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Michael Laranjo: A Confluence of Science and Wellness

Michael Laranjo | President and General Manager
Michael Laranjo | President and General Manager

Global health statistics have been alarming healthcare communities, with mental health grabbing the spotlight. And to understand the prime causal effect of mental illness across the global communities, care professionals came up with research data concerning the mental health scenario, as mentioned below:

  • According to the Global Data Pharma Analysis, one in six adults is reported to have a common mental health disorder.
  • Although the global cost of mental health conditions in 2010 was around $2.5 trillion, it is estimated that by the year 2030, the cost will reach $6 trillion, as the World Economic Forum suggested.
  • Given the data, pharmaceutical companies are able to see gaps in the market and have been looking for a better understanding of human behavior under natural conditions.
  • Both research and development processes are essential to attain the objective of improving the treatment and care of patients.

Such a social burden of mental illness is substantial to humankind.

Addressing the gap, Michael Laranjo, the President and General Manager of Otsuka Canada Pharmaceutical Inc. (OCPI) is an influential leader in the healthcare industry with a keen focus on driving innovation to serve patients better.

Established in 2010 and headquartered in Saint-Laurent, Quebec, the company has been a success story for the global healthcare industry that challenges the area of mental health. It innovates and commercializes medicines with a commitment to neuroscience and nephrology.

We at Insights Care reached out to Michael to dive into his journey of innovative medicine in an attempt to improve quality care.

A Business Built from Scratch

Michael has been in the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years. Having come from Deloitte, he used to work across various client groups, moving from company to company. Such an experience gave him a tremendous foundation, and he realized he was a lifelong learner.  Such excitement had driven him to Otsuka Canada Pharmaceutical Inc. (OCPI) in 2010 when the company was just starting to build its footprint in Canada. Michael joined as a Senior Director before becoming VP and Chief Financial & Operations Officer.

“Joining the company in its infancy was an exciting opportunity, and I quickly learned that there is no experience like building a business from the ground up. It teaches you to appreciate every role on a team – and that, together, we’re far greater than the sum of our parts,” says Michael.

OCPI has a strong Neuroscience and Nephrology business unit, each with multiple offerings to help its Canadian patients.

Michael states, “As I continue this journey, I am excited to drive innovations that will push our industry forward and better serve our patients – and equally excited to do this in partnership with our team, whose passion fuels everything we do.”

Driven by Mission

OCPI operates with its mission, i.e., Otsuka-people creating new products for better health worldwide. “And, guided by our mission, our daily work is driven by our three core values: honoring our commitments, enhancing customer satisfaction, and putting compassion for people first and foremost,” points out Michael.

He continues, “We do all this not just through our drugs and therapies, but through critical partnerships with HCPs that allow us to go beyond the medicine and ensure patients always receive the best care possible.”

For example, OCPI worked with several of the schizophrenia societies across Canada and Stigma Free Society, Mental Health Recovery Partner, and IAM to provide scholarships to individuals with mental health issues to support them in getting the education they need to succeed. The individuals in the scholarship program do not need to be on Otsuka medication to be eligible since the initiative’s goal is to put the patient first and provide support for Canadians where Michael and his team can.

Prioritizing compassion for people first and foremost goes beyond the organization’s core work and drives the work that it does as a part of our greater community.

In addition, during the post-pandemic phase, Michael had to ensure that his office team would come together. To attain the objective, the team began setting up monthly “culture” office days. This included activities such as a team lunch.

Michael adds, “We are dedicated to giving our team the opportunity to contribute to a charitable organization. Our most recent opportunity involved collecting and filling backpacks for kids going back to school for l’Opération Sac à Dos.”

Highlighting Positive Culture

If our mission is to positively impact the world, that positivity needs to start with our employees,” suggests Michael.

At OCPI, Michael and his team engaged a third party to do a company culture assessment and were pleasantly surprised with the results: “On average, our people were more positive than employees at other companies they’d surveyed.”

