Pharma Redemption – time to get proactive and be #ProudOfPharma

Neil reflects on what pharmaceutical companies can do to gain ‘big brand redemption’ and why these organisations, whose purpose is to enhance people’s health, need to be proactive, and communicate about being the solution rather than the ‘problem’.

A TrendWatch global monthly e-mailer just landed in my inbox. The trend profiled is ‘Big Brand Redemption’. It’s a super interesting read, especially when you consider the implications for the industry my agency primarily supports: pharmaceuticals. The TrendWatching email reads: “RE: BIG BRAND REDEMPTION | New global Trend Briefing Hi Neil, This is the way millions worldwide (and you?) see consumerism in 2016: big brands are polluting our skies, exploiting vulnerable workers, invading our privacy and even lying to consumers to boost sales. Meanwhile, a generation of new start-ups are paving the way to a brighter future. Of course, that’s a simplification 😉 Yet it’s the way many people feel. But what if we took that picture and turned it on its head? What if big brands stopped being the problem, and started being the answer: to a more sustainable, ethical and BETTER consumerism for ALL?” The briefing itself has some great examples of how brands, including some ‘health’ businesses (Unilever and CVS Health [a pharmacy chain in the US]) are harnessing this trend. So let’s talk pharma We aren’t talking about ‘bigging up’ a CSR programme to show a few shining examples of ‘good works’ by an organisation – it’s about putting purpose first and framing the context. The pharmaceutical industry’s purpose is to research, develop and sell new innovative medicines that can positivity impact human health and wellbeing – that is AMAZING! It is why I chose to work in this industry and start an agency that is focused on helping clients ensure that patients actually get to use that innovation. So with this purpose in mind let’s have a dig into what makes this purpose work… The profit that the industry makes go to:

  • pay dividends back to shareholders (who have to believe in the individual business and have confidence its performance to remain investors)
  • reinvest in the research and development of the next generation of medicines

A medicine can take a decade or more to get from the laboratory to a patient. It also costs a lot to develop a medicine – paying for scientists and technicians to research, as well as doctors and nurses to run clinical trials. The majority of medicines that are investigated through a number of ‘phases’ are found not to confer a greater benefit [to risk balance] than the medicines that are already prescribed – they won’t be approved and therefore do not get launched. So pharmaceutical companies are in a high risk business – lots is invested: an estimated £1.15bn to develop a medicine ready for a patient (that’s £1,150,000,000 – a lot of zeros). The successful medicine then has to go through numerous hurdles – separate regulatory and cost effectiveness assessments (with a different process in every country of the world) and then needs to be considered affordable by the people (commissioners here in the UK) making tough decisions on the allocation of limited funds. Pharmaceutical companies get a ‘bad press’ for ‘high priced medicines’ and ‘profiteering’; this is where the understanding stops and negative perceptions is formed. But we need more context to round-off this reputational assessment – context that never gets airtime… So what is the context? Well firstly, healthcare professionals prescribe an innovative medicine to a patient that they think will benefit – assessing the impact (fine-tuning or stopping that medicine and maybe switching them to another medicine or a different way to manage the disease or condition). So there is a clinical assessment of the real-world need for using the innovation – there is not blanket use. And here is the really important bit to talk about… Secondly, pharmaceutical companies only have on average an 8 year patent window to charge a premium for this innovative medicine. After this patent expires, any other company can make a generic version and sell the medicine at a much lower cost with little to no need for further research and development costs.

So that’s the model that allows the purpose, to enhance human health and well-being, to become a reality:

  • High risk investment in the development of a medicine (lots of failure, a few successes)
  • Charge a premium for the successful medicine
  • That money funds the next generation of research by that company
  • The original innovation becomes ‘generic’ and can be made and sold by any company at a lower cost
  • This in turn, or at least in theory, releases money back in the system to pay for other innovative medicines

So why is this virtuous cycle not applauded? Good question Neil! Well partly it is because I think that as an industry we have forgotten to step back and tell people about this bigger picture – to talk confidently about the context of the model and the purpose of what we do in the pharmaceutical industry. We are caught in the vicious cycle of not telling this story because we don’t think people will listen – if we don’t tell it how will anything ever change? Governments cannot afford to take on the development of medicines – the model is a commercial one – a model that delivers life-changing medicines – basic generic ones like ibuprofen for a headache through to cutting edge medicines that transform the lives of kids with rare diseases. These innovations being the low cost generics of the future. It is time for some Pharma Redemption – let’s tell the story in full, the purpose and context, let’s be #ProudOfPharma. FOUR IDEAS FOR YOU TO ASSESS THIS FURTHER AND TAKE ACTION

  1. Have a read of the tips in the Trend Watch briefing
  2. A good starting point for considering the value of the pharmaceutical industry is the work of the ABPI (UK trade association) which has produced some infographics on medicine use and impact, and the time and cost of drug development
  3. Give me a call so we can go and hatch a plan in the pub (I’ll end up talking about our Access All Area initiative on patient access to innovation – so here’s the Aurora report as a pre-read : )
  4. Use #ProudOfPharma when you are

1 Comment

| King Bing

This is a great article. Cancer drugs typically cost 20% more to develop than typical treatments due to the high failure rates. Out of the ten of thousands of candidates tested in the laboratory, it’s likely that only one will be safe and effective for the patient.


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