Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pfizer-Wyeth Redux--We Can't Help It!

I’m back on the Pfizer-Wyeth again. I can’t help myself. I feel as if l’m in that dream we’ve all had of being in a slow motion crash again and again. Here’s why.

Let’s start with the overall economy. Since last autumn, we have CEO’s either being excoriated in the press or by Congress. Obviously, there have been some serious shortfalls in abilities here. Now, let me ask a question, just because Big Pharma hasn’t been dragged up to the Hill yet by Congress doesn’t mean that they won’t be. (Doesn’t mean that they will be either, but old Guy’s sticking his neck out again.) Honestly, there’s some good potential here. Have we seen anything yet from Big Pharma’s CEO’s to distinguish them from their colleagues in banking or automobiles? This is where I’d really like to get some reader feedback.

Next, let’s talk about sticking the collective heads in the sand and hoping that problems will go away. Let’s face it. Barack Obama has won the election. He took the oath of office (twice) and he’s now the President of the United States (POTUS for you acronym freaks out there). Despite some Republican protests, President Obama’s stimulus package has been passed and signed. So, anyone who doesn’t think healthcare reform isn’t coming soon to a hospital near you had better wake up and smell the coffee. Especially, if they’re in the drug or medical device businesses.

Another one of my favorite gripes about the healthcare industry, and most other industries as well, is it’s fascination with mergers and acquisitions. Don’t get me wrong in the right circumstances, with the right reasons and for the right price, these types of deals can make a lot of sense. But, please notice the qualifiers that I listed. There generally aren’t too many deals that meet those criteria and then, if there happens to be a bidding war then any value goes right out of the window. How many M&A deals over the last thirty years, in any industry, have lived up to their oft overhyped potential?

Finally, let’s get down to basics. Business is all about making things and then selling them. Good products and services with good customer service attract customers who pay their bills and come back to buy more. While you’re at it, hire good employees, treat them right, and improve your productivity as a consequence. But, Big Pharma seems to be ignoring this model. Many of them are moving to a portfolio model of buying new drugs, outsourcing everything that they can, and making their profits on the resulting margins. Not bad business if you can get it, but how many companies can be in that kind of a business. Possibly a few, but, certainly not as many as are in the pharmaceutical industry today.

Oh, and let me add that with few exceptions they are optimizing the "blockbuster" model that no longer works. And, has anyone explained the law of large numbers to these people--combining two multi -10's of billion dollars business into one, taking on "synergy targets" has been at best short on results albeit high on promises.

So, let’s see what happens this year. If I’m wrong, I think I’ll find out soon enough.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please contact us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

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