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‘Lundbeck to work with parliament to prevent suicide in Korea’
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2019.09.17 15:19
  • Updated 2019.09.17 16:06
  • comments 0

Lundbeck, which sells anti-depressants Lexapro and Brintellix, dementia treatment Ebixa, and Parkinson's disease drug Azilect, has been one of the established pharmaceutical companies in brain disease for the past half-century.

Lundbeck CEO Deborah Dunsire visited Korea to celebrate the upcoming World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10.

Every year, the World Federation of Mental Health selects a new theme for World Mental Health Day to raise the awareness of mental health and fight prejudice. This year's theme is Suicide Prevention.

Korea Biomedical Review met with Dunsire to learn what Lundbeck is doing to promote mental health and prevent suicide around the globe, and how to reduce the suicide rate in Korea.

Dunsire graduated from University of the Witwatersrand College of Medicine in South Africa in 1985, entered Sandoz (currently Novartis) in 1988, and took charge of Gleevec development. She previously served as the CEO of XTuit Pharmaceuticals, after working at Millennium Pharmaceuticals and EnVivo Pharmaceuticals.

Lundbeck CEO Deborah Dunsire

Question: What is the purpose of your visit to Korea?

Answer: It has been a year since I was appointed as CEO of Lundbeck, so I am visiting major offshoots. Korea is the 11th largest country for Lundbeck, so Korea is very important to us. As the World Mental Health Day falls on Oct. 10, I visited Korea to help emphasize the importance of managing mental health.

The World Mental Health Day is a significant opportunity to raise the awareness and importance of treating mental illness by working with patients, doctors, policymakers, and health insurance authorities. As suicide prevention was selected as the theme of the World Mental Health Day this year, Lundbeck is conducting various activities with the authorities in countries where Lundbeck entered to emphasize the necessity of early action for suicide prevention. We will continue these activities.

Last year, all employees of Lundbeck Korea received training as suicide prevention gatekeepers. The gatekeepers identify prognostic symptoms and signs that could lead to suicide and receive training on how to provide support and intervene to prevent suicide. The training includes informing a third person of such significance.

While the OECD countries’ suicide rate is about 12 per 100,000 people on average, that of Korea is high at 24.3 per 100,000. So, it is essential to discuss with medical workers and policymakers the diseases that cause suicide. Lundbeck is also preparing various plans and projects for this.

Q: Do you have an example of a country that achieved good outcomes in suicide prevention?

A: Denmark, where Lundbeck’s headquarters are located, is a representative example. In the 1980s, the suicide rate in Denmark was as high as 38 per 100,000. Now, the figure plummeted to 10 per 100,000. This was thanks to a strong measure to prevent suicide. The Danish government particularly stressed that mental illness was a disease to treat and has made great efforts to make people regard it as equal to physical illness.

The Danish government increased the number of mental health care facilities and the number of sickbeds while reinforcing training for primary care physicians so that they can recognize symptoms or signs of suicide attempts. Copenhagen also enhanced the public dialogue on mental health so that suicide can be perceived as a “disease” such as diabetes, not a weakness of an individual. So, patients were able to get diagnosis and treatment for mental illness without worries about what others might think.

Another example is the United States, where the health insurance benefit played a crucial role in lowering the suicide rate. In the past, there was a difference in insurance benefit between physical illness and mental illness. To change this, many mental healthcare officials conducted advocacy activities, and the suicide rate caused by mental illness went down. Recently, however, the suicide rate in the U.S. began to rise again due to the addiction to opioid drugs. This is another problem that should be resolved in another angle, aside from mental illness.

Lundbeck CEO Deborah Dunsire speaks during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Q: Can you suggest how Korea should lower the suicide rate?

A: Above all, the most important thing is patients’ willingness to identify their disease, actively ask for help, and get diagnosed. At the government level, they should improve a public dialogue to raise access to an environment where patients can be treated.

If someone in the workplace has a mental illness or related symptoms, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder, the company's participation is also crucial to ensure that the employee is treated without shame. We also need a social assistance program that can help people if they face various stresses, such as death or job loss.

From a medical point of view, training of specialists is essential. Primary care practitioners need to ask patients to determine if any of them is at risk of suicide and to educate them to recognize signs of suicide. This approach has provided an essential solution for lowering the suicide rate in Denmark.

In the U.S., there were not enough psychiatrists in the past. So, the country trained nurses to provide medications and counseling for patients with depression or anxiety disorders. This way, the U.S. increased the number of healthcare providers for patients with mental illness. There is a global shortage of psychiatrists. Thus, it is vital to increase the number of healthcare providers to create an environment in which patients are actively cared for.

Q: What kind of campaign or activity is Lundbeck Korea planning for the World Mental Health Day?

A: Lundbeck Korea plans to hold a suicide prevention seminar with the Embassy of Denmark in Korea and the National Assembly late this year. The company will also have a walk event with the Korea Association for Suicide Prevention. Lundbeck in other countries have similar plans. This will not only raise public awareness but open a dialogue with lawmakers.

Q: What is Lundbeck’s plan to promote mental health?

A: As the leader in the depression and schizophrenia treatment market, Lundbeck is developing or planning a new treatment for mental illness. Alzheimer's disease treatments are divided into those that slow down the progression of the disease, and those that soothe symptoms such as anxiety, agitation, and worries. Lundbeck is developing a drug to treat agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s.

We also aim to develop a treatment for borderline personality disorder, which is a representative mental disorder with no treatment. Lundbeck seeks to contribute to the promotion of global mental health by expanding the types and range of mental illnesses that can be treated through new drug development.


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