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Exclusive interview: Katarina Ageborg

Few companies are as synonymous with Sweden as AstraZeneca and few CEOs as visible. Yet, Katarina Ageborg, AstraZeneca Sweden’s new CEO, prefers not to think about being center stage, but instead about what her position can do for the company, Sweden and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole.

“I don’t think about it that way [being highly visible externally], but rather the fact that we as a large, global company – and I in this role – have the opportunity and possibility to make sure that patients have access to the medicines they need,” says Ageborg. “In particular, given my global role as Executive Vice President Sustainability, it’s a big responsibility, but one I am happy to take on.”

The right purpose

Katarina Ageborg, who was named CEO of AstraZeneca AB, the Swedish affiliate, in August 2018, has been a part of AstraZeneca’s global management team since 2011. When she joined AstraZeneca in 1998, she had never worked in the pharmaceutical field before and both the work and the industry appealed to her.

“The purpose and goal of pharmaceutical companies resonates with me, and I’ve been really happy with that,” states Ageborg.

Her main priority during the first six months has been “Finding my way of working in a structured way in this new role so that I can support all of the Swedish organization and deliver in my new position,” Ageborg continues.

“What attracted me was the fact that I can – in an even more ‘hands on manner’ than before – contribute to creating the best conditions possible for AstraZeneca’s business in Sweden, both in Södertälje, where we host our largest production site globally, and in one of our strategic research and development sites in Gothenburg.”

Know your priorities

When it comes to the business of medicine, AstraZeneca remains science-focused and concentrates on three therapy areas: oncology, cardiovascular, renal and metabolism (CVRM) and respiratory.

“We have a global presence with strength in emerging markets and we’re continuing to focus on specialty and primary care,” explains Ageborg. “We’ve also decided exactly what our priority medicines are moving forward, so we have four medicines in oncology that we need to make sure are successful in 2019: Tagrisso, Calquence, Lynparza and Imfinzi. We have two in respiratory, Fasenra and Symbicort, and we have another four in CVRM, Farxiga, Lokelma, Brilinta and Roxadustat.”

“It’s important for us as a company and for our employees to know our priorities in terms of delivering medicines,” Ageborg continues. “We also need to make sure we are oriented around science and technology, looking at the patients’ expectations, being patient-centric and following the digital revolution. Those are three key things we need to focus on,” Ageborg states.

In developing strategies and goals, AstraZeneca is fortunate that Sweden has much to offer in terms of the life sciences, Ageborg notes. “There is a good research climate and there are a lot of life science companies,” she says. “There is great talent we can tap into and an advanced health care system.”

Sustainability should be in our DNA

Sustainability is critical to AstraZeneca’s way of doing business, and by maintaining her position as the company’s Executive Vice President, Sustainability and Chief Compliance Officer, Ageborg is able to stay on top of it.

“It’s a good platform for me to see Sweden as a model for sustainability”

“It’s a good platform for me to see Sweden as a model for sustainability,” Ageborg notes.  AstraZeneca is focusing its sustainability strategy on three pillars – Access to healthcare, Environmental protection, and Ethics and transparency.

“It is very fulfilling to me to see how we, by working together across functions, skills areas and locations, help drive and influence the future of the company,” she says. “I would like us to be in a place where we actually talk less about sustainability – it should be in our DNA, embedded in the way we make decisions, in the way we think and plan and develop our business strategies in all areas across the business.”

When it comes to drug prices Ageborg states that it is linked to the access to health care strategy. “When making any pricing decisions we aim to be responsible, and try to do it so medicine is affordable but research can continue,” Ageborg states.

 

 

LCA to examine environmental impact

The company also recently completed 12 lifecycle analyses (LCAs) to examine the environmental impacts, such as global warming potential (GWP), ozone depleting potential (ODP), environmental toxicology, freshwater use, energy consumption and resource depletion of products over their full life cycle, taking into account raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, distribution and disposal.

AstraZeneca’s process aligns to internationally-recognized ISO guidelines and the output can be used to help stakeholders in making decisions that will improve the environmental performance of a product, according to the company. Because the LCAs show environmental impacts across the whole value chain, targeted initiatives can be implemented to address the areas that cause the greatest impact on the environment. The assessment data allows benchmarking of product performance, which is necessary to assess the effects of any improvement initiatives, comparisons between different product classes and comparative products.

AstraZeneca notes that in the future LCAs could be performed on every product immediately after market approval. Reviewing LCA data for recently-launched products can ensure any environmental benefits from targeted improvement activities are realized across the patent life.

A great place to work

In the area of social responsibility, AstraZeneca concentrates on disease prevention and treatment, with a specific focus on preventing non-communicable diseases that are responsible for large numbers of deaths globally. “In addition to this, we focus locally to stimulate the interest for science and technology,” says Ageborg. “We also do specific humanitarian disaster support.”

There are several programs Ageborg is proud and particularly excited to talk about. One is Healthy Heart Africa, a programme committed to reducing hypertension and cardiovascular disease (CVD) across Africa, another is Healthy Lung Asia, launched in 2017 in nine Asian countries.

With a primary focus on future health Young Health Program is a non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention program developed in partnership with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Plan International. The goal is to reduce unhealthy behaviors in young people so they are healthier adults, and to help address the growing burden of NCDs on health systems.

Ageborg explains that the company also has its internal priorities, including working to improve gender equality and diversity and striving to be more open and inclusive,  to attract the best people.

“AstraZeneca should be a great place to work, no matter what your background”

“I am convinced AstraZeneca will be a better and more innovative company if we [do this],” Ageborg states. “AstraZeneca should be a great place to work, no matter what your background.”

Ageborg’s plans to interact with AstraZeneca Sweden’s 6 900 employees include communicating to ensure that everyone is grounded in the company’s cultural values.

“For me, it is important to be as present as possible and to build pride among employees,” she concludes.

 

 


Katarina Ageborg

 

Born: 1966, on the west coast of Sweden

Education: Law school at Uppsala University

Career: Owner of her own law firm before she joined AstraZeneca in 1998 and a part of AstraZeneca’s global management team since 2011

Interests: Skiing, spending time with her four children and walking her dog in the woods

Photo: Jenny Öhman