Pharma Integrates: less talk, more action?

November 23, 2016

Another year, another Pharma Integrates. Given this was my fourth year at the event in London, I decided to review my notes from this year against the previous three to see what (if anything) has changed since the inaugural event in 2012.

For those who have not attended before, the event aims to bring together the best of the best in terms of senior industry executives and speakers from across the drug development supply chain. From early stage virtual biotechs to large charities, academic institutions and big pharma, with a boat load of contract research organisations (CROs) and contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs) chucked into the mix. This year’s event focused on the key strategic issues facing the drug manufacturing industry and aimed to debate major trends such as personalised medicine, regulation, patient compliance and supply chain collaboration to name but a few. Big topics to cover in two days. So, what were the key themes this year that I’ve seen pop up year after year at Pharma Integrates?

Top of my list is my major bug bear in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector… Collaboration. Year after year, this is discussed as a key theme at the event. However, it feels a little like hot air when examples and substance are hard to prove. In theory, a well-coordinated supply chain collaboration cuts out time and ultimately benefits the patient. So the importance of strategic partnerships between the sponsor, vendor and everyone else in the supply chain is essential. The problem with true collaboration is it requires transparency, openness and trust. Having worked in this industry for over a decade, I have literally signed more CDA/NDAs than I’ve had hot dinners. This includes my fat period too. The sector is so worried about confidentiality and IP protection that it’s stifling creativity, collaboration and innovation. Unless this sector can work out a balance between this, it will forever be talking the talk about great collaboration but with the shackles firmly on when it comes to actually collaborating.

Cost of developing drugs
Certainly a less prevalent topic this year, but the cost of researching and accelerating a product from development to commercialisation is astronomical and not sustainable long term. The increased cost in regulation paired with economic uncertainly globally (think Trump and Brexit) doesn’t really help either. With this in mind, there is a need to be more agile and innovative in development. One of our clients, Colin MacKay, CEO at Symbiosis always uses the phrase: “If you’re going to fail, it’s much better to fail fast in drug development” and he’s absolutely right. The cost for Phase III trials is eye watering for even the biggest pharma companies so looking at recycling existing and old drug products for different uses using new technology and knowledge is a much smarter route to market. It’s a real positive trend to see less focus on the one in a million blockbuster hits and more attention on quicker and smarter ways of developing new medicines.

Focus on the patient
The most positive theme that came out of this year’s Pharma Integrates was focus on the end user, the patient, which I have never seen so prominent before. Sounds daft to me as a marketing man that most of the discussion tends to centre around ‘what we can do’ as researchers, manufacturers, suppliers etc. as opposed to ‘what does the end patient need’. This shift in focus can only be a good thing for the sector as a whole, which ultimately exists in my view to make people healthier. It also ties in nicely with the evolution of precision and personalised medicine, which is an untapped niche for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms that will hugely benefit small patient populations with rare diseases that have otherwise been overlooked in the past as they did not in reality make economic sense to target. I learnt there are 7000 rare diseases and only 400 orphan drugs, so if there was ever an incentive. Medicine is no different to other products in that it’s all about satisfying the needs of the patient – it’s as simple as that.

I love the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry as it’s not only given me, my family and my team a living but it also benefits almost every single person on the planet. However, it’s a frustrating place to be at times. I look at how much has changed and moved on in my specialism of digital marketing and PR over the last decade, and how we’ve had to evolve to adapt. Many comparisons were made at Pharma Integrates between drug development and the tech sector. Looking at Apple and Google versus big pharma is like chalk and cheese. Therein also lies potential future competition for the sector as these super brands have the power to jump into any sector they choose and innovate at the speed of light. So in conclusion, the event was great as usual but enough talking chaps. Time for some serious action.

By Raman Sehgal.

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