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Frederique Welgryn of HRA Pharma

A famous quote says, “When women take care of their health, they become their best friends.” Women are the backbone of society. They are the key to maintaining healthy families. From birth-giver to primary caretaker, they play different roles.

However, women experience unique health care challenges. Across their lifespan, women’s health matters not only for them but also for their families. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, women who are the primary caregivers were the most affected.

Hence, women need to keep an eye on their health, especially on their reproductive health. With the increasing awareness about self-care, women are focusing on their health more than ever. To meet their demand and provide better healthcare services, many companies launched their campaigns. Historically centered around women’s health, one such company HRA Pharma, is trying to make contraception and emergency contraception more accessible to women.

We had the opportunity to interact with Frederique Welgryn, Chief Strategic Operations and Innovation Officer of HRA Pharma, who shed light on the company, its mission, and the future aspects of women’s health solutions market. Below are the highlights of the interview:

Please brief our audience about your company, its mission, and the key aspects of its stronghold within the women’s health solutions niche.

We, HRA Pharma, are a pioneer in women’s reproductive health and have a strong commitment to enabling easy access to contraception since being founded in 1996. We want to challenge the norm and support women’s empowerment by helping them take their reproductive health into their own hands; with access, we want to allow more choice and control for women.

Tell us more about the solutions that give your company a distinctive edge to stand out from the competition?

HRA is a leader in consumer health, with a specific focus on female reproductive healthcare. HRA was founded 25 years ago with the purpose of making contraception and emergency contraception more accessible to women. We pioneered the launch of ella®, a EMA and FDA-approved emergency contraceptive, and made it available without a prescription in all European countries.

We are now on a mission to make a highly effective daily contraceptive method easily accessible to women through a first-in-class Rx-to-OTC switch. This is the next step of HRA Pharma’s history.

Whatever one may think, women currently face multiple barriers to obtain their daily contraceptive. This has been worsened by the pandemic. National survey data from 2020 shows that one in three women of reproductive age in the US had to delay or cancel a reproductive health visit or had trouble accessing family planning services and methods. As a reminder, half of the pregnancies in the US remain unintended.

By allowing easy access to effective regular contraception, HRA Pharma wishes to tangibly support women in need and give them more control, choice, and empowerment to use contraception on their terms.

Lastly, we also wish to ensure a diverse representation of women in communication and be respectful of gender topics.

David Wright, CEO, HRA Pharma, says: “I am incredibly proud of the ground-breaking changes our teams have worked to deliver for women in Europe, the UK, and most recently in the US by securing the first-in-class switch of regular contraception during 2021 through to 2022, to meet women’s needs better. More broadly, the hard work and dedication of HRA have positioned the brand as the leading provider of over-the-counter healthcare products in Europe, and rare diseases drugs, with both divisions having seen continuous double-digit growth over the last four years.”

Bradley Meeks, President of HRA Pharma America, says, “Founded in 2016, HRA Pharma America is a rapidly growing subsidiary of HRA Pharma, with a commitment to OTC products and women’s health, with a particular focus on Rx-to-OTC switches. HRA Pharma America made remarkable strides by acquiring Compeed in 2017 and Mederma in 2019. HRA Pharma’s ultimate goal of empowering women by developing accessible solutions to contraceptive needs is gaining ground in the US, including recently through the Nurx partnership. This new collaboration is making express delivery of the emergency contraceptive pill ella® possible throughout the country.”

Brief us about the featuring person(s), their professional journey, and the impact they have made through their role in the organization.

I, Frederique Welgryn, started my career in the pharma industry 25 years ago, working in many areas, including oncology, holding leadership roles in big organizations. I decided to join HRA Pharma precisely because of its values and purpose. I’ve tried ever since to humbly serve it and make sure that more women around the world would benefit from our innovations and our fights for access. I’m particularly proud to say that, thanks to our work and success at HRA, millions of women in Europe now have easy access to emergency contraception in Europe.

