What happened to the pharma industry?

KEY TAKEAWAY:  There once was a time when working in the pharma industry was extremely rewarding and there was more emphasis on helping patients rather than trying to sell them.  So what happened?

My four colleagues and I sat down at an airport pub to discuss “the great old days in pharma marketing”.  For those of you new to the industry these were days when we focused on new and innovative ways to reach patients by helping them understand their options more clearly.  It was before insurers dictated treatment regimens while the use of the Internet was still growing.  So what happened?

1ne: The industry became addicted to “blockbusters”.  Prozac and Lipitor became the 500lb gorilla in the room.  The profits from blockbuster drugs meant that companies could experiment with new therapies and marketing.  Sure, there was talk of ROI, but ROI did not rule decisions. Profits ahead of people under the guise “we need the money for R&D”.

2wo: Pharma CEO’s were more about ensuring the organization was aligned with helping patients.  Today you can walk into the lobby of most pharma companies and read company visions that have little correlation with the way they do business.

3hree: Too many talented people left the company.  They either simply had enough or were working on a brand that came off patent and were told “find a new job within the company”.  No industry can survive without people who care about customers.

4our: Price increases were a substitute for innovative ways to increase business.

5ive: Wall Street became more important than patients.  When a new drug fails in clinical trials, there is never a mention of the patients who would suffer as a result. It was all about the stock price and market value.

Now the good news.  I work with some very good, caring people at various pharma companies and slowly they are making their voices heard.  They often suffer setbacks, but they see these setbacks as a challenge to help people.

Not too long ago I was with brand team members in some research listening to MS patients talk about living with MS.  After the fourth session the Director finally said “we have to find a way to help these people get the information they need”.  Another one said “they need to have hope that a diagnosis of MS doesn’t mean the end of a great life”.

People like these are the future of our industry not the bean counters who only care about numbers on a balance sheet or CEO’s who take home millions of dollars based on how their company impresses the Street.  I’m an optimist, but then I see the good our industry has done and understand that we still have a long way to go to eliminate horrible diseases like cancer and MS.

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