Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Larry and I would like to thank all our faithful readers who have been reading and following our blog during the last year. We appreciate your loyalty and your feedback.
This year has been a wild one for the economy and the markets. Most of us haven’t seen anything like this before (there’s probably some old trader left from 1929 running around out there somewhere) and probably won’t again in our lifetimes (hopefully). The Presidential election back in November gave us a clear and clean call to action by the electorate. The last thing the country needed right now was another hanging chad escapade. Personally, I had expected a more active year for the healthcare industry. I suspect that I was premature in my calls. My last series of blogs comparing Big Pharma to Big Auto had indicated several cyclical trends which are inevitable to me. Of course, I’m leaving myself open to the charge that given enough time, any prophet will be proven right. But, the fundamentals can’t be changed.
As for our blog in the New Year, Larry and I are looking to increase the frequency of posts and to recruit additional bloggers (hint, hint). We are also planning to increase our interviews.
Larry and I are expecting the New Year to be a wild one whichever way it plays. The U.S. government, along with most of the industrialized nations, is getting ready to throw a lot of money at the financial crisis. On the other hand, we have yet to see the other shoe drop from the recent poor retail season, and, it’s not just about retailers. Watch what happens to the REIT’s when shopping malls start to have more vacancies than occupancies. The world political and social situation is still unstable. I have many friends from Mumbai and have visited its streets. I was horrified by what happened there. But, I don’t want to put too negative a spin on things. There are always opportunities in life. And, Larry and I will be there blogging about the healthcare industry.
As always, we welcome your feedback. Please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Are Pharma Companies Headed Down the Same Path as Automotive? Part 3

Last time, I blogged about what may happen to Big Pharma’s outsourcers after the financial crisis catches up with them. This time in my final blog in the trilogy I’ll write about what may happen to the consultants.
Actually, I believe that the consultants are already experiencing a downturn. Over the last several weeks, I had opportunities to meet with friends who work for the consulting firms. What I heard was that layoffs are already occurring. While I’m told that limited hiring can occurs for the right opportunity, this is the exception more than the rule.
The consulting firms are also experiencing the fallout from the financial service sector which is cutting into their projected revenues.
The growth drivers of the last decade are either long gone or fading fast. Y2K, e-commerce, ERP implementations and outsourcing are played out. There’s really nothing immediate that can help out. I’ve noticed the senior executives of the major consulting firms spending more time at their clients, looking for new business, and making “investments” to do so. I don’t sense panic yet but if current trends continue then that might change as we go into 2010.
The pharmaceutical industry is generating media and anecdotal evidence of spending cutbacks for next year. Expensive consultants usually are among the first to go. I predict that after the second quarter of 2010, we’ll see more layoffs at the consulting firms particularly at the senior levels.
What might be areas of opportunity in the future? One could be International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). This is the adoption of common generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) by global businesses. The recent business failures in the U.S. financial services sector seem to have added some impetus to this initiative as there is a fear that failure to do so could keep U.S. firms from accessing global capital markets.
At a recent IFRS seminar that I attended in NYC, one Big Four accounting firm partner said that IFRS could be even bigger than Sarbanes-Oxley. (And, we all know how the accounting firms made out on that one.) Unfortunately, other than education and some planning activities, there won’t be much here until maybe 2013 or 2014. Also, Ernst & Young, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and KPMG could play well in this space with their hordes of accountants. IBM Global Services and Accenture may not be able to offer the same services given their more technical focus.
Like in the auto and drug industries, the consulting industry is experiencing excess capacity. And, regrettably, cutbacks are the only way to go here when there is no new growth to absorb it. I don’t expect this industry to go to Washington, D.C. looking for bailouts.
In these three recent blogs, I’ve tried to summarize Larry’s and my thinking about the next year will bring for Big Pharma and the outsoucing and consulting firms that have been making their livings from it. 2009 will be a tough year for all of them. President-elect Obama will dominate the media after his inauguration next month. The quiet story behind the scenes will be the drug industry and its suppliers slowly following in the footsteps of the U.S. auto industry
As always, we welcome your feedback. Please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

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?