Will You Miss the Old Pharma? Or Love the New One?

It ain’t coming back. We won’t hangout in a conference room to drink Diet Coke and brainstorm SWOTs. We won’t be presenting (or enduring) dog-and-pony pitches anytime soon. I wouldn’t count on adding lunch-and-learns, donut drop-offs, and steakhouse dinner meetings to my promotional tactics. And we shouldn’t be surprised if four-day medical convention junkets go the way of Mad Men and the three-martini lunch.   

How will we survive?

We’ll do just fine. And that’s even with a worse-case scenario. Even if the Democrats and Republicans somehow manage to get their acts together and pass legislation they’ve been threatening for years. Like expanding Medicare. Or giving it the right to negotiate drug prices. Or fining companies who hike prices above the rate of inflation. Or even if they okay importing drugs from overseas. (Good luck with that!) Even with all that, we’ll be in great shape.

Here’s why. Because in 2020 we nailed it! Once again, we demonstrated the vitality and value our industry  brings to the world. Unlike politicians still trying to win votes by parceling out vaccine doses to favored constituents, we in Pharma delivered the goods. And we’re still doing it. We’re going to break the back of this pandemic and make sure we never get caught off guard again.

COVID was just the beginning.  The novel technologies behind these amazing vaccines are also being used to create treatments for more disorders. We’re on the threshold of a new age of medicine. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, though. Turning adversity into triumph is our life-long brand.

In the 1980s, many feared that generics would be our downfall.  How else could we continue to thrive if we couldn’t count on market exclusivity ? It turned out that losing brands to generics actually fostered unprecedented investment in R&D, resulting in even bigger blockbusters.

In the 2006, when Medicare Part D was enacted under President Bush, many predicted it would lead to socialized medicine and price controls; yet the reality was that this legislation allowed many seniors to afford – and benefit from-  their prescription drugs.  And again, we prospered from skyrocketing sales.

What about today? We’ re hearing fears of  patent expirations and shrinking pipelines. Yet given todays R&D focus in areas like oncology, immunology, diabetes, and neurology, to repeat myself,  I think we’ll do just fine.

To a degree unsurpassed by other industries, Pharma attracts brilliant scientists, inspired entrepreneurs, and compassionate visionaries. Inside every billionaire who creates a Truvada or a Gleevec is a person who takes far more pride in the lives they’ve enhanced than the dollars they’ve earned.  This attitude isn’t confined to the C-suites either. As long as I’ve been in the business, I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by colleagues on every level who feel privileged to work in healthcare.

So, what will the New Pharma look like?  More efficient: As we recover from the pandemic, we’ll find better ways to communicate not only with each other, but also with healthcare professionals, payers, PBMs, patients, politicians, and even the press. More productive: We’ll begin to eradicate scourges like dementia,  diabetes, and ALS.  More compassionate: We’ll help ensure that all Americans have access to care. More cooperative: We’ll build on the inspiring example Merck set when, after its vaccine candidate failed, the company switched to support the manufacturing and supply of Johnson & Johnson’s product.     

Growing up in the industry during the 1990s and 2000s was exciting and often a lot of fun. But now it’s time for us to grow up.