Data: The New ‘Magic Wand’ For Pharma Business Excellence?

Pharma companies focus more on defending their current practices, rather than doing things differently. A September 24, 2014 article by Bain & Company, titled ‘New Paths to Value Creation in Pharma’, made this observation.

This happens regardless of the credence that leaders who change too early, risk losing attractive cash flows from established business models, and those that move too late risk being disrupted by emerging competitors. However, analyzing the recent history, the authors observed that pharma leaders have more often erred on the side of holding on to old models for too long, leaving room for more aggressive players to disrupt them.

Analysis of the 10 companies in the above study also found: “With their sustained success, these companies refute the widely held assumption that serendipitous innovation is the key to success in pharma.” However, on the ground all 10 of these large global drug companies have prospered despite industry-wide trends such as declining R&D productivity and the demise of the primary care blockbuster model. The authors explained: “This is because they operate in a high-margin environment.”

Starting with this scenario, I shall submit in this article, why the importance of well targeted data-based decision-making process, across the pharma functional areas, is now more than ever before.

Rewriting notes in the business playbook, taking cue from new data:

Having charted in the high margin ambience, Big Pharma exhibit reluctance in recomposing notes in the business playbook, based on a new set of real-life data. This is essential for sustainable success in a fast-changing business, political and social environment. They keep maintaining a strong belief in what they have been believing, regardless of what a large volume of credible data overwhelmingly indicates. Ongoing near unanimity in their collective decision to further intensify expensive advocacy initiatives in the same direction, continues. Other pharma players follow the same course.

This vicious circle continues sans any positive outcome, neither for pharma, nor for the patients. Already dented reputation of the industry gets more dented. In my various articles in this blog, I deliberated on various areas that merit radical overhaul in the pharma business, including patient-centricity and transforming the business through digitalization.

Use of data and analytics leaves room for a huge improvement in pharma: 

Let me express upfront, I am not trying to say, in any way, that pharma companies, in general, are not making investments for customized data generation or in analytics for use in new drug discovery and development, aiming improved process productivity. But, in many other functional areas, such as drug marketing, stakeholder engagement or even in strategic corporate communication for greater effectiveness, usage of scalable data and modern analytics leave much room for improvement.

Quality of data-use – ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’: 

As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, let me give a couple of examples on the quality of data-use and their outcomes in the areas under discussion.

Sizeable data clearly establishes the wish of most stakeholders, including patients for transparency in drug pricing, alongside improved access to affordable medicines. However, Big Pharma and their associates trying to swim against the tide keep advocating how the expensive process of drug innovation merits high drug prices. Understandably, negative public perception towards the industry further intensifies. Assuming that data analytics are extensively put to use while developing such communication, can anyone possibly cite such efforts as examples of productive use data?

Similarly, if any pharma company, for example, Sanofi besides many others, claims that it aims at ‘promoting and sustaining ethics and integrity in all our activities’ and has developed a comprehensive body of policies and standards, to provide guidance on a range of challenges specific to pharma industry like anti-bribery. However, in practice, we hear and read, even very recently that ‘Sanofi to pay more than $25 million to resolve corruption charges’ and which is not a solitary instance, either. The question, therefore, surfaces, how can data play any role in the fight against corruption by uncovering, preventing and deterring corruption.

‘How data is changing the fight against corruption:’

There are many published research papers, which established that effective use of data can prevent such corruption, and surely in cases of alleged repeat or multiple offenders in the pharma industry. One such paper titled, ‘How data is changing the fight against corruption,’ published in the OECD Forum Network on February 13, 2018, also reconfirms this point. It says:Data – both big and open – is indeed changing the anti-corruption landscape, by uncovering, preventing and deterring corruption.

Is pharma leveraging the data power for holistic business success?

I am not sure, but available evidences suggest most of them are not – at least, aiming for holistic business success. This is because, in the pharma industry, including Big Pharma, as I wrotein the past, alleged corrupt practices are widespread and continue unabated. This is quite evident from the national and international business magazines and media reports, coming rather frequently. The Transparency International Report titled “Corruption in the pharmaceutical sector – Transparency International 2016”, discusses the raging issue across the various functions of many drug companies.

Besides pharma and biotech R&D, there are many other critical areas, where leveraging data power with expert application of analytics, pharma players can reap rich harvest in terms of sustainable long-term business growth. However, for that there are some prerequisites, like – an open mind, unbiased approach, a mindset to accept reality as they are, and then neutralize the unfavorable ones with cerebral power. Trying to rationalize what is not working makes the situation worse, more complex, creating stronger headwinds.

Many sources of data capturing, still limited usage:

There are many sources of abundant data availability of various kinds, for pharma players. However, targeted data gathering of scale and appropriate analysis of the same, still remain rather limited in pharma. For example, while marketing their brands, numerous drug players in India don’t venture going beyond limited sources for data capturing for broad analysis. Such data may usually include, syndicated retail and prescription audits, besides internal sales and marketing details together with associated expenses or productivity related statistics. Data mining for dip-stick analysis is done seldom, according to industry sources.

Additionally, there are copious others who operate predominantly on ‘gut feeling’ and hearsay, sans any customer related meaningful and real-time data. When we create hype on patient-centricity, and alongside witness the general outcomes of such approaches, it requires no rocket science to fathom how much intelligent data input has gone behind such strategies.

The present system itself generates an enormous amount of real-time data in various areas, though most are not effectively utilized for weighty payoff, especially in pharma. The ongoing process of data generation also includes, drug innovation initiatives, manufacturing, supply-chain, distributor–wholesaler-retailer activities, digital apps and different websites, besides scores of other sources. But, the information, as stated above, apparently, is hardly analyzed through analytics to obtain targeted strategic inputs. Leave aside, intelligent application of the same to scale newer heights of all-round business success.

Data generation for swimming against the tide of public perception:  

Although, it’s not yielding positive results, I understand, pharma keeps spending a lot, both at the company level or through their trade bodies, to rationalize what they want the stakeholders to believe. For example,’ drug price control limits access to drugs’. Various reports to this effect are made public and used for the aggressive advocacy campaigns, though hardly taken seriously by those who matter.

Any price control, I reckon, may not be supported in ordinary circumstances. However, drug price control has definitely helped India to improve access to drugs without impeding any reasonable growth of the industry. That 5 or 10-year CAGR of the drug industry comes in double digit, despite continuation of drug price control regime for the last 48 years, offers a testimony to this fact. It’s a different issue, though, that Indian public health care system remains in shamble, even in the present regime. The lackadaisical attitude of all governments on public health related areas, is held responsible for this failure.

Conclusion:

The bottom-line is, expensive data generation effort, when gets primarily driven by self-serving motives, becomes increasingly counterproductive, as cited above. More informed stakeholders of date, including patients, probably other than the stock markets, want to see pharma players more in sync with the ground realities, and are acting accordingly. Thus, for sustainable business success, saner senses should prevail to generate adequate amounts of credible and targeted data, analyze them properly through analytics and use these with cerebral power to create a win-win situation in the pharma business.

In my view, any comprehensive ‘Decision Support System’ of an organization should go beyond the generation of mammoth internal business-related data. It should be integrated with the same kind of targeted external data of scale, with the use of modern analytics. This needs to happen – both at the macro level – as an organization, and also at the micro level – with its various functions. The corporate illusion of always ‘operating in a high-margin environment’ in pharma, will not guarantee sustainable business success, any longer.

From this perspective, using well-integrated internal and external data as the bedrock of all strategic decisions in pharma, I reckon, would soon prove to be a ‘magic wand,’ as it were, for pharma business excellence.

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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