Pharm Exec's Anti-Brand of the Year

May 16, 2016
Casey McDonald

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 36, Issue 5

A look at this year’s 2016 Pharm Exec Brand of the Year and it would seem that the industry has much to be optimistic about. But a look at the winner and runner-up for our “Anti-Brand of the Year” award clarifies how many outside of the industry really see it.

This June, thousands of oncologists will swarm the cavernous halls of McCormick Place, Chicago’s enormous convention center that plays host to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) every year. The mob of cancer researchers and physicians will be giddy to see data slides and graphs, giving updates on this year’s Pharm Exec Brand of the Year

winner, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo, as well as other immuno-oncology (IO) therapies and drug candidates.

If this year resembles last summer, the excitement in the room will be palpable, offering a largely optimistic view of the potential for scientific innovation as these drugs open a new front in the battle against cancer. The picture is not without its blemishes. A full view of this, or any other medical conference, would surely include the complexities facing scientific progress and healthcare systems that have to decipher how to provide treatments of value to patients while preserving incentive to innovators.

But this rock concert atmosphere celebrating data readouts and survival curves is far removed from the view the general public takes on the life sciences industry. A picture of unfettered greed with corporate fat cats standing on patients’ throats as they light their cigars with burning $100 bills is the image this year’s political candidates have tried to paint. In 2016, the “industry” obliged congressmen and women, media outlets and the Twittersphere with the ultimate villain:

Pharm Exec’s 2016 Anti-Brand of the Year winner goes to Daraprim from Turing Pharmaceuticals. Hiking the price of an old, but still essential and life-saving drug for AIDS patients by 5,000%-well that’s a lot of clickable, hate-worthy headline material to start.

Considering that a meaningful conversation about market forces and competition, generic drug manufacturing and regulatory oversight could have developed, it’s astonishing that more ink was spilled on the psyche of a bratty millennial, unfulfilled promises to lower the drug’s price tag, Tweets dissing members of congress, lavish Gordon Gecko-ian yacht parties and auctioned rap albums.

Industry haters and the social media troll community got their schadenfreude moment when #Shkreli was perp walked from his New York apartment-for “unrelated” criminal charges. His brand and that of Daraprim are surely connected. And while the accused traveled to Washington to utilize his Fifth Amendment right, his former co-worker took the abuse and muddled criticism of the congressional public hearing on drug pricing.

Sharing that table was Valeant’s interim CEO Howard Schiller, who was asked to answer for his company’s own price-hiking schemes on several key drugs. Perhaps no company in the industry has generated a greater sense of schadenfreude with its recent downward spiral. Connections to activist investor, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, the company’s philosophy to downplay internal R&D in favor of aggressive M&A tactics, as well its possibly fraudulent link to controversial specialty pharmacy Philidor Rx Services, add up to a corporate brand that is consistently at the bottom of industry reputation rankings.

Which is why the company’s decision to buy this year’s Pharm Exec Anti-Brand of the Year runner-up, Addyi, was so fitting. The $1 billion acquisition of Sprout Pharmaceuticals has been widely panned as a train wreck-and so was the drug’s approval, which was highly publicized and driven in part by a social justice, pro-women’s rights lobby. 

Minimal efficacy and a safety profile that includes warnings against commingling a sexual libido drug with alcohol had many worried. So far these concerns seem to be felt by patients and doctors who are neither asking for, nor writing scripts for the medicine. The drug’s “brand,” or at least as it is seen by the lay public, as female Viagra is not likely to see Viagra-like sales anytime soon.

 

Casey McDonald is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. He can be reached at casey.mcdonald@ubm.com

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