Astellas is a global pharmaceutical company - a leader in the development of innovative medicines, which is represented in more than 50 countries around the world.
Dr. Stamen Bankovski is the Executive Director of Astellas for Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. He has been working for the company since 2014, having previously held the positions of Director for Bulgaria and Executive Director for Hungary. He has nearly 25 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
1. Astellas is one of the leaders in the modern pharmaceutical industry. Turning to your R&D efforts, how is your pipeline looking and what are your most significant milestones in the coming year?
Astellas is one of the leading innovators in the pharmaceutical sector, succeeding two major Japanese companies with over 100 years of history. We are currently in the global Top 20 of the biopharma industry. We hold these good positions with our strong focus on our core strategic model to create leading innovations. Many of our new developments sound futuristic, but some of them are already a fact in real medical practice - such as personalised medicine, gene therapy, genome sequencing. Our company invests resources and efforts mainly in developing drugs and therapies that have not existed at all as a therapeutic approach before. Many of these are the gold standard or first-in-class in areas such as urology and transplantology. In recent years, we have also made serious progress in oncology, which has allowed us to rank among the top six oncology companies in Bulgaria. Astellas has developed one of the most effective therapies for prostate cancer, and this product is now the second biggest onco drug in Bulgaria in terms of revenue.
Our ambition to be one of the leading companies in oncology is supported by our serious investment in research and development (R&D). We are currently developing entirely new and first-in-class therapeutic approaches to address unmet medical needs in the treatment of bladder cancer, stomach cancer and pancreatic cancer, which also have the potential to become the future gold standard of treatment.
Hematology is another area of particular interest to us. At the end of 2019 we received an European approval for our innovative therapy for the treatment of acute leukaemia, and since the beginning of last year it is also available and paid for by the National Health Insurance Fund for Bulgarian patients. This therapy represents serious progress in the difficult treatment of this severe disease. Last year, we also received the registration worldwide of innovative treatment for anaemia associated with chronic kidney disease, which we hope will also be available in Bulgaria soon.
2. What will be the defining treatment for such socially important diseases in the future and what is the expected contribution of Astellas?
The pharmaceutical industry is increasingly focusing its efforts in finding more efficient and safer solutions for patients. Companies in this sector devote a large percentage of their revenue to R&D, outpacing all other sectors.
Astellas is no exception and invests 17% of the company’s global annual turnover in the development of new molecules in various therapeutic areas. Of course, many of these molecules do not make it to the final phases of research and to the consumers, and this is why the development cost of each new drug is now almost double what it was just a few years ago. On the other hand, it is the allocation of large financial resources to research by companies that has made it possible to improve the quality of life and increase the life expectancy for millions of patients with various medical conditions around the world.
A significant part of Astellas’ research is in highly innovative areas such as gene therapies and regenerative medicine, where we talk about growing tissues and whole organs from stem cells. These are areas that not in the distant future, but very soon will give a new impetus to medicine and the transformation of the lifestyle of patients.
3. Most recently, you were elected Chairman of the Management Board of the Association of Research Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (ARPharM). What are the Association’s priorities and on which topics and issues will you focus your efforts on?
Since its inception a quarter of a century ago, the main objectives of the Association have been to contribute to the improvement of Bulgarian citizens’ health and to ensure a better quality of life by improving access to modern, quality, efficient, and safe medicinal products manufactured at the highest international standards.
One of my main tasks will be for ARPharM to continue the fruitful communication with the institutions and organisations in the health sector in the country as well as to support a healthcare policy that guarantees access to innovative and modern treatment for Bulgarian patients and at the same time creates a favourable environment for investment and economic development.
An example of such a fruitful partnership is the “Together for More Health” initiative involving the Bulgarian Medical Association (BMA), the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Union (BPhU) and ARPharM. In collaboration with institutions and experts from different fields, we are looking for opportunities to strengthen the healthcare system by increasing efficiency and achieving sustainability of healthcare investments. We believe that the Bulgarian healthcare system needs to be strengthened through more public investment, better staffing and improved efficiency to achieve better patient outcomes. The pandemic has also had a negative impact on some segments of the healthcare system, the consequences of which, such as lagging behind in the treatment of chronically ill patients, for example, will continue to have repercussions and need more attention and prioritisation in the long term.
The need for digital transformation is the other major challenge for the Bulgarian healthcare system and its solution is of strategic importance for improving the quality of healthcare in the country.