Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Jessica Federer - Global Head of Communications and Public Relations at Bayer HealthCare Animal Health

Curious about a career in public health? Our head of communications shares what it's like to work @Bayer in the Yale Alumni Viewpoint
The Foundation

Jessica Federer
My passion for public health began before I went to Yale. As an undergrad at The George Washington University, in DC, I took a health policy course for masters students and was hooked. I knew public health was for me. It took some paperwork and persuasion, but within some months, GW started an undergraduate program in public health and I had enrolled as the first student.

After graduation, I joined the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in the US Department of Health and Human Services. I took the oath of a federal employee and started flying around the country staffing a project from the Medicare Modernization Act designed to improve healthcare in the USA. It was the first federally mandated citizen engagement effort, and this project introduced me to like-minded people who had an interest in improving health care for Americans. Meeting with health institutions, physicians, patients, employers, unions, and everyone in between was the best way to learn the field. And as any fan of John Snow will tell you- there's no substitute for actual footwork. After visiting big cities and little towns throughout the country, the work culminated with recommendations to Congress on how to improve the health system in America. The report and recommendations can be summarized with one key principle - regardless of their background, religion, or political preference, Americans want security. People want to know they won't lose their job, home, and the ability to care for their families because of a sickness or accident.

Studies at Yale

After the federal initiative ended, I moved to New Haven and started my studies at YSPH. I enrolled in classes at the public health, law, and business schools, and joined the Health Law, Policy and Ethics Journal as a submissions editor. Since Yale is involved in a significant amount of clinical research, I became a member of the Human Investigations Committee, which reviews the research protocols to protect human participants. I also began working with an incredible team led by Dr. Harlan Krumholz and Dr. Patrica Keenan who introduced me to the world of hospital efficiency measures - a valuable tool to incentivize healthcare improvements. But the experience that had the most significant impact on my life came from my biostatistics professor, Prof. Bob Makush. He led (and still leads) the regulatory affairs track within the MPH program that equips students with the expertise and skills to design, monitor and evaluate clinical trials. It was through this program that I was fortuitously introduced to my next employer - Bayer HealthCare.

Pharmaceutical Industry

Now I know that many of my fellow public health colleagues consider global pharmaceutical companies to be the "dark side." And I understand the historical events and failures that have contributed to the negative reputation of the pharma industry. But times have changed, and so have pharmaceutical companies. Given the health challenges facing our society, we need businesses that are willing to invest heavily, develop data and solutions, and find ways to help patients. And with the demographic transition facing our population, medications are more cost effective than most hospital care. So with this in mind, I started working in the Global Regulatory Affairs Department of Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals.

Obtaining a regulatory approval for a new molecular entity was once the most challenging milestone in the process of turning a molecule into a medicine. It represents the validation of, on average, an investment of screening 10,000 molecules, 12 years of research, and around one billion euros. But now, there is a new step in the process. With health care costs ballooning, the institutions paying for medicines have new evaluations to ensure a prudent use of resources. So in practice, this means that after demonstrating a product is safe and effective to a Regulatory Agency, a pharmaceutical company now also develops additional data to show that the medicine is cost effective, adds value to society, and improves the patient's quality of life. This step is usually categorized as "Market Access."

Now everyone knows that in life, you need hard work and a little luck. And luck is largely about timing. So in my case, I was fortunate be part of Bayer while they were starting a new Global Market Access Department. So I moved to the global Pharmaceutical headquarters in Berlin, Germany, to help establish a new international team. Rarely does the opportunity come along to help reduce the global burden of a prevalent, progressive, chronic disease that is targeted by both the WHO and UN Population Fund. So it was very exciting to see the data from our research team for a treatment for wet Age Related Macular Degeneration, a disease that takes away the independence of the elderly by reducing their vision. It was a huge project. I remember being surprised that at the time to learn that we were running trial sites in more countries than Apple was running stores. My team's task was to ensure patients could actually get access to the new medicine once it was approved by the regulatory authorities. This is much easier said than done because every country has a unique system for evaluating treatments and determining the products a patient will receive, and local policies and regulations are constantly evolving. We partnered with incredible organizations around the world, including the International Federation on Aging, the Macular Degeneration Foundation, and the Angiogenesis Foundation, to share information and help people impacted by this debilitating disease. The work was intense, but we were part of one of the most successful biotech launches in history. Together with talented, dedicated colleagues around the world, we brought a state-of-the-art new treatment through clinical trials, to regulatory approval, to reimbursement, and ultimately to doctors and hospital so they could help patients and their families.

Animal Health

One of the benefits of being part of an organization like Bayer is the broad spectrum of opportunities. Bayer is a chemical company active in HealthCare, Material Science and Crop Science. Our HealthCare group has four divisions: Pharmaceuticals, Consumer Care, Medical Care, and Animal Health. As a public health person interested in infrastructure, vector-borne diseases, pandemics, and access to safe nutrition, the Animal Health Division was particularly interesting to me.

Today, I am leading a team in the Bayer HealthCare Animal Health Division responsible for communications, public relations, policy , and government affairs. We are partnering with people and organizations around the world to support animal health and well-being, and this enables us to tackle important public health challenges like disease transmission and access to safe food. Because of our international presence, we are also able to make a visible difference in local communities. My colleagues in Latin America are working with farmers to demonstrate how an animal welfare measure to improve cattle treatment also makes economic sense. In Mexico, we help teach thousands of school children how to properly care for animals. In Asia, the team is leading programs to support a safe food supply and a reduction in disease transmission by focusing on the health of pigs, chickens, and fish. In Europe, we've supported programs using dogs as part of therapy for patients with Alzheimer's Disease. In Africa, we are working with organizations to protect rhinoceroses from poachers. We work with the International Federation on Aging to help societies understand the health benefits of pets for older persons. We are working with NGOs, research institutions, regulatory authorities, agriculture and health departments, veterinary and medical schools, farmers and pet owners around the world to help translate our science into better lives for both people and animals. Bayer's motto is "Science For A Better Life" - and I find it humbling to be part of a team that works to use science to support better lives for animals and humans.

Looking Ahead

As a former health policy student, I understand the value of incremental changes. Each contribution makes a difference, no matter how small. Through the field of public health, I have been fortunate to help bring new medicines to patients, making a difference for patients, families and societies. The work I do now helps both humans and animals by reducing vector-borne disease transmission, meeting the nutrition needs of a growing population, and keeping pets and farm animals healthy. And I also have the opportunity to support the career development of public health students with a Bayer program to bring summer fellows into the organization and provide learning and job opportunities. It's only a start - but I can look back and say that that these small things have made a positive impact. So if asked, I will keep sharing the same message - A degree in public health gives you a solid foundation to change the world. Now whether or not you have the opportunity to use your training is equal parts determination and chance. And from my perspective, it's certainly worth a try.

Jessica Federer is the Global Head of Communications and Public Relations at Bayer HealthCare Animal Health, based in Monheim, Germany.