Karim Smaira: A Leader with a Commitment to Serve

Karim Smaira | Co-founder | Kamel Ghammachi | Co-founder & CEO | Genpharm

In an interview with CIO Look, Karim Smaira emphasizes on the contribution made by him and the Co-founder, Kamel Ghammachi, in the evolution the pharmaceutical sector in the Middle East region of the health-care sector. His unique ideologies and a vision to serve people made him achieve many milestones en route to success. Being Co-founder and CEO of Genpharm, Karim has portrayed many impeccable leadership traits whilst taking the company to stature heights. 

CIO Look feels pride to feature such adherent leader in its new edition special edition, “Influential Leaders in Healthcare, 2019”. Below are the highlights of the interview: 

Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a leader. 

In addition to receiving a good education, I was fortunate enough to have early life experiences and amazing mentors along the way. My family had to leave our home due to the war. Adversity helps you forge personality and build character. Traveling and living in different countries allowed me to learn five languages and get exposed to different cultures. Once I started working, I had managers at almost every position that trusted me and allowed me to take initiatives and experiment with new things. I believe all the above led to the development of my leadership skills and helped me prepare for setting up Genpharm, a private pharmaceutical company with my Co-founder Mr. Kamel Ghammachi. 

How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to appeal the target audience in health-care sector? 

From the onset we had a clear strategy and ambition. Our Vision as to what we wanted Genpharm to be remains the same. When we did our market analysis, we identified a significant gap in the rare disease space. Access to orphan drugs in the MENA region is challenging. Lack of general public awareness, delay in genetic diagnosis, a complex and long patient pathway are some of the obstacles. 

On the other hand, the high rate of consanguinity and the large family size lead inevitably to a relatively higher prevalence and incidence of genetic disease. Healthcare coverage and reimbursement to the national population in the GCC provided us with the geographic focus of our early efforts. Hence our mission to Commit. Connect. Cure. 

We are committed to serving the patients, connecting multinational companies and their innovative treatments to the region and ultimately being the first Gene therapy company in the Middle East to cure patients. 

What are the crucial traits which every leader must possess? 

A leader must have a clear Vision and be able to articulate it. His vision has to be aspirational and bond people of different backgrounds and culture to a higher purpose. Then, leading by example and surrounding yourself with people that are able to execute and giving them the tools to do so is equally critical. 

What are your intakes on roles of a leader serving for the health-care sector? 

Regardless of the sector, by definition a leader needs to be a driver of ideas and people. Because we are dealing with human health in our sector, a healthcare leader has a moral responsibility towards the patients and their families, particularly in the rare disease space. Most of these diseases are genetic and pediatric in nature. They are degenerative and have a negative impact on both quality and life expectancy. 

As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges are faced by leaders in such sectors? And what is your advice to overcome them? 

Ironically our industry suffers from a very negative public opinion. This is due in large part to few individuals that have put greed and shareholder value at all costs above everything else. Unfortunately, this get a disproportionate media coverage, which in turn, creates a trust issue. Nevertheless, most people employed in the pharmaceutical sector are genuinely driven by the ambition of advancing scientific research and ultimately treating patients. The recent breakthroughs in oncology and the rare disease space testify to this. The other point is related to the pricing of drugs in particularly in the US. The average citizen doesn’t know the costs and rate of failure involved in research and in drug discovery. They also are not familiar with the value-based approach of pricing drugs. These treatments are actually cost-effective, limiting the indirect costs associated with the disease and the multidisciplinary care required as well as the costs of regular hospitalizations. 

I believe the key is to communicate better outside of the industry and to showcase all the positive impact that our industry has on the overall well-being of our society. 

How do you upgrade yourself with ever-evolving technological trends to boost your personal and company’s growth? 

In entrepreneurship, learning on the job is a big element. I am an avid reader of management books and a natural net-worker. I always enjoy connecting with leaders from other sectors and executives. I strongly believe that we can learn from someone else’s experience and perspective. 

In terms of company growth, we like to trust our employees with a tendency to promote from within and reward high performers. We have launched an employee option plan with this in mind. We want to give our staff a sense of ownership and responsibility. We believe that engagement and commitment contribute to the growth of both the individual and the organization as a whole. 

Being a specialist pharmaceutical marketing and consulting company, what is your contribution in evolving pharmaceutical sector? 

We are at the forefront of innovation by making the most advanced treatments accessible to patients in the Middle East. We have established our brand in a relatively short time. Genpharm has become a highly reliable and trusted partner for multinationals looking at partnering in the Middle East. We would like to think that we have significantly contributed to raising the profile of the region globally but most importantly we have educated the public on the various aspects of rare disease helping patients get a faster diagnosis and accessing the latest therapies. 

According to you, what is the current status of MENA healthcare and pharmaceutical sector? Kindly provide a brief note on it. 

The MENA Pharmaceutical market represents only 2% of global pharma sales, but the forecasted growth is one of the highest. The region is inhabited by almost 300 million people. The markets are very diverse, and the healthcare systems are unequally developed. 

Chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular ailments have become national health concerns. Governments play bigger roles in some countries investing in disease awareness and public insurance, while in others the private sector is well established. There has been a great deal of focus on healthcare infrastructure lately resulting in major investments in building of hospitals and clinics. 

Some markets are maturing fast with regulations, pricing and insurance schemes similar to the developed markets of Europe. Ministries of health are further adopting healthcare assessment methodologies. Most have introduced fast track review processes, particularly for orphan drugs already approved by the FDA or EMA. Some of the current general trends are the development of local manufacturers, the push for pricing and budgetary controls though the encouragement of generics. 

What will be your future endeavors and/or where do you see yourself in the near future? 

We are going through a growth phase. We strongly believe that this will continue in the future. We feel that Genpharm has a tremendous potential for growth and value creation and I would like to see this happening in the near future. Having put patients at the core of everything we do, we are committed to making a difference to as many patients and families as possible. 

As entrepreneurs we are faced with constant pressure and have to make daily decisions that can impact the company and the lives of others. I believe that business success comes from making the right decisions and always doing what you think is right in the context, regardless of what people think.  

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