- 1 year ago
22 August 2022
Sarah Bridge has been in her current role as Head of Market Access, Advocacy and Policy at Bayer Pharma Australia for just two years but after two decades working in market access and health economics roles across two continents, she knows one thing – she doesn’t ever want to do anything else.
Sarah lights up when talking about market access, and while others may find the area both opaque and challenging, trying to find a way to bring innovative medicines to patients that need them is what makes it exciting for this female leader.
“It’s about the possibility, about finding a way. It’s a worthy and noble challenge and I struggle to think of anything that could be more rewarding than finding a pathway to enable patient access to products my company has made,” she tells MedNews, adding the fact market access straddles commercial and medical spheres is yet another reason for her to love the job.
“My whole career has been spent in market access and I love what we do in this space. I know at 10 I would never have dreamed of working as a health economist for a pharmaceutical company, but I’ve now been one for 20 years and I genuinely love it.
“Market access is the best of medical and of commercial. On the medical side, we have all the data and the science to understand the value of the innovation for the patient beyond trial outcomes, while on the commercial side we are tipped into reimbursement and pricing, which brings us into conversations around value for the business. We get to play in both camps – how can you not get excited about that?”
From the UK to Australia
Bridge arrived at Bayer two years ago, taking on the role from departing ANZ incumbent Matt Slabbert. Armed with a degree in health sciences and a Masters in Health Economics and Health Policy, she initially worked with Pfizer in the UK before moving both companies and countries.
She moved with her partner and twin babies to Australia in 2011, initially working as a health economist with Eli Lilly but rose quickly through the ranks, appointed Head of Pricing and Market Access in 2014.
“I loved working at Lilly – it was an exciting place to be,” she says. “When I first started, we were working on pipeline and then suddenly we were in a growth phase. Seeing submission after submission and result after result was exciting, but I later wanted more of an enterprise responsibility.
“Bayer has given me a seat on the leadership team so involved in more than market access initiatives. We set a course for the people and culture aspects to our business, and I like that.”
The leader on a fast-track up has achieved much in just two years, including two new treatments listed on the PBS in prostate cancer therapy NUBEQA (darolutamide) and precision oncology offering VITRAKVI (larotrectinib). Bayer had two cardiorenal drugs in KERENDIA (finerenone) and VERQUVO (vericiguat) under PBAC consideration last month, the first rejected and the second recommended.
While Bridge will undoubtedly already be plotting the fastest path to the PBS for Verquvo, her impressive track record of listings would make it easy to claim these as her proudest achievement – but instead she points elsewhere.
“In truth, the team – not just market access, but everyone – helped bring those innovations through,” she says. “Personally, I’m proud of what we have done as a leadership team to pave the way through what has been a horrible two years with Covid.”
HTA Review a new opportunity
Bridge also sits on a high-powered ‘brains trust’ tasked with guiding industry’s response to the Medicines Australia Strategic Agreement, kicking off with the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Review due to finish mid-2023.
Bridge is among those looking at horizon scanning and, given Vitrakvi’s struggles to achieve a PBS listing as a pan-tumour therapy (it made five PBAC appearances), Bridge could be excused if she were somewhat jaded but instead reveals herself to be a “glass half-full” optimist focused on success, not struggles.
While the PBAC eventually recommended Vitrakvi as a pan-tumour therapy for children with NTRK-positive tumours, it was more specific with the adult population, yet Bridge still sees the listing as “a huge win”.
“We haven’t reached all the patients we initially would have liked to, and we know some people see that as not a perfect result, but I was passionate about making this available to the patients the PBAC and the Government could see a route for,” she says. “If we think about where we were, Vitrakvi’s listing represents a massive milestone, particularly for children.
“We know the idea of next-generation biomarker testing isn’t quite here in Australia yet, but it is coming. In years to come we will look at Vitrakvi as a stepping stone in the Australian system’s ability to evolve.”
A softly, softly approach
Bridge advocates the same, softer approach in working with all levels of government to achieve change through the HTA review, keeping patients as the focus.
“We need to find a way for innovation to continue to come through our system. We need to have dialogue with, and find a voice for, all stakeholders. I have faith in this process, and in the fact more people are talking about value.
“There is an opportunity to review and align on the value definition and, at the end of the day, we can’t get caught up in the details. Instead, we need to see the HTA Review as an opportunity to come together and put fast access for patients at the heart of what we’re trying to do.”
For now, Bridge is excited about Nubeqa being listed on the PBS for men with prostate cancer – an area where she sees enormous need and which “reinforces the importance of not leaving people behind”, while she embarks on new challenges – getting Verquvo on the PBS and Kerendia recommended.
It is these challenges that keep her energised and excited about market access – the kind of “worthy and noble challenge” that this pharmaceutical expert has dedicated her life to, and from which she is unlikely to ever leave.
“For me, market access is more about the pursuit than the endgame,” she says. “It will be very difficult for me to ever move away from market access because I genuinely love it so much.”