Monday, December 8, 2008

The Convergence of Two Perfect Storms—The Drug Industry and The Outsourcing Businesses

The Convergence of Two Perfect Storms—The Drug Industry and The Outsourcing Businesses

by Larry Rothman

We like and fear the term “Perfect Storm”, it conjures up severe disruption if not destruction. We wonder if the drug industry is in the midst of not just one but perhaps a double perfect storm and here's why we think so.

Severin Schwan recently named Chief Executive for Roche Holding AG was quoted in the December 8th issue of the Wall Street Journal saying: “As the global pharmaceutical market gets tougher, some drug makers probably will fail because they won't have enough innovative medicines that health insurers will be willing to pay for”. He goes on to say “Some drug makers might be forced into bankruptcy in coming years. Others could be forced into mergers, or to diversify into other businesses.”

The Perfect Storm causing this is a combination of rare circumstances coming together simultaneously including, but not limited to:

1.Researcher productivity as measured by number of new drug entities approved is at or near an all time low.
2.Discovery and development of new, novel, cost effective compounds is not happening despite great advances in technology as well as all the supposed process improvements made by spending hundreds of millions on outside experts (e.g consultants).
3.Stricter regulations and enforcement (and the promise of more to come) from regulatory authorities, much emanating from the US FDA, but certainly not limited to this country, rather a global phenomenon.
4.The likelihood that in the US (based on President-elect Obama's promises) that the government will soon step in with some form of price controls and the increasing pressures by PBM's and insurance companies to be unwilling to pay for newer drugs without clear benefit and the compounding of the strong push toward generics and there is challenge on the horizon.
5.Oh yes, let's add a global economic downturn that promises to be the worst in 30-70 years.

We do have great respect for the industry and its attempts to focus on these issues, so to suggest a failure of management similar to the US Auto Industry would not be totally fair. However, one of the major tools for cos reduction that the drug industry has deployed is outsourcing and that business is itself facing challenges of the same magnitude as the pharmaceutical industry.

The Outsourcing Industry has its own perfect storm in the making including:

1.The recent tragic events in Mumbai will cause a natural reluctance to place mission critical work in what is perceived as “harms way”, in other words, offshore from the US.
2.Clinical trials have been viewed as an area of great promise both as a globalization vehicle and certainly as a way to lower drug development costs. HOWEVER, there is a perception that despite lower costs and faster recruitment for clinical trials in developing countries that the results may not be “at standard” or even worse as clinicians eager to please their sponsors may “unintentionally” skew results. (We will follow-up separately on this issue and to be fair—suspicions and perceptions are just that, there may be no factual basis to these claims).
3.Talent pools are getting scarcer and their cost is escalating so that many of the outsourcing companies are trying to find the optimum mix of geographies, skills, costs and capabilities. This is easy to describe but very difficult to manage.
4.Finally, at least in the US, there is a political backlash to sending “US jobs” overseas.

So where do they go from here. We'll discuss our opinions in the coming weeks. What do you think?

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