Taking risks in the competitive pharma industry

Published February 18, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Sharmaine Magtoto Abarientos CEO Stada Philippines
Sharmaine Magtoto Abarientos
Stada Philippines




As the Philippine economy improves, the next attention the government focuses on is health of the citizenry. Multinational pharmaceutical firms get their guidance from this move.

STADA, a Germany-based generic drug manufacturer that also expanded recently in the consumer product segment, is making its way into the Philippines with the establishment of its own local entity. It sees the potential of the more than 110 million consumer market in need of better healthcare.

SHARMAINE MAGTOTO ABARIENTOS, an experienced pharmaceutical industry expert, now head Europe’s leading generic drug company in the Philippines.


According to Sharmaine, after its long presence in Europe the leading generic drugs manufacturer is now focusing in the Asian market and is actively introducing the corporate entity here. It is present in 130 countries and has been in operation for the past 120 years.

Actually, STADA has been in the Philippines for the past 28 years but under its local distributor. But it was only in 2018 that the company adopted its German company name STADA when it decided to change its business model from a purely distribution.

When Sharmaine joined STADA in September 2018, she saw the direction to be more proactive in taking a direct hand of the company’s local unit to push its products. It has organized a marketing arm that will support the distribution of STADA medicines in the country.

With the new entity, Sharmaine said they will go big on sales and marketing. Previously, they concentrated only in the distribution aspect, but there was no marketing nor selling initiatives to support their products.

“We will make people aware that there are quality and affordable generic medicines made from Germany,” she adds. STADA is now active in the local medical society and pharma industry.

It is launching new products especially in the consumer business following its acquisition last year of 6 consumer products from Glaxo from oil to soap for sensitive skin. It also launched a plant-based food supplement tablet to lower bad cholesterol level. This food supplement, imported from Brussels, is backed by clinical studies which showed significant reduction in bad cholesterol[P1] . Most of their medicines are imported from its plants in Europe.

“We have good market reception, they know our generic brands are coming from Germany,” she adds. Most of the innovator and branded products come from Europe, particularly Germany and Switzerland.

STADA just launched the allergic rhinitis product and is expected to launch more products this year.

“I guess we are the only one German generic drugs company in the country and they know that we do not sacrifice our quality,” says Sharmaine. STADA has also oncology drugs, which are cheaper than the other brands. Sharmaine sees the launch of more affordable oncology products in the Philippines.

“You will be surprised, we have anti-biotics available in all drugstore chains in the country,” she adds. Their products are even cheaper by 20 to 50 percent than the innovator drug companies. Prices can even be further reduced if government procures in huge volumes.

STADA has also a manufacturing plant in Vietnam and China and also gets some of its supplies from these jurisdictions.


There is no denying the healthcare system in the Philippines has remained costly and mostly out of pocket expense. Unlike Thailand where the government subsidizes the cost of healthcare, Sharmaine observed, Filipinos spend from their own pockets for medicines.

“With our products, more Filipinos can afford our medicines. To make everyday health affordable to Filipinos is one reason we enter the local market especially for maintenance medicines,” she adds.

So far, STADA has less than one percent of the market as they’ve just started to build the organization last year. Of course, its entry was also propelled by the market potential with over 100 million population and the government’s effort to also fix the country’s healthcare system.

“We see the Philippine market very profitable for us in a sense because of the high volume requirement. Our production capability also ensures we can offer at very affordable prices. We have very competitive pricing,” she adds.


As the first CEO of STADA Philippines, Sharmaine literally hit the ground running.

From only 31 medical representatives last year, STADA has now a total of 42 and is hiring more this year to reach a total of 90 in total, tripling the organization’s manpower in just a year.

“This only shows we are investing in the company and we need a big infrastructure to really carry out our vision. We set very ambitious target for the company,” adds Sharmaine, whose stints from various international firms in the country makes her the right person to lead STADA in this very competitive market.

Her exposure in the local pharma industry is a combination of sales and marketing for doctor-promoted, prescribed pharmaceutical and consumer products from Biological, Gastroenterology, Cardiology, Metabolic, Anti-infectives, Hematology Immunology and Allergology, Urology, OTC and Food Supplements, Pediatric and Adult Segment.

On her first year in STADA, Sharmaine initiated the acquisition of a popular Vitamin C product. This acquisition is expected to catapult STADA among the top pharmaceutical firms in the country and garner a 12 percent market share from the current one percent share.

With hard work, the Philippines is already the fourth biggest contributor to STADA in the region. In terms of value, the Philippines is still small but 2020 looks very promising.

“We will be the third biggest contributor,” she adds noting the bigger share of Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

“STADA is all out supporting the Asia Pacific region market.”


The Philippine pharmaceutical industry has evolved in the past 20 years, so as the level of challenges.

