The AI imperative: Propels Purpose-driven Leaders Revolutionizing Patient Care

The winds of change are blowing in healthcare! Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to revolutionize how we deliver quality care to everyone. As a recent ET Healthworld article (March 3, 2024) aptly stated: “AI and technology are going to be transformative. The only way we can provide quality healthcare for the masses of the country will be through technology.” This isn’t just a future possibility, it’s a necessity with the potential to bridge the gap and ensure everyone has access to the care they deserve.

Accordingly, the leadership game in the healthcare industry is also changing. Purpose-driven leaders are harnessing the power of AI and etching their ambitious goals into company DNA. Take a recent  PharmaTimes  article (March 26, 2024) where an AstraZeneca heavyweight declared, “‘we have a bold ambition to eliminate cancer as a cause of death.’” This isn’t just about treatments anymore; it’s about… very close to curing cancer for good. This exemplifies the ‘audacious purpose’ driving their oncology leadership – a vision light years beyond mere effectiveness and safety.

Forget business as usual, healthcare is embracing a revolution! For years, experts have been preaching the gospel of Purpose-Driven Leadership (PDL), especially in healthcare. Now, thanks to visionary leaders in international and national organizations, PDL is taking off at warp speed. This article dives deep into this exciting new frontier, exploring how purpose is reshaping the healthcare landscape.

What it means:

In pharma, leading with purpose used to mean putting patients first, driving ethical innovation, and building trust. Now,the AI era supercharges this mission. This isn’t just about purpose anymore – it goes much beyond. It’s about unlocking a healthier future through transparency, collaboration, and the power of AI. 

This area is now rapidly evolving:

The leadership purpose of the healthcare business has undergone a significant shift over the years, moving from a primarily profit-driven model to one that emphasizes a broader set of goals. Thus, I believe, purpose-driven leadership (PDL) isn’t a fad of the day – it’s a global health revolution. And India’s pharmaceutical industry is no exception! While mirroring the global trend, India’s PDL journey has some unique twists. Buckle up, because we’re about to fast-forward through decades of change and explore the nuances that set India apart. As I envisage, PDL has been evolving in India, broadly following the steps as indicated below:

Early Years (Pre-1970s):

  • Organizational Focus: Primarily generic drug production for domestic needs and exports.
  • Leadership Purpose: Meeting basic healthcare needs and establishing India as a “pharmacy of the world.”
  • Overall Impact: Made essential medicines affordable for many countries, but limited focus on R&D for innovative drugs.

From the beginning of the drug price control era (1970s-1990s):

  • Organizational Focus: Balancing generic production with increasing government support for R&D – mainly reverse engineering, with an eye on process-patent.
  • Leadership Purpose: Maintaining affordability of generics while fostering domestic innovation to fast replicate patented molecules of globally successful drugs.
  • Overall Impact: India became a major player in generics, but original drug discovery lagged.

Patent Regime Shift (With Patent Amendment Act 1999, 2002, 2005):

  • Organizational Focus: Expecting stricter intellectual property regime, increasing focus on branded drugs, especially by large domestic companies.
  • Leadership Purpose: Balancing affordability with profitability and encouraging domestic innovation for new drugs.
  • Overall Impact: Growth in Indian specialty and complex branded generics, including Biosimilar drugs, but concerns about rising drug prices for newer medications.

Current Era (2000s-Present):

  • Organizational Focus: Balancing affordability with patient well-being, access to medications, and establishing a cost-effective and balanced pathway for product and process innovation.
  • Leadership Purpose: Combining innovation with social responsibility and Patient-Centricity with an emphasis on affordability and public health initiatives.
  • Overall Impact: Increased focus on R&D for new drugs, affordability programs, and public health partnerships. However, challenges remain in balancing affordability with R&D investment.

Nevertheless, the winds of change have started blowing within the Indian pharmaceutical leadership, as well. Their purpose is no longer singular – it’s a multifaceted dance balancing affordability, essential for a vast population, with the need for ground-breaking innovation to meet the unmet need. This tightrope walk defines India’s pharmaceutical future, ensuring both accessible medications and advancements in healthcare.

Examples of PBL initiatives by international and Indian companies:

It is worth noting, while some companies might announce major partnerships or product launches related to AI in the drug industry, the underlying development processes often take place over several years. However, we can explore the purpose these leaders likely aim to achieve based on examples ferreted from the public domain:

International:

  • Pfizer & IBM Watson (Clinical Trial Matching Platform):

Purpose: Launched around 2016-2017, this initiative aimed to accelerate patient access to new treatments by streamlining clinical trial recruitment through AI-powered matching.

  • Sanofi & Google DeepMind (Protein Folding Simulations):

Purpose: Partnership, which most likely began around 2019-2020. This collaboration focuses on using AI to revolutionize drug discovery by allowing for highly accurate and efficient design of new medications.

