Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Journey Continues – Down the Rabbit Hole

After several weeks of visiting Big Pharma’s websites or those of their agents, I’m still shaking my head over what I’ve been finding. Namely, nothing. Last week I used the overused analogy about the Titanic. This week, I followed the Avandia story and thought maybe I would finally find a company that I might be on the cusp of finding a company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in this case, finally having to recognize reality. Well, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, I was wrong and went down the rabbit hole.

First, a quick recap. This past week, the FDA placed serious restrictions on GSK’s diabetes drug, Avandia, while, the EMA instituted a recall. (Details can be found at the website Avandia Recall News ( ).) So, in my innocence, I thought that maybe GSK’s website ( ) might have some insight and reflection on what’s going on. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I got that one wrong.

At GSK’s website, I found contact information for patients, medical professionals, investors and the media. There was also a statement and video from Dr. Ellen Strahlman, GSK’s chief medical officer. (I wonder where their CEO, Andrew Witty, is in all this.) It had the air of being slapped together. In fairness, I guess that would be the first reaction. But, as I went over the website, I found what I’d found earlier at other Big Pharma websites and that was a complete lack of concern over where the industry is going.

GSK’s three strategic priorities ( ) are plastered all over their website. But, I find them to be the usual corporate fluff that doesn’t seem to be focused on the industry’s problems. The website is not as well laid out as some of their competitors and its message was confusing to me.

For me, my journey has, so far, not been very encouraging. This week’s visit is the capstone of this trip. Here’s a major drug company facing a global recall on one of its major products and it’s being treated like a minor appliance recall would be in another industry. Sure, I get the fact that for legal and regulatory reasons many things cannot be said. But, where’s the awareness that a very different regulatory climate is forming out there and this is even before U.S. healthcare reform kicks in. Where’s the leadership? Either at a company level or in the industry? I don’t see it.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist but I believe that we’re seeing another major industry preparing to roll over and go to the bottom. I’ll continue with this blog stream for a while longer because I want to learn if anyone in the industry is thinking about this.

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

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Now Understand Why the Titanic Hit the Iceberg

Since I began this journey across the Internet looking for Big Pharma’s story about how they’re viewing and dealing with the issues coming at them. To date, what I’ve found has not been very encouraging. The industry seems oblivious to the threats heading its way. I’m reminded of the RMS Titanic sailing along in the dark, oblivious to the lurking iceberg until, wham! , impact, and we all know what happened eventually to Leonard DiCaprio.

Larry suggested that I visit some of the smaller firms to see if the same lack of concern is prevalent. That’s where we’re going this week.

I started with one of the generics, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. ( ). OK, they’re one of the threats, but, I wanted to see what their view is. Interestingly, it’s not terribly different from the larger pharmaceuticals’ and industry associations’ websites that I’d visited earlier.

There is one significant difference between Teva’s website and the others visited. That’s a page ( ) that gives a fairly good summary of what the generics industry is all about. But, nothing gives a clue about the competitive threat that generics present to Big Pharma. It’s almost like they’re embarrassed to bring the subject up. So, what gives?

Next, I went to Amgen’s website ( ). I found this site to be a bit more focused on the science behind drugs and in particular their approach to research. Their pipeline page ( ) presents the molecules (sounds scientific right?) under study and which modalities are being used. But, again, there’s not a lot about the future of the industry. The closest I came to an industry overview was a presentation to financial analysts ( ) that hints at some of the issues that I’ve been railing about for months. But, that’s about all that I get.

I understand that publically traded companies have stock exchange and SEC rules about what they can say, how they say it, and when they say it. Yet, the cookie cutter approach that I’ve seen across various websites visited so far is inexplicable to me. I’ve heard the joke about how large corporations all use the same consultants hence they’re all alike. I just never thought that it would be true. If their websites are all alike then what about their strategies and business models?

Everything that I’ve seen so far only reinforces to me the storm which is waiting to break over Big Pharma. Momentum, or, is it inertia, seems to be drawing the pharmaceutical industry into a Black Hole from which there will be no escape.

I’ll be looking for more behind this story in future blogs and continue looking for evidence of coming demise of Big Pharma.

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

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Still on the Cyberroad

I’m still on the cyberroad looking for Big Pharma’s story. Larry made a very telling observation when I sent him my last blog for his editorial review (You didn’t really think he lets me post a blog without some form of adult supervision now did you?). He found it interesting that these companies weren’t talking about their survival.

