Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has had a difficult recent history and like many businesses it faces some tough challenges in the near future. Jon Kirby, CIO at the Anglo-Swedish organisation, is part of a new leadership team facing up to those challenges.
On 1 October 2012, Pascal Soriot took over as AstraZeneca chief executive, an appointment which market watchers hope will stabilise the company that lost its CEO in April 2012 and continue the transformation needed following the 28 per cent drop in second quarter profits reported in July 2012.
AstraZeneca is Britain's second largest pharmaceutical manufacturer. Listed on the London Stock Exchange, the company specialises in treatments for major diseases in six key areas of healthcare: cancer, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, infection, neuroscience, and respiratory and inflammation.
A merger between Sweden's AstraAB and the UK's Zeneca group formed today's FTSE 100-listed organisation in 1999, and while Britain, Sweden and the US remain its core operating hubs, the company has a growing presence in emerging markets and is very much a global corporation, operating in more than 100 nations.,"
"AstraZeneca is a pure-play pharmaceutical company -- we have not diversified into areas like pet foods or toothbrushes," CIO Kirby explains of the company that reported revenues of $32bn in 2011.
Drug patents form a vital revenue pillar for pharmaceutical firms, and AstraZeneca, like many of its market rivals, see a lot of their patents expire every year. As a result, Kirby explains that pharmaceutical manufacturers must constantly improve their research and development (R&D) capabilities to bring new drugs to market.
"We are driving improvements in R&D, productivity and the quality of the pipeline to get new products to market and help the business development when there are mergers and acquisitions," he says of the management team.
"The industry faces a lot of real challenges. Regulators around the world are becoming a lot more challenging towards the ethics and benefits of a drug, so that brings new problems: drugs have to be differentiated and approved by the regulators, so physicians will have less control over what they prescribe," he says of the economic challenge that governments and health services are tackling.
"Healthcare is a burden on countries and there is increased access to generic medicines. So AstraZeneca has to focus on how it effectively develops, sells and markets. This is a highly complex business, and unnecessarily so in some cases," he says.
Kirby became CIO in 2010 following an internal move from procurement. One of his first tasks was to realign the IS function so it was central to responding to the challenges AstraZeneca faces and could deliver competitive advantage.
"IS has not always been fully aligned and not seen as a source of competitive advantage. Yet there isn't a single part of the business strategy that cannot be done without IS," he explains.
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