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Med Man: A New York Pharma Exec, 1960


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2015
Volume 35
Issue 5

Inspired by TV’s Mad Men, Julian Upton puts himself into a 1960 executive’s shoes to describe the “ethical pharma” industry of half a century ago


It’s strange to think that the industry as we know it now began only about 20 years ago. It wasn’t until after WWII that the wonder drugs really took off. Before that, no ethical drug manufacturer could boast a sales volume even as large as Macy’s department store. But by 1946, ethical drug sales amounted to $500 million; last year, it was over $2 billion.

It’s a boom time for our company. Worldwide revenue topped $175 million last year, a 14% rise on 1958. We’ve come a long way since the ’51 merger. Back then we were mainly in toiletries and cosmetics; now, pharmaceuticals account for 61% of our domestic sales and we’ve also expanded internationally, with sales branches in Great Britain, India, China, and Australia.

I oversee our advertising activities. Until recently, the pharmacist was the man we had to target; now it’s the physician. This has led to new ways of selling, such as the use of “detail men.” The detail man is no ordinary salesman; he has to be an orator, a journalist, a diplomat, and a scientist all rolled into one. It’s challenging work-he might have 100 doctors to call on-but he can make $10,000 a year.

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We also advertise in the conventional way, but our direct mail campaigns use state-of-the-art color printing. Nothing less will do-physicians are highly educated and artistically discriminating. We also have to find inventive ways of establishing cordial relations with them. This takes more than supplying them with free drug samples or free golf balls. For the launch of Sedaton, our tension-relieving drug, for example, we sent doctors free pillows in handy plastic cases, head rests that can be attached to a car, train or plane seats, and striped slipper socks with the brand name stitched into one side.

I’d say the ethical pharmaceutical business is a young man’s game. You just have to look at some of the other companies. Lawrence Barney was president of Hoffmann-La Roche at age 38. Francis Brown took charge of Schering at 40. As for Pfizer, almost two-thirds of its management are under 40. I’m 39 and have been vice president in charge of promotion at my company for four years. Researchers tend to be even younger. Merck’s Lewis Sarett was 27 when he synthesised cortisone; George Rieveschl, of Parke-Davis, 30 when he helped develop Benadryl. We have a vibrant, egalitarian outlook that separates us from a lot of sectors. About 40% of the industry’s employees are female, and many of them are engaged in work that is beyond the routine.

The industry has been called to account over its profits. The US Senate subcommittee last year criticized our “1,000% markups.” But they did not consider the research, distribution, promotion, and selling costs it takes to get a new product on the market. No other industry plows as much as we do back into research-up to 10% of our sales dollars. Do you know what it costs to research and develop a drug? We’re talking upward of a million dollars.

Fortunately, the industry’s prestige remains intact. You just have to look at the health changes of recent years to see what it has helped to achieve. Our children can expect to live long lives. There are now at least 7,000 people aged 100 or over in the United States. Antibiotics and sulfa drugs have reduced pneumonia from the leading cause of death to a treatable malady. And in the last six years, tuberculosis treatments have cut the TB relapse rate from as much as 50 % to 5%-so much so, Dr. Trudeau has closed his Saranac Lake sanatorium.

Outside work, I live a quiet life in Riverdale, NY, with my wife, Mildred, and our three children. My son Clifford is comic-book crazy and my daughters Janie and Rosalie live for sock hops. We have a maid, Leonda. I drive a Colonial White '58 Ford Country Squire. I enjoy swimming at my country club. We have a small place on Cape Cod where I like to fish for striped bass. I’ve caught a few twenty-pounders there, but generally I just go for relaxation-a rare commodity in these busy times!

Julian Upton is Pharm Exec's European and Online Editor. He can be reached at jupton@advanstar.com.

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