Friday, February 16, 2007

God Bless R&D, but Marketers May Go to Hell!

Hey you friggin' critics of the pharmaceutical industry! Shut your pie hole! "... drug companies have done a lot more to make my life better than [you] critics have. Maybe someone should point that out more often."

That's what Instapundit writer Glenn Reynolds says in a post cited yesterday by Fard Johnmar over at HealthVox (see "Much Love For Big Pharma In The Blogosphere?").

Aside from the anecdotal nature of this defense, here are five reasons why I hate this "better than the critics" argument made by Instapundit and other "defenders" of the pharmaceutical industry.

Number 1: The Duh! factor. Well, of course, critics -- and I count myself as one, although only 10% of respondents to the First Ever Pharma Blogosphere Survey say I am very critical of the industry whereas 8% say I am very supportive -- don't do much to directly help anyone. I would argue, however, that critics can sometimes make a good thing better. And no one would argue that the pharmaceutical industry could not be improved. After all, only through constant improvement can any public company's share price rise.

They're not ALL angels!
Number 2: Even outlandish Pharma Blogosphere critics like the Insider at PharmaGossip -- rated very critical by 16% of survey respondents -- don't criticize EVERYTHING about the industry. In fact, if anything, we "critics" are very supportive of the R&D side of the business and lament the fact that the corporate/marketing/sales sides have squandered the good will that has been BUILT by R&D over the years. They've done this by paying too much attention to the bottom line than to the core promise of the industry so eloquently enunciated by former Merck CEO and founder George W. Merck many years ago: ""We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. Not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear."

Fair Weather Friends?
Number 3: The same people that express love for the industry because it "saved their lives" today, can turn on the industry when they are betrayed. Witness all the people going after Merck because of the Vioxx fiasco. It wasn't even the facts that caused all the hoopla. What brought Merck to its knees -- but not counted out -- was how its sales, marketing, and corporate leadership tried to hide certain facts from the public. Merck recently regained lost good will with the introduction of Gardasil to the Market, which even "critics" like me praise (see "Merck on a Roll!"). I praise it because I can clearly see how this vaccine will save lives (it's a no-brainer).

Yet, for each step forward that R&D takes, greed (ie, marketing, sales, corporate) takes two steps back. I am talking about Merck's lobbying efforts to make vaccination MANDATORY (see "Gardasil: To Be Mandatory or Not To Be Mandatory -- That is the Question"). This is clearly self-serving -- as well as questionable on the grounds of conflict of interest -- because Merck could have waited until competitors entered the market to press for mandates. It also would have been wiser to wait from a patient safety standpoint, something I am sure most of Merck's research and medical staff would agree with.

NOTE: Sixty percent (60%) of respondents to my little poll say that Merck should "absolutely not" press for mandatory vaccination (this "critic" voted that Merck should press for mandatory vaccination but not through aggressive lobbying).

It's Not All About Cancer Drugs
Number 4: Instapundit quotes this comment from a reader to Pfizer: "...we love Pfizer in my house because your exotic anti-arrhythmic drug Tikosyn has changed my wife's life. It's genuinely a miracle drug for her." OK. Pfizer markets some pretty amazing drugs. I haven't seen DTC ads for this particular drug on TV, yet. But Pfizer also wastes a lot of effort and money promoting lifestyle drugs like Viagra and was recently criticized in the Wall Street Journal for promoting Viagra specifically to enhance sexual performance rather than treat a real medical problem (see "New Impotence Ads Draw Fire -- Just Like Old Ones").

Go Ahead, Shoot Yourself in the Foot!
Number 5: The WSJ article illustrates another problem the pharma industry has that deserves criticism: shooting itself in the foot! At a time when Congress is considering legislation to curtail or even prohibit DTC advertising ("Sens. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Michael Enzi (R., Wyo.) introduced a bill that proposes new restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising. On Jan. 31, Sens. Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) and Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) proposed legislation that would require drug makers to submit new ads to the FDA 30 days before they air"), isn't it foolish to "push the envelope" in such a publicly visible way?

