Handling healthcare policy at one of Germany’s biggest companies.
Alexandru Rusu remembers a discussion he had with Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professor of Democracy Studies, when he was a student at the Hertie School of Governance. She suggested he investigate what was going wrong with Romanian drug supplies. At the time, there were news reports of long queues outside pharmacies.
“People couldn’t get their medications,” he says. “I started looking into it and realised that it was a case of public policy going wrong. There were new monthly budget thresholds for medicines, and some pharmacies were gaming the system to get ahead of the threshold, so by the end of the month there was not enough left.”
Alexandru graduated from the Hertie School in 2009. Ten years later, he is working in healthcare policy as associate director of global policy and external affairs at the Darmstadt headquarters of Merck, one of Germany’s biggest companies. He handles public policy issues in Merck’s priority markets around the world.
“These were all things that I started getting exposed to at Hertie,” he says. “For me it was a life-changing experience.”
Alexandru grew up in post-Communist Romania in a time of great turbulence and transition. He believes his experiences as a child may have led him to study political science. “I have a younger brother and a younger sister,” he says. “All three of us experienced different educational systems. Ministers were changing every other day. I got exposed to a lot of policy changes that really impacted my daily life.”
After studying political science in Bucharest, he decided to embark on a master’s in public policy at the Hertie School to gain more practical skills. He then worked for the European Commission and at a Romanian think-tank, which included a project for a patient association, before joining Pfizer, where he was promoted to Senior Policy Advisor. Last year, he moved from Bucharest to Germany to join Merck.
Along the way, Alexandru gradually immersed himself in healthcare policy, having already decided at the Hertie School to make it his focus. He spent about a dozen vacations on short programmes offering training on drug development, pharmacoeconomics and public health, approaching a range of organisations and companies for sponsorship.
“I found I was losing the conversation with professionals in the industry precisely because I didn't have the technical knowledge,” he says. “I had a good understanding of the political and the public policy dimension, but I was unaware of what was happening upstream. There was no single place where I could acquire all this knowledge. So I had to get creative to fill this gap. I realized I had to cross the border from social to life sciences. I took classes in pharmacy, I learned how to make suppositories, I visited various research labs. This allowed me to get a sound grasp of the whole drug discovery and development process from the scientist’s bench to the patient's bedside.”
At Merck he is part of the team responsible for the communication of public policy positions with both internal and external stakeholders. One of his tasks is to monitor the external policy environment.
“A daily challenge is to eliminate the noise, synthesize the information that I get, and make it concise, clear and actionable for the decision-makers inside my company,” he says. “I have to make it understandable to someone who’s not familiar with the environment, explain what it means for the company, and propose actionable next steps – in a way that is catchy and not boring.”
Alexandru is also still a student: he is doing a PhD at the pharmacy faculty of Utrecht University, on top of his job. His doctorate is focused on public policy transfer in the pharmaceutical sector. “I'm looking at it as a long-term project” he says. “I believe in life-long learning and I enjoy the academic environment. This helps me to change hats when trying to understand various policy issues from different perspectives.”