Leaders in Pharmaceuticals

 Yossi Ofek, CEO Teva Israel (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Yossi Ofek, CEO Teva Israel
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)

“We knew that we could succeed in distributing the corona vaccines,” says Yossi Ofek, CEO of Teva Israel. “Teva’s logistic capabilities in pharmaceuticals are among the finest in the world.” Ofek, who has been with Teva for almost thirty years, explains that Israel was the first country to receive a large number of vaccines for rapid, mass distribution and was well-prepared to fulfill its mission. “We purchased freezers from Japan and Belgium to store the vaccines, we developed work methods, and we have excellent infrastructure,” he says. Ofek adds that Teva’s impressive infrastructure is not only in its distribution methods but in its independent electrical systems, cyber defenses, and redundant systems. “The company’s ability and experience,” he says, enabled us to do the impossible.” Indeed, Teva succeeded in speedily distributing more than 15 million of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to about 400 vaccine centers that serve all the health funds throughout Israel.

Ofek points out that during the corona crisis, Teva not only had to distribute the vaccines but also continued to supply its own medicines throughout the world. “Many countries stopped exporting medications because they were more concerned about themselves, and there were limitations regarding shipping by sea and air,” he says. In addition, Teva chartered planes to bring needed medicines to Israel, so ensure there would be no shortages. Currently, many Teva employees are working on a hybrid basis, spending three days each week in the company offices, and working from home other days. Ofek expects that this arrangement will continue for the duration of the pandemic.

One of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic, says Ofek, is the uncertainty. No one knows how long it will remain, nor the effects of possible mutations. “From a managerial perspective, it is very challenging. One can’t prepare for the long term,” he says. Since January of 2021, he says, Teva has improved its ability to deal with uncertainty and risks and is even more prepared for emergencies.

Ofek is convinced that the messenger RNA technology (mRNA) used in many of the corona vaccines will lead to a revolution in the use of vaccines to treat other diseases. He notes that the technology was originally developed for cancer vaccinations, and once the pandemic arrived, scientists adapted the technology for use with the corona vaccine.

In addition to his responsibilities as the CEO of Teva Israel, Yossi Ofek also oversees Teva operations in Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine. “Teva at its essence is a generic drug company,” says Ofek. “We supply high-quality, lower-priced medicines to 200 million people each day.”

Ofek adds that while the corona vaccine reached the world’s wealthier countries relatively quickly, poorer countries could not afford to purchase it, and as a result, had fewer vaccinations. “The result is the variants that have arrived from these countries. There was no global strategy.” “We should at least try to bring other drugs to countries that have shortages,” he says. To that end, Teva is providing critical medicines to treat cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes to many developing countries in Africa, where these medicines are not available. “We hope to make a small revolution in health care for tens or even hundreds of millions of children,” says Ofek, referring to the company’s oncological drugs for children that it is providing.

Recently, Teva introduced two new drugs with great potential in Israel and the overall world market. Austedo, used to treat the involuntary movements (chorea) of Huntington’s disease or Tardive Dyskinesia (caused by psychiatric and neuroleptic drugs), was introduced this past August in Israel. Ajovy, a prescription medicine used to treat migraines in adults, was released in Israel in July. Ofek says that the drug has proven to be very effective in treating migraines, which affect ten percent of the population worldwide.

Yossi Ofek hopes that 2022 will be the year Israel and the rest of the world can put the coronavirus behind it. “Corona has negatively affected businesses in the pharmaceutical world, he says. “Currently, we pay five times the price to import medicines into Israel,” he says.  

Teva Israel is fully engaged in product development in Israel, with research and development (R&D) centers in Kfar Saba and Netanya. Some of Teva’s most successful drugs have been developed in Israel, including Copaxone, used to treat multiple sclerosis. The company partners with Israel’s leading universities in more than 30 different projects aiming to develop novel drugs to treat the central nervous system, respiratory system, and oncological issues and has created a healthcare investment platform with Philips that invests in medical device and digital health startups from pre-seed to A round. Recently, Teva Israel joined with AstraZeneca, Merck, and Pfizer to back startups that apply artificial intelligence and computational biology to drug research. “I believe in a combination of medicine and technology,” says Yossi Ofek. “I am confident that we will break through in these areas as well. Israel has been our home base since our establishment 120 years ago, even though more than 90% of Teva’s business activities are outside Israel. Our advantage is in product development.”

This article is taken from The Jerusalem Post Annual Executive Magazine 2021-2022. To read the entire magazine, click here.

This article was written in cooperation with Yossi Ofek