Strength in Numbers.
Q. Why is this project important for the Pharma sector in the NE?
A. The pharma sector has a long history in the North East, and is the source of a great deal of employment and gross domestic product (GDP). But it has to evolve. The pharma industry is evolving on a global scale and what we have in the North East must keep ahead of the game. At the same time, the North East has had an over-reliance on the public sector but, as this is being challenged heavily by the current changes in government funding, GDP growth needs to come from somewhere else – and the pharma sector is ideally placed to take up the challenge.
Q. What do you consider to be the biggest challenges facing the sector in the NE?
A. There really is only one challenge which is common to most businesses and which is especially true of the pharmaceutical industry: the ability to compete on a global basis. This is a fact of life in today’s business environment, and unless we can do that we will not succeed. It means being able to develop and maintain a sustainable, competitive advantage.
The next question is: what are the factors that influence a sustainable competitive advantage? Quite a number spring to mind and, whilst this is not intended to be a comprehensive treatise on competitive advantage, there are some that seem to me to be particularly important.
Firstly having a clear vision of who our customers are and what they need. Secondly, constant innovation – innovation in skills, technology, processes, products and services to be able to meet customer needs, which change with time. Without innovating we move backwards relative to our competitors, who will innovate and move forward. Thirdly, maintaining an offering, through innovation, that is valuable to our customers and is in some way differentiated from our competitors. Lastly, having the right balance, in a sustainable differentiated way, between the three things that matter most to most businesses – speed, quality and cost. Easy to say I know, but not so easy to accomplish in practice. But we in the North East are no less able to achieve these things than anyone else anywhere else. The key is working together – that is the real challenge.
Of course, these are just factors which individual companies should pursue in their own right. Where I firmly believe there is an additional advantage is when different companies, (co)operating in the same sector come together to form a cluster. That is where the greatest benefit will come. And why develop a cluster? Because despite the fact that we can now communicate with more or less anyone anywhere in the world within seconds, there really is no substitute for geographic proximity when it comes to developing long term relationships that are by necessity based on the need to innovate. And that is what business is about – long term relationships. It means coming together and collaborating on different levels and in different ways.
There is a great opportunity recognised by almost everyone today in successfully bringing together industry, universities, clinicians and the government. We have all of them, but it is probably fair to say that there is scope for improving our interaction. We have to recognise that it is notoriously difficult, but not impossible. It requires vision, determination, perseverance and the recognition that it is a long process. Again, it is all about developing the right relationships, and that takes time.
On a different level, there are also many opportunities for different enterprises in the same cluster to work together in non-competitive but mutually beneficial ways. For example, sharing certain support services instead of everyone having to re-invent the wheel.
I believe we have a real nascent cluster in the North East, and that in itself is an opportunity. The possibility exists to develop it into an interrelated and interdependent cluster.
Q. How would you market the sector to the global customer base?
A. I think the best way to market the sector is as a cluster of interdependent activities that co-operate to provide not just X or Y or Z, but a range of activities from A to Z. An alliance. A one-stop shop. Otherwise, it is just a collection of activities that happen to be based in the same area. We might not be there today, but I believe it should be part of the vision.
Q. What do you regard as NE greatest strengths and weaknesses?
A. One of the greatest strengths that I often see is that there are so many people who are passionate about what they’re doing, and passionate about doing it right here in the North East. This is a very potent combination and one that I have not experienced to the same degree in many other places that I have visited. As mentioned, we also have a good selection of top-class industry, universities and clinics. We also have what it takes locally in terms of finance provision and support services. And we have the opportunity to bring them closer together with a common vision. Together, we can be world class.
Weaknesses? I prefer not to dwell on them. They are a source of opportunities in disguise.
Q. Do you think the sector’s future lies in research or manufacturing?
A. The North East, in common with the Northern Region as a whole, has a predominance today of manufacturing in most private sector industries, not just in pharmaceuticals. There is good research and development being done in the life sciences but, by and large, it is manufacturing that has the upper hand. We are where we are as a consequence of many decisions that were made in the past but, as far as the future is concerned, we have the ability to make of it what we want, and I don’t believe the answer lies in putting all the eggs in one basket. Being totally reliant on one activity leads down the track of being a component provider and, component supply, as we all know, is eventually forced to accept a competitive strategy based on low cost.
The global industry as a whole has been evolving for quite some time now. A model once based on doing everything from A to Z in-house was replaced by outsourcing of certain activities, albeit in very specific areas, and usually as a simple supply of goods or services on a customer/supplier transactional basis. This is evolving towards a much more collaborative approach based on strategic partnerships which offer much more to both parties than a simple component supply arrangement. And the variety of activities that are being included in such partnerships is growing too. A good example is Chemistry, Manufacturing & Control (CMC) development, which was rarely outsourced and which is now one of the major growth areas in the contract research market.
The development of a new healthcare product is a long process encompassing many interrelated activities. Research, development, and manufacturing are just single slices of the cake. The advantage will go to a cluster of activities that are tightly knitted together and that offer as many slices of the cake as possible in a way that only a cluster can.
Q. If you had to name three things the North East could do to help support and develop the sector, what would they be?
A. To be a successful sector it has be self-sustainable, and its development has to be facilitated with a clear mission and vision in mind. You can try to build the Tower of Babel on shifting sand but it will not stand up on its own without continued support. The best clusters come together naturally because it is the obvious thing to do and because the members see value in doing that. It may be that some seeds can be artificially germinated but, at the end of the day, it has to be a process of self-sustainable natural evolution. And I really think that coming together is the obvious thing to do here. I can see value for customers and value for members alike.
There is really one priority that matters – to keep watering the seeds that have already been sown with the development of this initiative. Until the cluster becomes self-sustainable it is something that will require funding. How we provide that funding is a matter for the North East stakeholders to actively collaborate on.
Roland Jurke’s biography
Roland started his career working in analytical chemistry, moving into Information Systems (IS), graduating from Sheffield Polytechnic whilst working for Yorkshire Water. He joined Sterling Winthrop in 1990, becoming Head of IS at the Alnwick site in 1995 following the acquisition of Sterling by sanofi. Roland subsequently moved to Montpellier in France to develop a new role with responsibility for international IS strategic planning and budget for sanofi R&D in 1997.
From there he moved to Paris in 2000, where he was responsible for all IS operational aspects at five research sites where he led the integration of teams and systems following the merger of sanofi and Synthélabo, with overall responsibility for 80 people.
In 2003 Roland returned to Alnwick as Site Director, having responsibility for 200 people and all site activities. During his time in office he led a multi-million pound investment in the site, which transformed it into a modern state of the art facility which enjoyed an enviable reputation for high quality service delivery. He was then appointed chair of the ABPI Northern Pharmaceutical Group and the RegeNer8 Steering Group, and qualified with a diploma in Company Direction, certified by the Institute of Directors.
Roland left sanofi-aventis at the end of 2010 following the divestment of the Alnwick site to Covance, playing a key role in the smooth transition of the site in compliance with the company’s legal obligations.