Pharma has a long way to go

It’s hard to believe that 2020 is almost over but goodbye and good riddance. I’m hoping a new leader can restore the CDC and FDA’s trust and that the nationwide vaccination problem can proceed, but there are bigger issues. Long after COVID is a bad memory, the pharma industry will still be making more and more mistakes in the name of profits.

I keep talking to pharma old-timers who talk about the “good old days” of working in an industry when sales, and profits, were instrumental in every decision we made. When I look at the industry changes over the last decade, I’ve been reminded that to many; it’s just a business. Personally, I have never felt that way.

To me, it’s been very hard to listen to patients in focus groups talk about MS, depression, and other health issues. When you really listen to these people you get a sense that many of them feel their lives have been taken away from them. The drug industry has done a LOT to help these people but I’m not so naive to believe that the ultimate motive was profits, not patients.

The media loves to pick on pharma companies. Some of it is deserved, but too much is just fanning the flames of anger. Drug prices remain a tiny part of our healthcare spending, yet where the facts about the excess charges, hospitals often charge patients and insurers are? Where are the stories about PBM’s and the profits they make?

Some say “it’s not fair” but fairness has never been part of the media. Our whole healthcare system makes too much money for the player’s patients be damned. I don’t believe that we, as a country, can’t assemble some of the smartest people to develop a new healthcare model that puts patients first and profits well behind.

If anyone in the industry thinks that changes are imminent, they’re fooling themselves. Millennials are on track to be the most unhealthy generation in our lifetime, and they are going to tax the healthcare system like never before.

The pharma company of the future is not a giant corporation with layers and layers of management; they’re small, nimble organizations that can pivot quickly and help people and HCPs.

Salespeople are becoming less effective and are a huge expense so the future of salespeople is going to be less about numbers and more about adding value to physicians and patients.

Pharma also has to get a handle on expenses. Sending out twelve-inch chocolate cookies to 600 people may seem nice, but the money could be better spent.

Decision making needs to be decentralized within pharma. If you hire the right people and trust them, there is no reason why we need to go through a month’s of meetings to implement small changes in our marketing.

Finally, pharma needs to build in-house expertise in digital marketing and stop relying on agencies. I’m often asked to review some proposals from potential vendors, and too may are way off base while some are laughable. CPG companies are leaving agencies behind and bringing digital marketing expertise in house. Pharma should be doing the same.

Finally pharma companies should unite to fund one separate company that can distribute products to people who can’t afford them. It’s not that hard to do but it shows that patients are more important than sales.

The industry has a long way to go, I know that. I’m trying to be the change I want to see and if it costs me clients then so be it. At the end of the day, I want to know that at least I tried.