I’m particularly proud to have built educational campaigns to bust myths around the morning after pill and have been bold enough to advertise its use. I am now proud to lead teams that are so passionate about challenging the norm and change perceptions around women’s rights to access regular contraception. Lastly, I’m surrounded by women of great talent in this organization – our sense of purpose, respect, and sisterhood is incredibly powerful in our day-to-day work and helps us perform above the norm. I feel I have a responsibility to help them grow and become tomorrow’s leaders!

As a seasoned business leader what is your opinion on the effects of the pandemic on the healthcare sector, and what were the challenges that your company came across?

The last 18 months have been incredibly challenging for all of us. The healthcare sector has seen less impact of this pandemic than others, but patients have struggled to consult doctors and have postponed visits, exams, and treatments.

At HRA, priority has been put on making sure that there would be no disruption in our supply chain and operations and that all the patients and consumers would be served adequately. We’ve been very concentrated on maintaining the fundamentals of our business and not interrupting our innovation projects.

But, as always, with challenges come opportunities. With consumers connecting more and more digitally and buying more and more online, we have taken steps to upskill our organization and be at the forefront of digital transformation. Women in the UK have been able to order emergency contraception online in UK. We’ve been partnering with women’s health telemedicine platforms to serve women more quickly and anticipate their needs in the US. We’ve also been able to enroll women in clinical trials in a fully digitalized process.

With continuous development in technologies such as AI and ML, what is your prediction about the future of the women’s health solutions niche?

I believe that there are big opportunities and very talented people in this area. Women will use a whole set of solutions to manage their health and needs, and AI/ML tools can be of great help for diagnostic, education and can certainly become treatment options at some point. Not all will be reliable, but some will undoubtedly be extremely helpful for women and should be considered in their set of options – with the necessary set of scientific evidence backing their use.

From our perspective, AI/ML certainly can reinvent the way we carry out our tasks in this sector, with learning algorithms making predictions based on certain data types. We are already seeing several apps in the sector available for women, using this approach and assisting them with a wide range of topics.

An area where AI has already been seen to have potential is assisting with staying healthy with the proactive management of a healthy lifestyle empowering the user to control their health and wellbeing. Moving forward clearly, working at scale will improve the overall usage of the technologies, mainly down to resources needed for development and cost-efficiency.

What would be your advice to the entrepreneurs and healthcare enthusiasts aspiring to venture into women’s health solutions market?

Go for it! There is a need; there are talents; there is technology – all ingredients for success. And take a bet on a woman CEO; they seem to be a good ingredient for success – A Mckinsey study showed that organizations with women holding at least 30% of leadership roles were 40% more likely to have sustained, profitable growth.

How do you envision scaling your company’s operations and offerings in 2021?

David Wright, CEO, HRA Pharma, says, “Since the announcement on September 8, 2021, that Astorg and Goldman Sachs Asset Management had received a binding offer and entered into exclusive negotiations with Perrigo Company plc for the sale of HRA, our growth potential is more exciting than ever. The proposed acquisition by Perrigo is expected to facilitate accelerated innovation. It will enable HRA to continue to provide high-quality products to patients worldwide and build on HRA’s recent successful expansion in the US and draw on its strength in Europe.”

Provide us details regarding the awards and recognition that your company has achieved thus far since its inception.

HRA is a multi-award-winning organization. Most recently, HRA won the OTCToolbox award in 2021 for ‘Regulatory Achievement of The Year’ in recognition of ellaOne, becoming the first emergency contraceptive pill in Italy to be made available without a prescription to women under 18 years of age. In partnership with Dirt & Glory Media, Havas London and UM Media, the UK team won two other awards for ellaOne’s ‘My Morning after campaign’: the Best Brand Building Campaign and Best Healthcare/Pharmaceutical Campaign at the 2021 CIM Marketing Excellence Awards.

Further awards include – The Talent Management Award at the Personnel Today Awards 2021, European Marketing Campaign of The Year 2019 for ellaOne’s ‘My Morning After’ campaign, Best Product Launch Award, and Best Education and Training Award. at the Smart Awards in 2016, for the prescription-only medicines (Poms) to Pharmacy Medicines P switch for ellaOne and associated training materials.