Taiwan has been under the international spotlight since its early intervention in the COVID-19 crisis, and its comprehensive virus-prevention measures have made it one of the world’s few safe havens during the pandemic. The increased visibility of this island powerhouse has also drawn attention to its strengths in the area of healthcare, including clinical research.
Such recognition has been welcomed by international pharmaceutical firm Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), given the company’s significant investments in clinical trials in Taiwan. According to MSD Taiwan’s newly arrived Managing Director, Jae Yeon Choi, the Taiwan operation boasts the largest in-person clinical trials team on the island, with over 100 personnel currently working on more than 90 studies, mainly in oncology. In 2020, MSD invested NT$800 million in research and development in Taiwan, an increase of approximately 40% from 2019.
Choi, who served as the Executive Director of MSD Korea’s Oncology Business Unit before coming to head the Taiwan team, says that the Taiwan government’s assertive response to the pandemic is illustrative of its dedication to ensuring the health and safety of its people, a goal that MSD shares. She quotes MSD founder George Merck, who emphasized that medicine is for people – not for profits, which follow naturally from a sustained focus on helping patients.
MSD’s adherence to that philosophy makes it a great partner for the government, says Choi, who looks forward to exploring areas for collaboration with the public sector in her new role. She notes that the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for MSD and the healthcare industry to continue to invest in research related to the greatest threats to health security.
To that end, MSD has contributed to the global pandemic response by advancing the development of two treatment approaches. The first – an oral antiviral – is currently being evaluated in Phase III clinical trials, while the other, an “investigational infusion” for the treatment of patients hospitalized with COVID-19, is undergoing Phase II and III clinical trials. Choi says that these treatment candidates, which are the result of partnerships with and acquisitions of leading biopharmaceutical companies, will give MSD the opportunity to have a meaningful and direct impact on patients suffering from the coronavirus.
Speaking of her goals while heading MSD Taiwan, Choi says that while continuing to expand the company’s R&D efforts is of utmost importance, working with the Taiwan government to improve patient access to innovative medicines and treatments is also a critical piece of the puzzle. “The pace of innovation is fast,” she notes, “but the access-related regulations and policies do not always keep up with that pace.” To maintain Taiwan’s current visibility on the world stage, it is critical for the government to ensure patients have access to the latest innovations in healthcare.
Choi’s vision of putting people first also extends to the cultivation of Taiwanese talent. MSD is dedicated to enhancing the talent pool through initiatives such as the General Management Acceleration Program (GMAP), MSD’s flagship talent program, and the MSD Fellowship for Global Health, a three-month, field-based corporate volunteer program. Such programs demonstrate MSD’s commitment to cultivating and promoting future leaders across the global enterprise.
Choi aims to apply that spirit to her tenure at MSD Taiwan, and says she looks forward to further developing her staff. “The team here is already very solid, but we want to aim higher. I would like to bring our outstanding talent in Taiwan onto the world stage,” she says. “I’m interested in exporting Taiwanese talent to other markets in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, to bring their know-how and expertise to these new markets and draw more attention to Taiwan more broadly.”
By continuously advancing innovative products, focusing on disease prevention, and working with the Taiwan government and other industry leaders to improve patient access to new medicines and treatments, MSD is striving to carry out a shared vision of putting people first in the healthcare field.
Choi takes that vision seriously, concluding that she looks forward to collaborating with all stakeholders in Taiwan, and to staying connected with the international community.