Sabrina Chan: Achieving loftier goals

Sabrina Chan, senior executive director of Hong Kong Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry, talks about her association’s wide-ranging work to elevate pharmaceutical professionalism and Hong Kong’s competitiveness in the global arena

Sabrina Chan

Could you give us a quick introduction to the role the Hong Kong Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry (HKAPI) plays in Hong Kong’s public healthcare system?
Founded in 1968, HKAPI is one of the earliest associations in the world formed by R&D-based pharmaceutical companies. We work closely with different government bureaux, professional associations, academics and patient groups, consistently providing expert views across the entire spectrum of healthcare matters, including healthcare system reform, research and development as well as patient empowerment.

Though that mission has evolved over the years, it still follows the industry’s fundamental pharmaceutical philosophy that medicine is for all people.

Sabrina Chan

HKAPI also provides constructive advice on the healthcare system, supporting the implementation of regulatory requirements while maintaining supplies of critical drugs and vaccines to safeguard the public.

For instance, we reviewed the Drug Office’s e-submission system before its official launch two years ago. HKAPI implemented a pilot test on it and then gave comments to bridge (user) gap and to minimise bugs. We also offered training for members.

What are the various functions of HKAPI?
I lead the executive office and the day-to-day running of the associations’ interest in accordance with the strategic plans and budget. I also work with an eight-member Board of Directors, who are our sponsors and elected by full-time members once every two years in AGMs.

There are several task forces set up for strategic initiatives and system betterment, namely Preventive and Primary Healthcare; Patients, Enlistment & Risk-sharing; Open Access; R&D/Eco-system; Regulatory Affairs; Ethics and Compliance as well as Macau.
I work with staff, sponsors and taskforces to develop policies and planning for the implementation of strategic directions, and support the effective implementation of strategic plans.

Together, we review and evaluate present and future opportunities, threats and risks in the external environment as well as current and future strengths, weakness and risks relating to the industry.

How big is the association today?
There are 39 full members, 28 associate members and two members under Academics and NGOs – the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Cancer Fund.

Multinational companies engaged in the research and/or development of pharmaceuticals remain our core members, including the world’s top 20 companies. Our member companies provide over 70 per cent of the prescription medicines in Hong Kong. Annual subscription fee for

Has this membership changed?
When I first (joined HKAPI in 2004), there were 53 members. That number slipped over time due to mergers and acquisition (M&A) among member companies. This is a dynamic phenomenon but it doesn’t impact our membership revenue since annual subscription fee is based on members’ sales turnover.

The pharmaceutical industry faces high risks because of the costly and lengthy R&D process for new drugs, which comes with a high chance of failure. According to a 2016 study by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the discovery of a new drug through to getting the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval takes 10 to 15 years and costs US$2.6 billion. Less than 12 per cent of these candidate medicines make it into a Phase One clinical trial approved by the FDA.

On the other hand, our associate member categories have become more diversified, attracting law firms, device companies, communications, researchers, PR firms and even local big companies. We hope they provide better services for our members, and understand us more through HKAPI (and the) platform (we provide) for training and exchange of best practices and experience.

Since HKAPI also focuses on intellectual property such as patents, members like Baker & McKenzie has helped us a lot on law-related discussions.

How competitive is Hong Kong’s pharmaceutical industry?
Last year we did a survey on Hong Kong’s clinical trial attractiveness and identified other countries like Singapore and South Korea that have already exceeded us, so we have to catch up. For example South Korea has a dedicated department – the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety – which takes a one-stop-shop approach to attract clinical trials. But this is not happening in Hong Kong yet. We have to apply for approval from ethics committees, negotiate with investigators and apply for procedures – all of which takes a longer time.
We have submitted proposals to the government to have a faster setup of clinical trials in Hong Kong.

Does HKAPI have a major annual conference that brings international pharmaceutical professionals together?
We seldom do but our members may work with different associations to hold theirs. We may also support related conferences.

For instance, the Pharmaceutical Society of Hong Kong will host the 2020 Federation of Asian Pharmaceutical Associations Congress, drawing 2,200 delegates. HKAPI will definitely support it and details of our involvement are usually announced at a later stage.

Hong Kong has risen higher in status as a medical hub in Asia due to her high compliance with the code of practice. HKAPI has laid down standards for all medical conferences held in Hong Kong. We produce and distribute unbiased promotional leaflets and advertisements to prevent patients from being affected by inaccurate, outdated or missing information (regarding medicine). Also, we specify that medical conferences cannot take place in resorts where gaming opportunities are present.

HKAPI has a close working relationship with Meetings and Exhibition Hong Kong (MEHK). How does this partnership work?
MEHK has long been a super-connector for and a long-term supporter of HKAPI. We work across many facets and maintain a long-term partnership in elevating Hong Kong’s profile in the world’s pharmaceutical industry.

As MEHK extends its business network through HKAPI to bring even more pharmaceutical events to the city, HKAPI takes on the role of city ambassador.

And when HKAPI hosts its local events, MEHK conducts study missions to international association meetings and functions as a bridge to connect us with international association partners and event organisers for global exposure. MEHK’s efforts include securing speaker line-ups and opportunities for us to join industry networking events.

