Pharma's New Face

PhRMA's new president says his mission is to restore the reputation of national treasures. That's not just a PR goal. It's a recipe for reform.
Mar 01, 2005

Billy TauzinThe Pharm Exec Interview

Billy Tauzin
The pharmaceutical industry may have an image problem, says W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, but in part, it's just paying for its successes. Tauzin, a longtime Louisiana Congressman, left the House of Representatives—and the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee—this past February to become president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Tauzin has seen pharma (and PhRMA) up close for years, whether as a principal author of the Medicare drug benefit or overseeing inquiries about ImClone systems. "The advocacy side of pharma has been extremely successful," he says. "But I think the members of the industry collectively agree that there have been some expensive victories." His biggest job, he says, is to restore trust. His main tool, in addition to his intimate knowledge of Congress, is a gift for communication that has been lacking at PhRMA in recent years. "What makes Billy Tauzin great is that he communicates with you at exactly your level, not one degree higher or one degree lower," Republican pollster Frank Luntz told The New Republic magazine in 2003. "There is nobody in politics who is as effective at being what he needs to be at that time to get his message across. He is incredible. He is irreplaceable." Early in February, Tauzin sat down with Pharm Exec's editor-in-chief, Patrick Clinton, and Washington correspondent, Jill Wechsler, to talk about his plans for the organization and his vision for the industry. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Pharm Exec : What do you see as your mission?

Billy Tauzin: It's complicated. But if I can summarize it for you, it's to do what I can in collaboration with our member companies to rescue and restore the reputation of what I consider national treasures—companies that produce the medicines that keep us all alive. It is to do everything I can to demonstrate that they care about things like access and affordability, and in the end, to create a better environment for them to continue the great work of discovering and producing cures and therapies. That's why I think I was hired here—to give this industry a chance again to earn the respect and admiration of our country.

I am trying to go to all the companies to meet, not just with the board members, but more importantly with their employees and their management team, to learn from them. I visited Lilly in Indianapolis last week, and there was a town hall meeting with the workers there.

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Whenever I go to one of these facilities I find incredibly motivated workers who come to work feeling a sense of mission in terms of helping to keep people alive and extending and enriching their lives. At the same time, they feel like they are living under a cloud. It's a horrible thing for them. Part of what I did there was to bring them a message of hope that we can turn this thing around, we can begin to get a message across to people in this country of how incredibly valuable these companies are, not only for America, but for people around the world.

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