INTERVIEW: ‘We were built for times like this’, Johnson & Johnson exec Marzena Kulis says of company’s role in fighting pandemics

INTERVIEW: ‘We were built for times like this’, Johnson & Johnson exec Marzena Kulis says of company’s role in fighting pandemics
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Updated 20 September 2020

INTERVIEW: ‘We were built for times like this’, Johnson & Johnson exec Marzena Kulis says of company’s role in fighting pandemics

INTERVIEW: ‘We were built for times like this’, Johnson & Johnson exec Marzena Kulis says of company’s role in fighting pandemics
  • 134-year firm searches for a vaccine while tackling other regional medical issues

Being a senior executive at a medical company during the most serious health care crisis for a century puts you at the sharp end of events, as Marzena Kulis, managing director of the medical products business of Johnson & Johnson in the Middle East, is well aware.

“We were built for the times like this. We are a company with a 134-year legacy.

“We lived through the previous pandemics of smallpox and Spanish flu, and through the financial crises, through world wars, and our business has expanded and grown,” she told Arab News.

“But it would be wrong to say that what happened in the past few months had no impact on the local, regional and global businesses,” she added.

J&J, a multibillion-dollar giant of the global health care industry, has been in the region for more than 40 years, operating via the three pillars of its business — medical devices, pharmaceuticals and consumer products.

But there is no doubt that the company’s profile has been lifted during the pandemic through its work on a potential vaccine. J&J is one of several international companies working flat out to develop a treatment since virtually the first outbreak earlier this year. 

Kulis, an economist by training who has spent almost her entire career in the health care sector, has seen that at first hand in recent months.

“I think our teams globally have been working tirelessly, without a break really, on finding the solutions and, as of now, we are saying that large quantities of the vaccine will be available in the first quarter of 2021,” she said.

“In September, we are planning to begin phase three trials on humans, which will be on a large number of the populations chosen for the trials, but we still believe that it will be early 2021 when we will be able to deliver the vaccine,” she added. Some health experts have criticized the tendency toward “vaccine nationalism” by some countries, eager to be first with a treatment in an international race, or to keep supplies of the medicine for their own people, rather than spreading it equably around the world.

“We are open to discussion with everyone,” Kulis said, pointing to agreements J&J has signed with the US and European authorities on vaccine collaboration, as well as with international organizations such as the GAVI immunization agency supported by many countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.

J&J also signed up for the “We Stand with Science” campaign to uphold the integrity of the medical scientific process in vaccine development and global regulatory standards.

Kulis is aware of the pressure to produce a vaccine “cure,” but believes safety is paramount. “Although we all would like it to be available tomorrow, the process has to take its time to ensure there are high ethical standards and scientific principles,” she said.

Meanwhile, while the world waits for a vaccine, Kulis has a business to run in the Middle East. The medical devices business in the region includes surgical equipment, and orthopedics and cardiovascular procedures — all affected by the heightened focus on COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic.

In particular, some elective surgeries have been pushed to the back of the queue by patients understandably anxious to protect their health during the pandemic. Lockdowns and economic pressure have also had an effect.

BIO

Born: Krakow, Poland

Education

  • Master’s, Krakow Economic Academy
  • MBA, Stockholm University

Career

  • HD operations officer, World Bank 
  • Executive for Pfizer, Poland and Balkan countries
  • Managing director, Johnson & Johnson, Middle East

“The UAE has restored or reopened some surgeries, but Saudi Arabia is still taking a bit more time reopening for elective surgeries, with the exception of some parts of the country. So, obviously, that has an impact,” Kulis said.

The financials of the business were better than expected in the second quarter, although still some way off what they would have been without the virus. One real positive is that the J&J global supply chain has remained intact, she said.

Kulis’ job gives her a unique insight into the medical problems of the region, and one issue stands out, she says — obesity and its associated complications. J&J sees the extent of the problem in its bariatrics specialism, which deals with the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity.

“This region is leading the obesity prevalence in the world and we provide medical solution for that as well,” she said, pointing out that three of the top five most obese countries in the world in terms of obesity incidence as a proportion of the population are from the Middle East.

Oncological and gynecological surgery is also a growing part of her division in Saudi Arabia. 

In orthopedics, Kulis said with a hint of humor, “the world has been walking on our knees and our hips for decades.” But there is also an important link to obesity, too, she said, because overweight people are likely to face greater mobility challenges.

“Sooner or later, as a consequence of obesity, people require joint replacement or some other orthopedic intervention,” she said.

The third segment of the medical devices unit is also affected by obesity problems. The cardiovascular and stroke speciality focuses on remedies for heart arrythmia and stroke management.

“We’re still raising the awareness of availability of the surgical treatment for those two. It’s especially important to show that stroke is not a death or disability sentence but can be treated. People can be brought to mobility and quality of life,” Kulis said.

