Leadership: If Bill Gates Ran PhRMA - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Leadership: If Bill Gates Ran PhRMA
Pharma has a classic image problem. Sometimes the products don't do what they're supposed to. Innovation is key, but too slow. Business practices can look sleazy. What if our spokesman was a guy who'd beaten those problems?


Pharmaceutical Executive


Is there a strategic plan in place? How do you intend to fix this negativity that has been battering the industry?

First off, we are embarking on a robust campaign to speak to each legislator about the huge downside of having the government negotiate drug prices with member firms. Since the government is the largest and most significant purchaser of drugs, it seems likely that it would probably set prices rather than negotiate them. That's tantamount to dictating to doctors what they can prescribe and what they can't—all based on price. That's clearly a lose-lose proposition for our senior population.

Secondly, we are going to tell each member of Congress, and every key state official, what this industry is doing to bring new and valuable entities to the market. We're still amazed that the incredible story of Herceptin's positive results in early-stage breast cancer, announced November 16, never got a front-page mention in either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Clearly we've lost our editorial linkage and credibility with key members of the press.

Do you think that will be enough to offset public perception of the high price for drugs, particularly in oncology?

There's much more we intend to do. For lower-income patients, we intend to help them traverse the "doughnut hole" through a special PhRMA Assistance Program. For those who don't qualify for Medicaid assistance, but can't afford the medicines they are required to take, each provider of that particular drug has instituted their own "patience assistance" program for qualified patients to obtain their important medications.

Sounds like you're off to a good start. How will you begin a more collaborative relationship with a critical part of the supply chain, your managed-market partners?

HMOs and PBMs have been doing extraordinarily well, both financially and PR-wise. The perception that they alone are holding down drug prices has worked well for them. Our job is to do a better job of partnering with them to continue to develop better disease-management programs and distribute first-class and superior medications to their clients. People deserve and must have the latest and best medications when they become available. There should be no compromising on that issue.

I'm surprised and disappointed at the lack of angry protest by practicing physicians, given some HMOs' seemingly unbendable practice of promoting generics first when there are far superior medications out there for patients.

On that note, how do you feel about some of the new guidelines imposed to curb industry practices, such as withholding physician data from data mining companies in New Hampshire, restricting giveaways in doctor's offices, calling into question KOL advisory trips, and transparent disclosure guidelines?

Frankly, I'm shocked that physicians haven't rebelled in unison against these legislators and academics, at Harvard in particular, and fought back against those who have berated the integrity and ethics of the medical profession. Is there anyone who seriously thinks a doctor will write one brand over another because of a ballpoint pen or a pad of paper?

I hope the AMA wakes up and does its own press relations to defend the credibility of this great profession. Will the HMOs, PBMs, or the AMA pick up the full bill for the necessary CME programs and disease-management initiatives? We are the ones who pay for all this and always have.

Finally, as Alan Murray wrote in his Journal column recently: "It's in everyone's interest for (the industry) to succeed. The pharmaceutical industry's bad bedside manner has earned it a lot of enemies, but its life-saving and life-enhancing products should make it many more friends."

Sander A. Flaum is managing partner of Flaum Partners. He can be reached at


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