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Focus Reports discusses kep questions regarding France's pharma industry
How do you explain that France has accumulated such a delay in developing its biotech sector?
We will see within five or ten years if we were really late. People should always beware of trends and fashions. I think that when you turn 70 years old you have seen so many things – and heard even more – that you tend to be more skeptical about those new trends! You've seen them live and die, people making mistakes, genetic therapies becoming the industry next big things with billions invested that actually led nowhere.
Focus Reports Team with Jean-FranÃ§ois Dehecq
Which will be the most complex countries to deal with in the future?
Obviously the most populated ones, such as China, Nigeria, South Africa or Iraq. But the model we developed for the past 20 years, where we would sell our products and states had little or nothing to say, is coming to an end. It's our responsibility to admit it and change our ways, not prolong this model.
If you look into biotech, the only real success at this stage is with anti cancer treatments. But the pricing of these new treatments are simply outrageously high, and we cannot continue in that direction.
In an increasingly individualistic world, those who can pay will pay, regardless to what happen to others!
I believe this is a short term vision, as there is a risk of social unrest whenever only a few people actually benefit from development.
In our western society, the problem is that for the past 10 to 15 years only a handful of individual are getting richer, while at the same time a large amount of the population is simply stagnating. The only progress is the capacity to access credit and get more debt. I am not sure it can be called real progress!
If extremely rich people want to have access to these treatments so be it, but I think that very soon, social protection programs won't reimburse them.
Social security will have to tell the industry to divide their product prices four or five fold in order to obtain accreditation.
But then the industry will say they cannot conduct R&D in those conditions.
It's just not true!
Pharmaceutical giants have long fought against the generics, but are now integrating generic companies. What's your take on this?
Eight years ago when I was saying that mass market at low cost is the future of our industry, when I fought to keep our production units in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, people were smiling. Today we all know that low cost products for mass markets are a large part of the industry's future. Moreover, it will largely be imposed on us by southern countries!
So there is a good chance that tomorrow's giants are Harbin Pharmaceutical or Beijing Pharmaceutical?
There is a good chance that besides low cost mass consumption products they will also do high technology treatments, which is why we need to think in terms of partnerships and cooperation. I feel the time when we could go south impose our products at prices often higher than in our own markets is over.
What have been the good decisions taken in the past years?
Definitely those who have chosen to go South, but of course everyone is doing so now. Another set of good decision is the questioning of our research practices, because nobody knows anymore how to manage our huge structures, and we all admit that all we believed in did not turn out quite as performing as we hoped.
The one thing we have not yet decided, but that we will have to decide, is to earn less money!
If you were a young man again, would you invest today in the pharmaceutical industry?
In 1971 I looked into the INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies) list of economic sectors and I identified those that could be long term and generate employment. Very quickly, I identified health, beauty and nutrition.
I would probably do the same, get involved in this industry, but I would fight much harder than I did about my initial concept: that heath is not only a matter of drugs. I think that the link between the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry will reappear in the future.