Arresting continuous job losses in the global pharma industry call for innovation across the value chain

In not too distant past, the stocks of the global pharmaceutical companies, by and large, used to be categorized as ‘blue-chips’ for their high return to investors, as compared to many other sectors.

Unfortunately, the situation has changed significantly since then. Most of those large players now appear to be under tremendous pressure for excellence in performance.

The issues of ‘Patent Cliff’, coupled with patent expiries, price and margin pressures from payors’ group in the developed world, have already started haunting the research based pharmaceutical companies and are assuming larger proportions day by day.

The situation continues to be grim:

Collective impact of all the above factors has prompted the major pharma players to resort to huge cost cutting exercises leading to employee layoffs, quite often, in a massive scale.

According to a study done by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which was also quoted in the Forbes Magazine, April 13, 2011, 297,650 employees were laid off by the global pharma industry between the years 2000 and 2011.

Year

Number of Job cuts

2000

2,453

2001

4,736

2002

11,488

2003

28,519

2004

15,640

2005

26,300

2006

15,638

2007

31,732

2008

43,014

2009

61,109

2010

53,636

Total

297,650


Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©/Forbes Magazine, April 13, 2011

Top of the list layoffs:

Forbes, Pharma and Healthcare, June 10, 2011 reported ‘top of the list layoffs’ in the Global Pharmaceutical Industry from 2004 to 2011. This number reported to be comparable to as many people working at the three largest drug companies combined namely, Pfizer, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline GSK in 2011.

Company No of layoffs
Pfizer 58,071
Merck 44,400
Johnson & Johnson 9,900
Eli Lilly 5,500
Bristol-Myers Squibb 4,600

More recently ‘Mail online’ dated February 3, 2012 reported that Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announces 7,300 job losses as it pares back staff to save money’. Immediately, thereafter, on February 24, 2012 Reuters reported that ‘German drugs and chemicals group Merck KGaA has announced plans for a cost-cutting program across all its businesses that may include job cuts’.

The old paradigm is no longer relevant:

To get insight into the future challenges of the pharmaceutical industry in general ‘Complete Medical Group’ of U.K had conducted a study with a sizable number of senior participants from the pharmaceutical companies of various sizes and involving many countries. The survey covered participants from various functional expertise like, marketing, product development, commercial, pricing and other important areas. The report highlighted that a paradigm shift has taken place in the global pharmaceutical industry, where continuation with the business strategies of the old paradigm will no longer be a pragmatic option.

Learning from the results of the above study, which brought out several big challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry in the new paradigm, my submissions are as follows:

Collaborative Research to overcome R&D productivity crisis: The cost of each new drug approval has now reached a humongous proportion and is still increasing. This spiraling R&D cost does not seem to be sustainable any longer. Thus there emerges a need to re-evaluate the R&D model of the pharmaceutical companies to make it cost effective with lesser built-in risk factors. Could there be a collaborative model for R&D, where multiple stakeholders will join hands to discover new patented molecules? In this model all involved parties would be in agreement on what will be considered as important innovations and share the ‘risk and reward’ of R&D as the collaborative initiative progresses. The Translational Medicine Research Collaboration (TMRC) partnering with Pfizer and others, ‘Patent Pool’ initiative for tropical diseases of GSK and OSDD for Tuberculosis by CSIR in India are examples of steps taken towards this direction. Surely such collaborative initiatives are not easy and perhaps may also not be acceptable to many large global players as on date, but they are not absolutely uncommon either. The world has already witnessed such collaborative research, especially in the sectors, like Information Technology (IT). Thus, it remains quite possible, as the industry moves on, that the world will have opportunities to take note of initiation of various cost effective collaborative R&D projects to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders in the global healthcare space. Greater access to fast growing markets: The increasing power of payors in the developed world and the interventions of the Government on the ground of ‘affordability of medicines’ in the developing countries are creating an all pervasive pricing/margin pressure for the pharmaceutical players.

These critical emerging developments can be effectively negotiated with significant increase in market access, especially in the emerging economies of the world, with each country specific business strategies. ‘One size fits all’ type of standardized approach, currently adopted by some large global players in the markets like India, may not be able to fetch significant dividend in the years ahead.

Better understanding of the new and differential value offerings that the payors, doctors and patients will increasingly look for, much beyond the physical products/brands, would prove to be the cutting edge for the winners for greater market access in the emerging economies.

Current business processes need significant re-engineering: Top management teams of many global pharma companies have already started evaluating the relevance of sole dependance on the current R&D based pharmaceutical business model. They will now need to include in their strategy wider areas of healthcare value delivery system with a holistic disease management focus.

Only treatment of diseases may no longer be considered enough with an offering of just various types of medications. Added value with effective non-therapeutic/incremental disease management/prevention initiatives and appropriately improving quality of life of the patients, especially in case of chronic ailments, will assume increasing importance in the pharmaceutical business process in the emerging markets. Continuous innovation required not just in R&D, but across the value chain: Continuous innovation across the pharmaceutical value chain, beyond pharmaceutical R&D, is the most critical success factor. The ability to harness new technologies, rather than just recognize their potential, and the flexibility to adapt to the fast changing and demanding regulatory environment together with patients’ newer value requirements, should be a critical part of the business strategy of  the pharmaceutical companies in the new paradigm. Avoidance of silos, integrating decision making processes: More complex, highly fragmented and cut throat competition have created a need for better, more aligned and integrated decision making process across various functional areas of the pharmaceutical business. Creation of silos, duplication of processes and empire building have long been a significant trend, especially, in the larger pharmaceutical companies. Part of a better decision making will include more pragmatic and efficient deployment of investments and other resources  for organizational value creation and jettisoning all those activities, which are duplications, organizational flab producing and will no longer deliver differential value to the stakeholders. Finding newer ways of customer engagement: Growing complexity of the business environment is making meaningful interactions with the customers and decision makers increasingly challenging. There is a greater need for better management of the pharmaceutical communication channels to strike a right balance between ‘pushing’ information to the doctors, patients and other stakeholders and helping them ‘pull’ the relevant information whenever required. Questioning perceived ‘fundamentals’ of the old paradigm:

Despite a paradigm shift in the business environment, fundamental way the pharmaceutical industry appears to have been attempting to address these critical issues over a decade, has not changed much.

In their attempt to unleash the future growth potential, the pharmaceutical players are still moving around the same old dictums like, innovative new product development, scientific sales and marketing, satisfying customer needs, application of information technology (IT) in all areas of strategy making process including supply chain, building blockbuster brands, continuing medical education, greater market penetration skills, to name just a few. Unfortunately, despite all such resource intensive initiatives, over a period of time, nothing seems to have changed fundamentally, excepting, probably, some sort of arrest in the rate of declining process.

Conclusion:

Such incremental focus over a long period of time on the same areas, far from being able to ride the tide of change effectively, does ring an alarm bell to some experts. More so, when all these initiatives continue to remain their prime catalysts for change even today to meet new challenges of a different paradigm altogether.

The moot question therefore remains: what are the companies achieving from all heavy investments being continuously made in these areas since long…and why have they not been able to address the needs of the new ball game for business excellence, effectively, thus far?

When results are not forthcoming despite having taken all such measures, many of them have no options but to resort to heavy cost cutting measures including job losses to protect the profit margin, as much as one possibly can.

If the issues related to declining rate of global pharmaceutical business performance is not addressed sooner moving ‘outside the box’ and with ‘lateral thinking’, one can well imagine what would its implication be, in the endeavor towards arresting continuous job losses through business excellence, in the years ahead.

By: Tapan J Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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