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What’s in pharma’s future? Patient centricity, healthcare services, competition with big data firms

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Healthcare reform is prompting consolidation and leaner pharmaceutical companies and personalized medicine applications are a source of growing interest. But what other trends figure in to the future of the life sciences industry? How about adding healthcare services and competition with big data analysis companies? Those were a couple of the findings from an Industry Healthcheck survey of 1,600 pharmacy professionals by EyeforPharma.

The 971 who responded included managers (39 percent), directors (30 percent), consultants (10 percent), CEOs (9 percent), and sales reps (9 percent). Most of the respondents are in Europe, Asia and the U.S. The majority are in marketing, sales and general management.

Is patient-centric push lip service or reality? Justifiably, there’s a certain amount of cynicism around this issue. Asked if they agreed with the statement, “I believe a focus on patient-centricity is the best route to future profitability,” 80 percent agreed — 30 percent said they strongly agreed. The fact that the majority of the respondents are in sales and marketing underscores that it’s a big talking point, sure. But pharmaceutical companies have seen that to generate greater participation in clinical trials, improving adherence and understanding patients’ needs they need to have more conversations with patients and their advocates and that’s happening.

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Christoph Schmidt, the head of global commercial excellence at Actelion Pharmaceuticals, agrees. “Patient centricity as a strategy is also the result of the shift in decision-making power in the more complex and educated stakeholder landscape,” the report notes. But David Laws of Global Partners said there’s a huge disconnect between intent and action.

“I guess pharma’s definition of patient centricity is going to be somewhat different from other stakeholders and this may help explain the perception gap. Pharma is all talk in this area and continues to behave as a product focused industry… Clearly good products are important but on their own they do not produce any income and certainly no profits. Profits come from customers!”

Life science innovation is key to profitability: Asked whether they agreed with the statement “Quality medicines are the best route to future profitability for the company,” 77 percent agreed. The debate over the cost of Gilead’s drug Sovaldi — the first drug to cure Hepatitis C — is a good example of the upside and downside of how innovation is viewed. Everybody seems to want innovation, but if the price is too high, there’s a lot of grousing, particularly from payers and patients. It’s understandable but in cases where it’s a question of costs down the road and more immediate costs, it should be a no-brainer. Still, reimbursement isn’t the only challenge to innovation. More than half of respondents (56 percent) view the success of new medicines as hampered by an outdated regulatory system rather than an ability to innovate.

Pierre Morgon, CMO at Cegedim, said the pharmaceutical industry will need to change to adjust to these cost concerns.

“Going forward, the industry will have to take a different stance on affordability of novel therapies as perceived by the payers and the net consequence for the shareholders will be to admit that the story becomes ‘profitability, but not at any cost,’ almost as an integral component of the company’s CSR policy.”

Healthcare services will be part of pharma strategy: About 73 percent of respondents agreed that they need to become genuine healthcare providers and offer healthcare services. Still, there are a lot of challenges ahead for companies to move “beyond the pill.” Although Pfizer’s Integrated Health division only lasted a couple of years, Christian Isler, the former global head of solution and product development for Pfizer Integrated Health, learned a good few lessons from the experience. It will take years before it’s profitable. He recommends setting up a separate legal entity. It also will require a change in culture — more listening and responding to customer needs.

The competitive landscape will shift in the future: It seems like a weird statement but 59 percent believe that pharma’s greatest competition will be from companies other than current pharmaceutical manufacturers in 20 years. So who will that competition be? Big data analytics companies seem to be the biggest suspect. I tend to see them as complementing pharma, but others view that dynamic differently, as Morgon suggests. ”

When it comes to discovering new medicines, the ‘competition’ will likely remain within the space that we know today, involving academia, start-up companies and larger ones. But there will be other players, specializing in the mining of the huge amount of data allowing to better profile responders to a given treatment. These new players will play a critical role in the generation of insights and the subsequent discussion on the value of the medical interventions.

The life science industry as we know it today will therefore need to learn how to partner with these new players, if it wants to retain a seat at the table of the decision makers about the real life, and not be “cornered” in the world of the laboratory and the randomized clinical trials.”

[Photo credit: Businesswoman looking ahead from Big Stock Photo]

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Stephanie Baum

By Stephanie Baum

Stephanie Baum is the East Coast Innovation Reporter for MedCityNews.com. She enjoys covering healthcare startups across health IT, drug development and medical devices and innovations deployed to improve medical care. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and has worked across radio, print and video. She's written for The Christian Science Monitor, Dow Jones & Co. and United Business Media.
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