When MEHK organises study missions for association executives, I am often invited to speak about my experiences in running associations in Hong Kong and in Asia-Pacific.
As well, MEHK always helps to advise medical event organisers on compliance with our Code of Practice.

Is HKAPI affiliated with regional associations?  
We are a member of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) since 1970 as well as a member of the steering committee of the Asia Partnership Conference of Pharmaceutical Associations (APAC) since its establishment in 2011.

Do these affiliations help HKAPI in connecting members with global peers or be involved in global activities?  
I am myself a member of the working group and mentor of the three-day APEC Business Ethics for SME Forum since 2012. It’s tough from the outset as it was a small group of trainers and therefore required high involvement from members. My role varied every year, working with members and mentors and taking on speaking, training and facilitating responsibilities.

This year, the APEC Business Ethics for SME Forum was held in Japan and the theme was Promoting a Code of Ethics – Identifying the Relevant Stakeholders. I was a speaker at the opening and closing Japanese sessions and was also involved with mentor assignment and tables. I would say this was the most sustainable meeting I have (been part of), and I am so happy to see our group growing stronger with more members.

For years, we worked hard on promoting the Code of Practice and were rewarded by more Asian countries joining us. The Philippines issued an Administrative Order for the code in 2014. Recently, China Pharmaceutical Innovation and Research Development Association joined IFPMA and I flew to the capital and assisted it by reviewing its first draft of the code with other members.

What’s the biggest challenge in the work that you do for HKAPI?
It’s how to align different members’ demands and thinking (with our goals and activities). We have adopted various methods to obtain members’ thoughts, such having our CEO to meet with the general managers of member companies to seek their views. Prior to that, we conducted member surveys.

We adopt an evidence-based discussion approach and we carry out a lot of surveys and research. As such, coordination and support from members is vital.

When developing systems, I need to balance societal benefits with compliance clauses. I am fortunate to have the support of the Board of Directors. Our members treat me well too.

No matter how different the Board’s view is during discussion, we must unanimously align with the outcome.

I am also very proud of our high ethical standards and compliance to the Code of Practice. For years we have worked very hard on this for the industry because if one member were to breach the code, it would be a loss for the whole industry.

HKAPI marked its 50th anniversary in 2018. What’s your vision for the next 50 years?
We hope to help Hong Kong citizens expediently use innovative and effective healthcare solutions, and to continue to foster professional development to fuel industry growth.
Undoubtedly, our ongoing responsibility is to leverage the experience we gain from different places and multinational companies, and share best practices with our members to improve our medical system.

This is our dedication and explains why many position papers have been submitted over the last decade. One cannot imagine why a small office of six people would drive so many qualitative research and surveys. Some of these surveys are not one-off, rather they are questionnaires sent out regularly to monitor the effectiveness of a particular system.

Tell me more about HKAPI’s efforts on professional development.
HKAPI is a platform equipped with different forms of training for members because of good submission practice and good review practice. High ethical standard is our cornerstone.

We conduct systematic educational programmes such as a 22-week course for nominated medical representatives from member companies. We also conduct regulatory training programmes such as the one implemented with the University of Hong Kong (HKU). HKU students are welcome to participate for free to gain professional knowledge outside of their syllabus. As well, our ongoing Code of Practice workshop takes place at least once a year, drawing about 120 participants. All these are in addition to our patients’ workshops and trainer training sessions.

On the academic front, we support HKU and Macau University each year by staging a seminar to exchange intelligence on healthcare systems or special topics involving the two cities. Our seminar this year focused on public-private partnership in the healthcare system.

And finally, we have the Patient Empowerment Forum which is organised annually with the Hospital Authority and Hong Kong Alliance for Patient Organizations. It is now in its fifth year, and the 2018 edition covered topics like diabetes, medical device, digital device, medicine and home care. The event promotes exchange among stakeholders, academic members and even governments.

A champion for ethical standards

Prior to joining the pharmaceutical industry, Sabrina Chan was with the External Affairs Department of i-CABLE Communications, tackling government relations, regulatory issues, corporate affairs, and the promotion of the company’s core products and services.
She co-founded the Telecommunications Research Project under the Centre of Asia Studies (University of Hong Kong, HKU), and was a journalist for various print and electronic media outlets.

Chan studied communications in Hong Kong when she began her tertiary education. She holds a graduate degree in International Studies from the University of Sheffield (UK), as well as law degrees from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and University of Tsinghua (China).

She is a member of the High Level Steering Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance and of the Business Facilitation Advisory Committee in Hong Kong.

Other career achievements include:

  • A close partnership with universities in the roles of Chair of Advisory Board of the HKU Bachelor of Pharmacy Programme, and as Adjunct Assistant Professor of CUHK School of Pharmacy
  • A long-time member of the Working Committee to develop strategies for promulgating Codes of Practice across APEC economies
  • A mentor with APEC and IFPMA programmes, where she shared best practices through training workshops and panel discussions at various forums attended by delegates from APEC member economies and biopharmaceutical sector experts

This article was first published in TTGassociations January 2019, a sister publication of TTGmice

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