J&J sees as another increasing problem for Saudi Arabia — the treatment of traumatic injuries from traffic accidents.

“It’s really prevalent and a strong focus in Saudi Arabia. The treatment of road accident trauma is part of our orthopedic business. Road accidents are an important part of our work in the Kingdom,” she said.

Overall, the health benefits of Saudi Arabia’s young demographic is, to some extent, outweighed by obesity and other lifestyle issues, she said.

The Kingdom is a focus for expansion for J&J. It opened a headquarters office in Riyadh in 2017, and also has bases in Jeddah and Dammam, serving as a base not only for the medical devices business but also the consumer and pharmaceuticals units. There are about 180 employees in the Kingdom, of whom roughly 40 percent are citizens.

“We have made a conscious effort to ensure we can build up local capacity and help the local population to work with us,” she said. J&J has a local Saudi partner, takes part in official programs to promote health and lifestyle issues within the Kingdom, and has a joint flagship program with the Prince Sultan Humanitarian City Hospital. 

The health sector has been earmarked for greater private sector participation in the Vision 2030 plans to diversify the Kingdom away from the government-dominated energy sector, and J&J is keen to take advantage of any opportunities in that respect.

“We are always exploring the option for enhancement of the business and definitely Saudi is our priority market. 

We haven’t been in any discussions regarding takeover or merger activity so far, but if there are opportunities, we will put it forward to our senior management. We are looking at any opportunity to strengthen our footprint in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Kulis’s responsibilities at J&J cover the medial needs of 500 million people in 16 countries stretching from Pakistan to Egypt. But she is keen not to lose sight of the importance of individual cases within the many thousands of patients that benefit from J&J products and procedures every year.

“What keeps me up at night is this question — how can we grow the scale of the business so that we can help more patients get treatment at the right time?

“We all know the stories of people and the families who don’t get care on time, or who wait too long for treatment. I want to shape my organization so that we can share the same dream of preventing that,” she said.


G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery

G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery
Updated 31 min 39 sec ago

G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery

G7 should invest $10tr to stoke economic recovery
  • Summit will be chaired by Britain’s Johnson in Cornwall, southern England, on June 11-13

LONDON: G7 countries should invest $10 trillion to stoke an investment-driven recovery that puts COVID-19 vaccines in arms and triggers a sweeping energy transformation to slow climate change, according to a report requested by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

US President Joe Biden is expected to join other Group of Seven leaders at a G7 summit chaired by Britain’s Johnson in Cornwall, southern England, on June 11-13.

Founded in 1975 as a forum for the West’s richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo, the G7 will discuss what it perceives as the biggest threats: China, Russia, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

Nicholas Stern, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, said in a report for Johnson that the G7 was a crucial opportunity for the West’s richest economies to make a real change to the global economy.

“The transition to a zero-emissions and climate-resilient world provides the greatest economic, business and commercial opportunity of our time,” Stern said in the report.

“At the heart of the proposed vision for the economic response to the pandemic is a coordinated global program of investment for recovery, reconstruction and transformation that can boost all forms of capital — physical, human, natural and social,” Stern said.

G7 countries, he said, should set a collective goal to raise annual investment by 2 percent of GDP above pre-pandemic levels for this decade and beyond and improve the quality of investment — equal to about $1 trillion per year in additional investment over the next decade.

The G7 leaders should ensure a timely global roll-out of vaccines by immediately closing the $20 billion funding cap of COVAX, a global program to provide vaccines mainly for poor countries.

After Johnson called for countries to do more than produce “hot air” rhetoric on climate, the report said the G7 should come up with credible ways to meet Biden’s climate goals.

The G7 should commit to eliminating all fossil-fuel subsidies no later than 2025, lead a sweeping energy transition, end overseas support for fossil-fuel investments and consider a minimum corporate profit tax of 21 percent.


Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes

Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes
Updated 37 min 21 sec ago

Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes

Copper hits record high on higher demand hopes
  • Bullish investors bet that demand for copper will increase further as the world economy recovers from COVID-19 slumps and as investments into green energy sectors ramp up

HANOI: Copper prices touched record highs in both London and Shanghai markets on Monday on hopes for improved demand amid tightening supply.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose to an all-time high of $10,747.50 a ton earlier in the session before easing to $10,694 a ton, still up 2.7 percent.

The most-traded June copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange closed up 4.8 percent to 77,720 yuan ($12,094.62) a ton, after scaling a peak of 78,270 yuan earlier. Sentiment has been boosted following record high LME prices since 2011 hit on Friday.

Bullish investors bet that demand for copper will increase further as the world economy recovers from COVID-19 slumps and as investments into green energy sectors ramp up, while prices were also supported by tight supply in the concentrate market.

“Prices continue to rise as the world is talking about the global recovery and the need for metals,” said Malcolm Freeman, a director at UK broker Kingdom Futures, adding that the LME contract “looks set to attempt $11,000 on a technical basis.”

