum for Healthcare and Life Science Leaders as an Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer of Merck, customer care was the center of the business.

“There are four main buckets that we’ve tried to focus on,” said Gerberding, listing gathering patient insights and needs on Merck products; understanding the patient experience, including access to product information or clinical trials; advocacy, and “affordable access and uptake of medicines and vaccines where they’re needed, especially in the disenfranchised populations of people who need them most.”

Gerberding, the first woman to serve as Director of the CDC, has a history of embracing this last point. She helped run San Francisco General Hospital in the early days of the AIDS crisis and still recognizes biopharmaceutical companies need to promote equal access to health care and resources.

“It’s one thing to be able to bring powerful medicines and treatments and vaccines to people. It’s another thing to work hard to make sure that they are equitably available,” says Gerberding, who spends a good deal of time thinking about Environment, Social, and Governance issues and the benchmarks of corporate commitment to responsible sustainability and ethical behavior.

“In my world, the “S” in the ESG is primarily focused on health equity and health impact. So, one of our signature initiatives is, of course, Merck for Mothers, which is a 500-plus million dollar engagement over a long time to try to eliminate preventable maternal deaths. But that leads to a whole set of other issues in the ESG continuum because that involves inclusion – the diversity of the people that are doing the work, the diversity of the people who are supplying the materials and the supply chains that are necessary to accomplish these kinds of activities. And certainly, a sensibility about environmental sustainability and how what we’re doing really does impact our communities and the planet.”

Working on these patient-focused initiatives with an ESG framework inspired Gerberding. “When you can find a place where you’re bringing them all together, it’s exciting, and I think, a really important part of the value we can create for our business and the society in which we work.”

For more of Gerberding’s thoughts on the AIDS crisis, new health challenges presented by COVID, and leading patient-focused care, you can read transcript highlights of her interview, listen to the podcast, or watch a video.

These thoughts are taken from a dialogue conducted on Nov 17-18, 2021. Participants may have changed companies and/or titles since then.


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