“Hospitals are becoming more strict. During our time, you can visit doctors any time but now there are certain guidelines. You can only see doctors from 1-4 in the afternoon and medreps are given color codes,” she adds.

In addition, competition has become stiffer because more companies, mostly generics, are participating in the market. “Unlike our time, there were only the big MNCs but now the generic companies dominate the market so hospitals have to limit the entry of medreps so as not to congest the hospitals and give more space for patients,” she adds.

“The Mexico City Principles for Voluntary Codes of Business also implemented sets of guidelines in terms of interaction with healthcare professionals which is good because this one actually states up to what participation or support can be given to doctors, it is really just to manage the growing pharma business,” says Sharmaine.

Aside from the several players in the market, the over the counter medicines are also now into social media marketing making competition even more challenging.


“Compared to the previous years the market now has higher acceptance of generic drugs and higher growth than the innovator drugs because there are respectable firms that go into generic drug manufacturing,” she adds. Generic drugs now account for more than 70 percent of the entire pharma industry.

STADA is branded generics. STADA has engaged with trade partners and medical society to create more awareness of their German-based pharmaceutical capability. As a branded generic, STADA sells at more affordable prices.

Under Sharmaine’s watch, she vowed to bring in more STADA products particularly the food supplements, especially for cholesterol, Vitamin C, eyes supplements, for migraine and sleep deficiency and other consumer products. So far, 39 percent of STADA products are consumer products, the majority are still medicines.

Sharmaine said they are going to launch two oncology products this year one of which is for breast cancer and the other for multiple myeloma. The expansion of its portfolio is largely due to STADA’s continuing acquisition of global brands.

There are also new innovation drugs for hypertension that combine two molecules in one medicine.

Sharmaine started as a medical representative with Abbot and from there moved up into other MNCs handling marketing and sales. But she sets targets for herself.

“When I started my career, I set a goal for myself as my guidelines on where to go and what to do to prepare myself where I want to be,” says Sharmaine, a physical therapy graduate from Angeles University Foundation in Pampanga. The preparation includes taking up further studies at the University of the Philippine for Masters in Management.

Setting the timelines for your career has been one of the lessons she also imparts to her staff during her regular Townhall meetings.

“Picture what you want to achieve and put that into a vision in your mind so everything you do points to your direction, then reevaluate if you did not achieve the goals on time you so you can adjust the plan to get back on the growth path again to achieve the goals,” she adds.

Having attained this position with STADA has been her toughest hurdle in her career so far. Unless, she would target for an international position, which is not yet part of her goal, Sharmaine is already made.

With the new position, Sharmaine sees the big responsibility not just the organization but the people and how to bring the business to a new height. For her team, Sharmaine would like them experience what she had experienced, and to create and develop new leaders among them.

For the industry, Sharmaine sees a growing healthcare market where the government is heavily involved. There are two major government initiatives: The push for universal healthcare and the implementation of the second phase of the Maximum Drug Retail Prices. Both the over the counter drugs and the ethical drugs are growing double-digit.


In introducing STADA products, Sharmaine ensures they only field properly trained medreps and knowledgeable about the products. Some of them come from the pharma-related courses but most have marketing and management backgrounds.

With her long experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Sharmaine coaches her staff how to make a product pitch and convert that into actual sales. She would like her team to be independent and not to be afraid, even of losing.
They would evaluate after the training and identify gaps to improve their performance. STADA also recognizes good work and encourages people to do their best.

Sharmaine said that working in the pharmaceutical industry entails a lot of time and effort. This is a difficult industry because it involves people’s health. But, the biggest fulfillment is seeing people use their products.
“The fulfillment comes when you see your products being appreciated by customers. The financial rewards are important but it is more rewarding to know somebody is having quality life after taking our medicines,” says Sharmaine.

“It is the joy of being able to provide customers products that resolved their health issues,” adds Sharmaine, a team player and leader with demonstrable skills in financial management, customer service, creative development and excellent execution of marketing and sales programs.

To get away from the competitive world, Sharmaine prefers to get lost in the kitchen to cook her favorite Kapampangan food. “I also love to experiment in the kitchen because it feels relaxing for me when I cook,” says Sharmaine, who learned to cook the recipes left by her grandmother. She loves to cook her sons’ favorite dish, kare-kare.

Because of her hectic schedule, her architect husband would sometimes compensate for her busy schedule although she has always been there for the boys waking up as early as 4 in the morning to prepare the kids to school.

One of the lessons she learned is taking risks. “We should not be afraid of taking risks after making good assessment of a situation. At some point, you really have to make a decision to take risks,” says Sharmaine, who decided to acquire a local Vitamin C brand to strengthen its consumer product segment after evaluating the revenue risk.

Sharmaine is taking risks to grow STADA Philippines.