Again, greed trumps R&D: sales of ED drugs are not living up to Wall Street expectations -- set by the industry itself -- so ED marketers pull out their big guns -- TV DTC advertising, which is increasing sales all right, but getting the issue on the front pages again! Talking about killing the the golden goose for a quick meal rather than keeping it alive and well it for its valuable eggs!

Give Your Heroes a Voice!
Remember the Istapundit quote that started this rant? Well, here's how a "guy from Pfizer" responded:
"I will pass your thanks along to the guys in the lab. You have no idea how much this kind of message matters to them --and to all of us. We KNOW there's a pony in there somewhere but some days it's not easy to remember that."
As if the "guys" in the lab were isolated from public view, locked away in cages like lab rats!

And that's a problem I have always railed against. Time and again, I point out to any industry executive who will listen: give these people a voice (see, for example, the section "Clarence," GSK's R&D Guy, Trumps "Jamie," Pfizer Viagra Guy! in the post "GSK's 'Plain Talk' Flawed"). Here's where the industry should use the power of the blogosphere to improve its image. Want to know how? Call me at 215-504-4164 or email

So, God bless the dedicated researchers and scientists of the pharmaceutical industry! They are truly the unsung heroes of the pharmaceutical industry! Too bad they are sequestered in their labs!

What About Marketing?
If God blesses the folks in pharma R&D, the devil may take pharmaceutical marketers -- unless they reform! It's only fair to give the devil his/her due. But take heart marketers, we critics are here to help you escape that awful fate. Want to listen? Or do you want to continue to blame the critics?


  1. Great post John.

    Spot on!

    Jack "Outlandish" Friday

  2. You know I mean that in the nicest possible way! ;-)

  3. Anonymous3:41 PM

    How do you reconcile protection of intellectual property and giving R&D people a direct voice to the internet? Also, how would this work when this it is illegal in many countries (esp. the UK) to talk about late phase projects or a marketed product in a fashion that could remotely be construed as marketing?

    The idea of blogging from R&D to patients is intrinsically appealing, but it looks to me like regulations and the risks of premature disclosure make it a pipe dream.

  4. I can't give all my ideas away! After all, I do actually provide my opinions sometimes for a fee, not just free.

    There is actually a precedent for pharma R&D folk blogging -- GSK did it in France (see "Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry").

    So, these concerns can be handled.

    Also, it is not necessary to give employees DIRECT un-monitored access. What is important is to publish (or not) their comments in their own words -- it can go through legal/regulatory review -- but the whole process should be transparent.

    And before you go live on the public internet, try it on your in-house network first!

  5. Anonymous6:10 AM

    It was worth a try :-)

    Once I see how our internal blog efforts turn out we may turn to the public. Nice to see some hope for the idea.

  6. BTW, here's how NOT to implement my idea:

    A recent post to the Drug Wonks blog ("Novartis' Dignified Response to NGO Nonsense") suggests that giving the head of corporate research a "voice" is a cas study on how to handle public relations fiascos:

    "A courageous interview with Paul Herring, head of corporate research for Novartis, regarding India's denial of a patent for Gleevec... A case study why more companies should get more scientists to speak out about the savaging of their industry by junta loving NGOs...'

    Mr. Herring promptly spouts the PhRMA line: "Our view in research is that patents save lives. You need to invest for 15 years to translate a scientific idea into a breakthrough medicine such as Glivec. Nobody could or would do that kind of research if there was not a hope to recover the investment at the end of the day."

    First, my idea is to give voice to the R&D rank and file -- the Clarences of the world -- not the head guy! It defeats the whole purpose because it is still corporate-speak.

    Second, these voices should speak spontaneously and with emotion without answering the beck and call of the PR department to respond to a specific crisis that needs to be managed. We want to hear stories, not press releases.

    Just a though in case "reality cheque" is an actual pharma person thinking of implementing some of these ideas.

  7. Thanks for the write up on The Pharma Blogosphere!!

    Here's a little somthing for all the Pharma Marketeers who read this:


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