Friday, March 20, 2009

Darwin and the History of Pharma

Darwin and the History of Pharma


March 20, 2009

By Stewart Adkins

Allusions to Darwin can be fun and I suppose corporate archaeologists of
the next geological era will happily sift through the promotional
detritus of yesteryear (Lucites, mugs, pens etc) as the only remaining
fossil evidence of the existence of the pharmaceutical dinosaurs that
are already extinct - AH Robins, Fisons, Syntex, Burroughs Wellcome,
Marion Labs, Pharmacia, Upjohn, to name a few.

However, those fossilized remains will give few if any clues as to the
reasons for the extinction of their originators. For the industry has
not been hit with the pharmaceutical equivalent of a large meteor that
blotted out the sun for millennia; rather there has been a series of
subtle changes in the environment that have been well flagged over the

There are two fundamental problems for the industry to deal with;
firstly, the lead time for new drug discovery through to
commercialization is much longer than the duration of most political or
regulatory regimes, with the corollary that industry has to take a
thoughtful and strategic view as to the long term health needs of
society in order to direct its R&D without concerns that the environment
will shift in the interim.

Secondly, the healthcare needs of society do not revolve around the
consumption of medicines alone; any consideration of how to help solve a
healthcare problem needs to embrace a more holistic approach to
prevention and treatment involving all relevant stakeholders - patients,
physicians, providers of care or medical interventions and payors.

This is clearly an ultra-simplistic view but defining the problem in
such basic terms can be helpful in allowing a view of the wood rather
than just the trees. Extinction may be too harsh a word to apply to
companies who were the subject of hostile takeovers or reluctant
(sometimes willing) mergers since some of these could probably have
survived alone.

However, very few companies seem to have acknowledged and planned for
the fundamental problems identified above; an intense focus on line
extensions, lifestyle diseases and the medicalisation of life's usual
travails at the expense of more basic understanding has left companies
with portfolios struggling to demonstrate value in a society with little
disposable income.

Meanwhile, placing the product at the centre of all sales and marketing
efforts rather than the patient has channelled too many financial
resources in the wrong direction and resulted in corporate
infrastructures that are structurally misaligned with society's needs.
It is not too late to change, for those with vision and the financial
resources to manage through the transition but as in the past, those who
struggle to adapt or don't see the need to adapt may face extinction,
through hostile takeovers or reluctant mergers. Happy Birthday Darwin.

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