However, he noted that industrial players are not buying at this price level.

ShFE aluminum surpassed 20,000 yuan a ton, rising as much as 3.8 percent to 20,445 yuan a ton, its highest since January 2010, while ShFE zinc hit its highest since March 2008 of 23,065 yuan a ton. LME aluminum rose 2 percent to $2,590.50 a ton and zinc advanced 1 percent to $3,045 a ton.

A group of 15 key copper smelters in China have agreed to cut their purchases of raw material copper concentrate in 2021 by 8.8 percent year-on-year, state-backed research house Antaike said.


Egypt in talks with international firms to invest in data centers, says minister

Egypt is in talks with international companies to boost investment in data centers and information technology. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
Egypt is in talks with international companies to boost investment in data centers and information technology. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
Updated 10 May 2021

Egypt in talks with international firms to invest in data centers, says minister

Egypt is in talks with international companies to boost investment in data centers and information technology. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
  • The aim is to take advantage of the geographical location of Egypt and the passage of a large number of international data cables between Asia and Europe

RIYADH: Egypt is in talks with international companies to boost investment in data centers and information technology, the country's communications minister revealed.

The aim is to take advantage of the geographical location of Egypt and the passage of a large number of international data cables between Asia and Europe, reaching North America, said Minister of Communications and Information Technology,Amr Talaat.

It is part of a wider push to build an integrated digital society, Al Arabiya reported.

That is why the budget for the information technology sector and the ministry’s budget has been growing over the last two years and will continue to grow over the next three years, he added.

“We have started building the Egypt digital platform that provides more than 70 digitized government services at the present time, and we look forward to increasing it to 170 services by the end of this year, and then increasing to include all government services within two years until 2023,” said the minister.


Egyptian prime minister discusses industry localization with US firm Bechtel

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian government, Madbouly said that the Bechtel delegation’s visit to Egypt was part of a strategy to enhance Egyptian-American cooperation. (AFP/File Photo)
According to a statement issued by the Egyptian government, Madbouly said that the Bechtel delegation’s visit to Egypt was part of a strategy to enhance Egyptian-American cooperation. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 10 May 2021

Egyptian prime minister discusses industry localization with US firm Bechtel

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian government, Madbouly said that the Bechtel delegation’s visit to Egypt was part of a strategy to enhance Egyptian-American cooperation. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Mostafa Madbouly said the country was currently localizing industrial production with the aim of rendering it more sustainable

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly held discussions with US construction firm Bechtel on ways to increase the use of local products and components in the development of projects in Egypt.

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian government, Madbouly said that the Bechtel delegation’s visit to Egypt was part of a strategy to enhance Egyptian-American cooperation across a number of sectors.

The prime minister said there were several projects in Egypt being developed in cooperation with American companies, like the petrochemical complex in the Ain Sokhna area. He added that he is following up on these megaprojects.

Madbouly also said that he welcomed the cooperation proposed by Bechtel in constructing a sixth metro line and in managing new cities.

Bechtel’s Infrastructure Global Business Unit President Shaun Kenny expressed his enthusiasm to work with the Egyptian government on megaprojects currently being implemented, especially the metro line.

The Egyptian prime minister stated that the country is currently localizing its industrial production with the aim of rendering it more sustainable.


Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals bid to buy Alameda Healthcare halted

Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals Group said its bid to acquire Alameda Healthcare through a sale and purchase agreement of shares has been halted. (Cleopatra Hospitals Group)
Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals Group said its bid to acquire Alameda Healthcare through a sale and purchase agreement of shares has been halted. (Cleopatra Hospitals Group)
Updated 10 May 2021

Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals bid to buy Alameda Healthcare halted

Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals Group said its bid to acquire Alameda Healthcare through a sale and purchase agreement of shares has been halted. (Cleopatra Hospitals Group)
  • The proposed deal was originally announced by Cleopatra in late December 2020

RIYADH: Egypt’s Cleopatra Hospitals Group said its bid to acquire Alameda Healthcare through a sale and purchase agreement of shares has been halted.

It made the disclosure in a filing to the Egyptian Stock Exchange on Monday.

The proposed deal was originally announced by Cleopatra in late December 2020, with an estimated value of about $500 million.

But it was quickly followed by an announcement from the Egyptian Competition Authority saying that it did not agree in principle to the acquisition.

It highlighted the potential consolidation of Cleopatra’s dominance over hospitals around Cairo and Giza.

Alameda Healthcare’s network includes four tertiary care hospitals in Cairo, two of which are currently being constructed. Once the facilities are fully commissioned Alameda Healthcare will have a capacity of 890 beds, according to its website. The network also includes facilities in Kuwait and London, outpatient clinics, diagnostic centers, specialist centers, pharmacies, and a rehabilitation center.