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  • Er-Kim Public Relations

This week's guest on Strategic CFO 360 is our company's CFO, Mert Zorlular.

Updated: Apr 3

Reference: StrategicCFO360

CFOs at family-owned companies often take on multiple hats—and that’s certainly the case for Mert Zorlular at distributor Er-Kim Pharmaceuticals.

Zorlular assumed the role of finance chief of his family business in 2019, shortly after the passing of his father. In addition to CFO, he has taken on other responsibilities that align with his role, such as overseeing operations as COO and chairman.

Er-Kim, headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey, has long been committed to making life-saving drugs more accessible, but the mission felt personal with his father’s illness. Zorlular, based in London, UK, spoke with StrategicCFO360 about the importance of global drug accessibility, the financial barriers involved and the power of business collaboration.

As you have seen first-hand the importance of patients accessing lifesaving drugs for treatment in dealing with your father’s illness, what is your mission at Er-Kim in overseeing this process of drug accessibility?

Er-Kim has the opportunity to positively impact the accessibility of life-saving treatments to patients that need them globally. In 2018, my father passed away after battling esophageal cancer, a relatively rare and quite aggressive disease. During his treatment, I came to realize the lack of drug availability in countries outside of the U.S.—after attending university, living and working in the U.S.—and the need for more solutions for essential or innovative medicines throughout Central Eastern Europe.

As a result, my mission when taking on the role of COO/CFO and chairman of Er-Kim in 2019 was to improve global access to life-saving drugs by partnering with innovative companies in ensuring treatments are meeting country guidelines of registration and overseeing the supply chain operations of treatments to avoid disruption.

We are currently facing a pressing global health challenge: ensuring equitable access to vital medications. Our guiding vision is one of a world in which geographical disparities and regional bottlenecks no longer dictate a patient’s access to life-saving treatments.

We are driven by the understanding that, far too often, novel treatment options might be available in regions like the U.S. or Western Europe, while remaining out of reach for countless others. I have experienced this situation first-hand with my father being based in Turkey.

In addition to CFO, what are other responsibilities that fall under your role and why are they just as important in meeting your company’s initiatives?

Global inequity in access to medicines is a pressing issue, which most often is a result of various financial barriers in each market, whether it consists of pricing, idiosyncratic country risks, market size, challenges in market access or scale. However, through meticulous financial planning, these disparities can be effectively addressed.

The finance department at Er-Kim is considered the center of day-to-day operations. In addition to my role as CFO, I oversee the crafting of long-term, sustainable and cost-efficient strategies to expedite patients’ access to vital treatments.

Central to Er-Kim’s operational ethos is a combination of diversification and leveraging economies of scale. Er-Kim has broad territorial coverage as well as a wide partner portfolio that enables us to streamline operations and paves the way for crafting cost-efficient solutions tailored for broader patient demographics across diverse markets.

With my background in business and economics and Er-Kim’s over four decades of experience in navigating challenging markets, I have a robust understanding of the myriad financial barriers, from FX risk and inflation risk to credit risk, price risk and beyond when associated with commercializing treatments. This deep-rooted expertise grants Er-Kim a strategic edge, empowering the organization to adeptly manage day-to-day operations, particularly in secondary pharmaceutical markets.

In partnering with biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the commercialization of drugs, what are the key attributes that companies look for in a commercialization partner and a CFO?

Launching a drug in any new region is a capital-intensive process and significant resources are needed to ensure the best probability of success. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies need to carefully select a commercialization partner that is reliable and understands the financial risks of a launch and manage cash flows, and that has deep expertise and relationships in countries that they are looking to enter. Most importantly, a partner must be aligned with the company’s short- and long-term goals and offer business support on the ground.

Regional partners should be an extension of a company’s operations that can simplify the operational complexity for the manufacturer by providing project management systems to ensure smooth processes without additional burden. In addition, knowledge of regulatory, logistics and reimbursement procedures is a must in order minimize the risk of delaying access to life-saving treatments.

How are you addressing the lack of drug availability outside of the U.S. and the need for more solutions to essential and innovative medicines throughout Central and Eastern Europe?

Er-Kim has taken a proactive stance on the pressing issue of inequity in access to medicines, particularly in regions like Central Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Recognizing the power of collaboration, Er-Kim strategically partners with the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies early in the commercialization cycle to address higher unmet needs in the regions we operate in. Our local partnerships are built on a shared enthusiasm and passion for ensuring equitable healthcare access globally to as many patients as possible as soon as possible.

To address the need for more access to treatments outside of the U.S., our foremost goal is to drastically reduce the time-lag between a novel treatment’s approval in these regions and its availability to patients in our territories. But our commitment goes beyond mere distribution. Each territory we serve has its own unique healthcare ecosystem, with distinct challenges and needs.

To address these effectively, we engage in exhaustive research and community outreach, ensuring we truly grasp the pulse of each region. Collaborative efforts lie at the heart of our strategy. By forging strong alliances with the global healthcare industry, healthcare professionals, local authorities, community leaders and the local community, we endeavor to become a key stakeholder in bringing long-term sustainable change in healthcare standards in each territory we operate in.

These solutions not only aim to make treatments available but also ensure that they are optimized for local needs, culturally sensitive and economically feasible, ensuring a brighter and healthier future for all.

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