The Communications Convergence - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Communications Convergence

Pharmaceutical Executive

Spotlight Focus on Specialization

Specialization is a hallmark of biotech companies, allowing for research synergies for both tiny companies and industry Goliaths. Even Genentech, the oldest and most successful company in the industry, has vaulted to prominence by steadfast focus on one core therapeutic area: oncology. That focus is what attracted Roche's mammoth bid for control.

And Genentech isn't alone. Nearly every biotech has an area of specialization: Gilead has grown into an industry bellwether by targeting antiviral drugs; CV Therapeutics has remained steadfast in pursuit of cardiovascular drugs; and Celgene has prospered by building a franchise in hematology and oncology.

Now pharmaceutical companies are moving to narrow their focus and capitalize on the synergies that come from specialization. Pfizer, most notably, announced that it will trim the number of therapeutic areas it concentrates on. The company will end research efforts into cardiovascular disease, and redouble its efforts in other areas including cancer and Alzheimer's. Roche has, in recent months, had its diabetes portfolio positively profiled. Novartis' public commitment to vaccines—repeated constantly by top executives—has led to a number of stories about the company's leadership position in that area. And GSK's longstanding effort to promote its smaller-is-better "Centres of Excellence" has driven positive coverage of the company's structure for years.

Communicating about a specific product portfolio is different from promoting an entire company: executives may become less important than innovative managers or all-star scientists. The narrative that must be presented to journalists is driven by personalities and eureka moments, not sales numbers or share price. This can be a novel concept for companies that are used to being judged as a whole, not by the sum of their parts, but it pays great dividends.

The media landscape will only grow more fragmented and complex as new tools emerge that allow for even faster dissemination of news—and rumors. Meanwhile, calls for more access to more information from investors, media, and lawmakers show no signs of stopping. These trends will not abate, thus making the biotech approach to communications a luxury no company —no matter how big—can afford to go without.

Jim Weiss is chairman & CEO of WeissComm Partners. He can be reached at

Jennifer Gottlieb is managing director, New York, of WeissComm Partners. She can be reached at


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