How Creative Is Pharma Industry?

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business,” said the management guru of all times – Peter Drucker, decades ago. He further added, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer, so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” What needs to be underscored in this visionary articulation of Drucker is, effective marketing should create such a strong pull for a product or service that renders hard selling less relevant.

The word ‘innovation’ is used frequently within the pharma industry, and more by the multi-national players on a specific context. The purpose is mainly to douse stakeholder concern on high prices of innovative drugs – building a narrative around expensive, complex and time-intensive drug innovation process. That said, just as creativity is necessary to discover new drugs, creative minds also help in effectively reducing the cost of innovation – creating more customers for the company.

Curiously, in this debate the other key business function – ‘marketing’, often takes a back seat, with its usage getting generally restricted to product features and benefits, including ‘freebies’ of various kinds. Neither is there any palpable effort to make the culture of ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ prevail across the organization, for overcoming several critical growth barriers that keep looming over all functional areas.

Is it happening because of a hubris, as it were, within the pharma and biotech industry? This article will try to figure out why this has been happening over decades and would also ponder whether the time is ripe for changing the charted path of the business model. For a clear understanding of all, let me start with the difference between creativity and innovation from the business perspective.

Creativity – a fundamental requirement in a business, is different from innovation:  

This was examined in the article titled, ‘The Importance of Creativity in Business,’ published by Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, on November 09, 2017. It emphasized, although “creativity” and “innovation” are often used interchangeably, these are two separate concepts. “Creativity is different because it is a mechanism to being innovative. You can have great ideas, but not be innovative,” the paper underscored. It brought to the fore that ‘creativity’ – being the fundamental ingredient for being ‘innovative’, is essential in the highly competitive business environment. It fuels big ideas, challenges the employees’ way of thinking, and opens the door to new business opportunities.

The IBM study also confirms this fact:

The study titled, ‘‘Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study,’ led by the IBM Institute for Business Value and IBM Strategy & Change, also confirmed the above fact. The study is the fourth edition of IBM’s biennial Global CEO Study series, involving more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide.

The study reported, CEOs selected creativity as the most important leadership attribute and the number one factor for future business success. It added: ‘Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.’ Importantly, ‘creativity’ ranked higher than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision, as each of these will require creativity. According to the study, successfully navigating through an increasing complex world of ‘accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, rapidly evolving customer preferences, can be overcome by instilling ‘creativity’ throughout an organization.

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – does it apply to pharma, as well?  

In today’s complex business environment, pharma’s business challenges are spreading rapidly across many areas. Besides innovation of new drugs, following are four broad, but critical areas, where fostering of creativity, innovative thinking and invention of game changing ideas, across the organization, I reckon, can fetch a sustainable return, in a win-win way:

  • Intense ‘pricing pressure’ to make innovative drugs affordable for greater access to patients: Just as innovative ideas are of fundamental importance to develop new drugs; disruptive innovative ideas in this area, can help resolve this issue, effectively – not any incremental measure.
  • Declining corporate image and eroding public trust: Placing patients’ interest at the center of the business model, and then effective marketing of the same, can reverse this trend, with better business outcomes.
  • Lack of business transparency: Make business processes, including pricing, sales and marketing more transparent, by leveraging the power of data with modern technology.
  • Declining per dollar marketing productivity: Move away from the old and traditional business models to find a new pathway for success, using the process of simulation, on an ongoing basis.

While above are some of the pressing needs for steering the course of pharma and biotech industry, the business keeps charting the same patch, with a bit of tweaking, here or there. Thus, the good old saying – ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ still doesn’t work in pharma.  The question, therefore, is why? We shall discuss it in just a bit. Before that, let me explore how creative the pharma industry, joining some critical dots.

How creative is pharma and biotech industry?

To explore this area, I shall try to touch upon the following two points:

  • Is there any perceptible financial impact on pharma sales revenue, net profit and gross operating margin, for not creatively resolving some critical growth barriers, as stated above?
  • Where does pharma and biotech industry stand in global ‘creativity ranking’?

For this purpose, when I look at the following four major areas, some interesting findings emerge:

  • Top 10 in sales revenue.
  • Top 10 in net profit
  • Average Gross and Operating Margin
  • Creativity ranking of some major pharma and biotech companies

Top 10 in sales revenue:

The overall sales revenue of the pharma/biotech companies remains healthy. On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be any storm signal.  According to Market Research Reports, Inc. the top 10 companies on 2018 sales revenue, are as follows:

  1. Pfizer Inc.: USD 53.647 Billion
  2. Novartis AG: USD 51.90 Billion
  3. Roche Holding AG: USD 45.5896 Billion
  4. Johnson & Johnson: USD 40.734 Billion
  5. Sanofi S.A: USD 39.288 Billion
  6. Merck & Co., Inc.: USD 37.689 Billion
  7. AbbVie Inc.: USD 32.753 Billion
  8. Amgen: USD 23.7 Billion
  9. GSK: USD 22.968 Billion
  10. Bristol-Myers Squibb: USD 22.600 Billion 

Top 10 in net profit:

There isn’t any storm signal visible in this area, either, as it is seen in isolation. According to Statista, the 2018 ranking of the top 10 biotech and pharmaceutical companies worldwide, based on net income, as appeared in the Financial Times 2018 equity screener database, is as follows:

Rank

Company

Net income ($ Billion)

1.