He’s right. That’s what’s been missing here for me. Big Pharma isn’t showing any evidence that they think they are in trouble. Despite what has happened to the U.S. mainframe computer and auto industries, to name just a couple of recent, high profile examples, Big Pharma seems oblivious to what’s going on around them. I once read that Hegel, the German philosopher, had said that history repeats itself as tragedy reenacted as comedy. In which case, Big Pharma may be getting an Emmy soon for the sit-com that they’ve got in the works.

What I’ve seen so far on my journey reminds of the teams in the NFL. The team colors, the players’ names, and the hometowns are different but they’re all playing the same game by the same rules and everything always looks vaguely familiar. That’s what is most unsettling for me in this blog series.

This week, I visited Bristol-Meyers Squibb’s (BMS’s) website ( ). Another nicely done coding job, doesn’t have some of the flash of Merck’s ( ), but, it does the technical job. I just didn’t get a sense of anything being amiss. I know I’m not the only one who feels that there’s trouble brewing in the pharmaceutical industry. (And, there are others too besides Larry who agrees with me.) Here’s another example of that complacency.

BMS’s pipeline ( ) looks like they’re keeping busy. I can’t comment on the specifics. But, I do promise that I’ll come back at some future date and look at these pipeline pages and see what it all means. Like for example, how much redundancy is there across all these pipelines? Another question, what types of markets are there? Finally, who’s going to pay for all these drugs?

When I look at sites like these, I see buzz words like big and small molecules, and biopharma. Everyone wants to take care of everyone and make them all well again. The altruism is stifling.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this blog to be negative. I started out in search of originality and so far I’m coming up empty.

In future blogs, I’m going to visit a few more pharmaceutical companies before I go down a different path and look for some of the analysts and other commentators on the industry to validate my findings and see if I’ve missed something somewhere. Likewise, my beloved readers, please send me any links that you feel I should check out as I continue my journey looking for Big Pharma’s story.

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

Contributed by Guy de Lastin

Saturday, September 4, 2010

On the Cyberroad

I think that I’ve finally managed to break away from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) ( ) and its world view. Now, I’m continuing my journey across the Internet looking for Big Pharma’s story.

This week I wanted to move away from Big Pharma’s lobbyists and other front organizations. I went to the websites of two large pharmaceutical companies, Merck and Pfizer. These are two major players in the industry and seemed like a good place to start.

I’ll start with Merck ( ). The usual trappings of a Fortune 500 company were there along with what I’m coming to expect at a large pharmaceutical company. Looking at the site, one could get the impression that this is an altruistic organization worried about patients, the environment, and helping small businesses. (Alright, I admit it, I’m a little bit cynical.)

But, I found what I came looking for, Merck’s pipeline ( ). I have to admit from a purely technical perspective, this was done very nicely. Now, let’s talk about the content.

Phase II, Phase III, and Under Review drugs are listed in addition to research areas. Three categories of drugs can be highlighted, biologics, small molecule, and vaccines. Clinical trial results can be linked to for drugs in Phase III and Under Review.

I’m the last guy who can say what’s a good drug or a bad drug from a financial perspective. And, Merck’s site doesn’t include financial forecasts for these potential drugs probably for very good SEC and FDA reasons. Although, I’m probably not going too far out on a limb here by saying that internally Merck is forecasting the financial potential of these drugs.

But, except for a mention to now looking at biologics, there’s nothing about what their philosophy is or why they are doing what they do. Yes, they talk about doing good things and saving lives and that’s about it. I just don’t see an exciting story that tells me that these guys are going to be tomorrow’s breakout story.

Let’s take a quick look at Pfizer’s site ( ). Here we have all the state of the art social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. When I went looking for their pipeline I found a twenty-two page PDF document ( ). (They really could learn something from Merck.)

Like at Merck’s site, I couldn’t find any reference to where Pfizer saw it’s future heading. From both sites I came away with a picture in my mind of countless lab techs all over the world mindlessly droning away at testing compounds for some vague end. I’m reminded of players at a roulette wheel in a casino. Play enough numbers long enough and sooner or later, you’ll win. Didn’t this get Wall Street in trouble a while back?

My journey so far hasn’t shown me any insights yet into why Big Pharma will turn around. If they have any, they should bring them to the fore better than they’ve done so far. Come back next week to see what I’ve found.

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

Contributed by Guy de Lastin