OCPI tries to maintain a positive culture in several ways: by reducing internal bureaucracy, focusing on collaboration across levels and departments, and ensuring that employees have input into their work-life balance. The company also strives to connect itself to a greater cause.

When I first started as President & General Manager in 2020, many people asked what my vision for OCPI was. The answer here is simple, and it still rings true today – my vision is that all OCPI employees share in the passion for the company and take ownership of building it,” shares Michael.

He adds, “In the end, OCPI is here to make medicine that helps people, but what makes us stand out is how we come together as a force for good to achieve that goal.

Working with Neuroscience and Nephrology

OCPI works mainly in two key areas: neuroscience and nephrology. Its neuroscience portfolio includes products that help patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. The company has multiple launches for new treatments coming up in the next 36 months.

Additionally, OCPI’s nephrology franchise has been through a lot of change since launching a first in disease for autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD).

We are in the middle of launching new products over the next 36 months that will provide treatment for patients where limited or no options are currently available, helping to increase the level of care for our patients in Canada,” suggests Michael.

The Role of Technology

The opportunities for technological innovation in the pharmaceutical industry are limitless. At the same time, there are many successful examples, one that has been observed most recently and most widely was—how the industry was able to quickly bring the mRNA innovation to market for the COVID-19 vaccine.

And while we are seeing the impact technology is having in the way medicines are developed and produced, we are also seeing an immense impact in the role that technology can play in how people are treated,” says Michael.

For example, in the mental health space, therapy apps that have been evaluated in a controlled clinical setting can provide regular access to support and care for those who need it at the push of a button. Hence, OCPI continues to develop and evaluate different digital therapeutic options.

However, to get OCPI to where it is today has been a journey – and like with all organizations, has had it’s ups and downs.

Initial Challenges

As with many organizations, navigating the pandemic has been a challenge. And over the past two years, Michael and his team did their best to put their patients and employees first by stepping up communication, ensuring that employees had the flexibility they needed, and making every effort to ensure the company’s culture and patient focus remained intact.

Now that we are two plus years down the road, the challenge that remains is: what will our organization, our workplace, and our industry look like as our world begins to recover and learn to live with the COVID-19 virus?” questions Michael.

He continues, “While we don’t have all the answers to this now, we know that at OCPI, one of our greatest strengths is our culture. I am honored to work with a strong, dedicated, and stable leadership team whose everyday work continues to reflect our values and who will play a key role in leading our company into the future.”

Michael believes that the company’s culture is its guiding force and is going to be imperative as he and his team determine how they navigate OCPI’s future. As such, its current challenge, which the team is actively working through, is to evolve this culture to ensure that it continues to be a well-known strength while maintaining the evolving expectations of the company’s employees in its new hybrid world.

To Embrace New Opportunities

Michael was encouraged to share his advice for the budding entrepreneurs who desire to venture into the pharmaceutical space, to which he responded, “What drew me to the pharmaceutical industry was the opportunity to learn something new every day, and in my last 20 years in the industry, this has rung true.”

He adds, “The pharmaceutical industry is one that is always changing, and to succeed; you need to be flexible and willing to embrace new opportunities and challenges. However, if there is one thing I have learned, it is that you are never expected to do this alone.”

At OCPI, I am surrounded by an incredible team who share my passion for the work we do every day. And so, my advice to those looking to enter the industry is simple: be passionate, stay curious, and surround yourself with people who you trust,” concludes Michael.

OCPI’s Stronghold in 2022 and Beyond

As we look to the future, OCPI will rely on its key strengths, which lie in its people. “Hence, the company will be able to strengthen its position in the market now and into the future because of its people’s dedication to putting the patient at the center of everything we do.”

Our other key strength is our products. We believe that having options is critical for patients. As such, we will continue to innovate and seek opportunities to bring new treatments to market and make them accessible to help improve the lives of Canadian patients,” concludes Michael.

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