Johnson & Johnson (USA)

15

2.

Novartis (Switzerland)

13.8

3.

Pfizer (USA)

11.9

4.

Roche (Switzerland)

10.5

5.

Amgen (USA)

8.5

6.

Gilead (USA)

7.7

7.

AbbVie USA)

6.8

8.

Novo Nordisk (Denmark)

6.0

9.

Bayer (Germany)

4.3

10.

Biogen (USA)

4.1

Let’s now look at the average gross and operating margin in the pharma and biotech industry.

Average Gross and operating Margin – still the best:  

This also looks healthy, as compared to others. According to the January 2018 study by New York University’s Stern School of Business, average gross margin of 481 biotech and 237 pharma and biotech companies was reported at 70.71 percent and 68.60 percent, respectively. And their operating margins were at 25.45 percent and 24.89 percent, severally – against 12.32 percent of all the 7209 companies surveyed.

Creativity ranking of some commonly known pharma and biotech companies:

Here there seems to be an issue. When I look at the 2018 Forbes list of ‘The World’s Most Innovative Companies,’ it will be challenging to find any of the above top names of the pharma and biotech companies within the Top 100 ranking. Just to illustrate the point, let me reproduce below some commonly known names of our industry:

Rank Company Country 12-month sales growth% Innovation Premium%
#7. Incyte USA 38.93 70.59
#14. Celltrion S. Korea 45.25 62.3
#16. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals USA 20.82 61.11
#17. Vertex Pharmaceuticals USA 46.2 60.93
#22. Alexion Pharmaceuticals USA 17.32 58.04
#82. Allergan Ireland 9.4 37.59

Some interesting possibilities:

The above data, points towards some interesting possibilities:

  • Because of its sales and profit margin remaining generally lucrative, the focus on innovation of most pharma and biotech companies, get restricted to new drug discovery and development processes.
  • Top management’s encouragement of creativity across all functions of the organization appears inadequate, to successfully navigate through the key growth barriers, to maintain future business sustainability.

But, some critical signals do indicate: ‘shape up or ship out’:

But the real picture isn’t as rosy. Analysis of some key trends does capture several critical storm signals for the industry According to the July 09, 2018 study of EY (Ernst and Young): ‘Margins of pharmaceutical companies are continuing to decline – the future lies in new ecosystems.’ It further indicated: Although the margins of the 21 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world are declining, the businesses ‘are still growing, thanks to blockbuster drugs and new active ingredients against cancer. 40 per cent of the active ingredients that are currently being developed worldwide are cancer drugs.’

The paper concluded, the future lies in designing completely new types of ecosystems and business models. With the aim of providing comprehensive support for healthcare customers, including patients. “Data-driven business models will permanently change the pharmaceutical industry,” the paper articulated. The study forecasted, ‘life Science startups will take over between 30 and 45 per cent of the market by 2030.’ Isn’t this a clear signal, especially for large and longtime pharma players to ‘shape up or ship out?’

Conclusion: 

Let me now revert to what Peter Drucker said on two basic functions of a business – Innovation and Marking. None can question pharma on its consistently bringing to market innovative drugs to effectively tackle many diseases, including complex and life-threatening ones. Given, that ongoing new drug development is the lifeblood of growth of pharma business. Nevertheless, that aspect of innovation is mostly perceived as an exclusive internal business value for most companies. The majority of stakeholders perceives the value of drug innovation as inclusive, when it is made accessible to a large population of patients at an affordable price, along with a decent Return on Investment (ROI) for the corporation. This expectation cannot be wished away. Instead, its core concept should drive the other basic function of business – marketing

This stage can be attained by building an innovative organization, fostering the culture and process of ‘creativity’ – across its functions. It is now a fundamental requirement for pharma and biotech companies. Beyond new product development, innovation immensely helps organizations navigating through strong headwinds to achieve its financial goals and objectives, in an inclusive manner. When IT – another knowledge industry, can reduce the cost of innovation through creative processes, across all functions, making its product and services affordable to a large population, e.g. Reliance Jio, why not Pharma? In that sense, I reckon, pharma and biotech companies are yet to become creative – in a holistic way.

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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