Indian: 

  • Sun Pharma (AI-powered Chatbots):

Purpose: This initiative leverages AI to improve patient education and medication adherence, ultimately aiming to improve patient health outcomes.

  • Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (AI for Drug Discovery):

Purpose: Their use of AI focuses on identifying promising new drug targets through advanced data analysis, aiming to accelerate drug development for unmet medical needs.

The way forward for Indian drug industry leaders:

Indian pharmaceutical leadership can leverage AI to:

  1. Innovate for patients: Develop targeted drugs and personalized treatments using AI-powered discovery and data analysis.
  2. Expand access: Optimize supply chains and fight counterfeits with AI for affordability and patient safety.
  3. Build trust: Use AI Chatbots for patient education and address concerns through social media analysis.
  4. Be ethical: Prioritize data privacy and transparent AI for responsible use. Comply with the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP)
  5. Collaborate for impact: Partner with AI experts and open-source initiatives to accelerate healthcare solutions for India.

This approach allows Indian pharmaceutical leadership to lead with purpose by putting patients first and leveraging AI for a healthier future.

The differences between the older and the AI Era:

The key differences between the old days and the AI era, in the steps Indian pharmaceutical leaders take towards leading with purpose, lie in the scale, speed, and precision achieved through AI:

Old Days:

  • Limited data: decision-making relied on smaller datasets, leading to fewer targeted solutions.
  • Manual processes: drug discovery, supply chain management, and patient education were labor-intensive and time-consuming.
  • Reactive approach: identifying patient needs and concerns often happens after the fact.

AI Era:

  • Massive data analysis: AI can analyze vast amounts of patient data, genomics, and healthcare information, leading to more precise drug targets, personalized treatments, and proactive solutions.
  • Automation and optimization: AI automates tasks and optimizes processes, accelerating drug discovery, supply chain management, and patient communication.
  • Predictive capabilities: AI can analyze data to predict patient needs and identify potential issues before they arise, allowing for a more proactive approach.

Essentially, AI empowers Indian pharmaceutical industry leaders to move beyond traditional methods and achieve their purpose goals with greater efficiency, precision, and impact.

Conclusion:

Now is the time to forget the old limitations! AI is a game-changer for the Indian pharmaceutical industry’s mission to improve healthcare for all fueled by PDL. Here’s how:

  • From blind guesses to laser focus: AI analyzes mountains of data to pinpoint precise drug targets and personalize treatments, leaving limited information in the dust.
  • Slowpoke to speed demon: AI automates tasks and streamlines processes, accelerating drug discovery and patient communication at warp speed.
  • Playing catch-up to leading the charge: AI predicts patient needs and flags potential problems before they arise, enabling a proactive approach that revolutionizes healthcare.

This isn’t just leading with purpose anymore; it’s unleashing the power of purpose-driven healthcare solutions that will delight patients with their outcomes. Thus, I reckon, with AI, propelled by its leadership’s inclination and drive, Indian pharmaceutical companies can deliver better healthcare solutions faster and with a much greater impact.

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.

Harness Patients’ Quest For Trusted Information From Cyberspace

The controversy surrounding patients’ looking for health information online is virtually an ongoing one, for various reasons. Interestingly, it has been continuing at an accelerating pace for a long time. For example: “Eight in ten internet users have looked for health information online, with increased interest in diet, fitness, drugs, health insurance, experimental treatments, and particular doctors and hospitals,” reported Pew Research Center way back on May 17, 2005.

Nearly a couple of decades later, yet another research study, Reuters Events (Pharma & Healthcare) on July 12, 2023, reiterated the same, especially focusing on the role of drug companies in this fast-evolving scenario. It said, “Patients are increasingly having to research their own health needs. Pharmaceutical companies can help fill in information gaps for patients to protect trust in the healthcare sector.”

One may easily brush aside this trend, ascribing it as merely a western phenomenon, but probably at one’s own peril. In this article, therefore, I will discuss this issue against a contemporary Indian backdrop – in search of ways and means to leverage this opportunity through the pharma industry. Let me begin with contemporary Indian examples, as available in the public domain, giving a sense of the ground situation in this space.

Are Indian patients also increasingly trying to get online disease information?

Here below are some examples of recent studies confirming more patients are now seeking disease-related information online, before meeting their doctors:

  • A 2022 study by the Indian Medical Association found that 72% of Indian patients do some research on their condition online before meeting their doctor.
  • A 2023 survey by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry found that 65% of Indian patients believe that it is important to be informed about their condition before meeting their doctor. 
  • A 2023 report by the National Health Portal of India found that the number of visitors to its website seeking information about diseases and conditions has increased by 20% in the past year. 

These are just a few illustrations that reinforce the ascending trend of Indian patients’ seeking out disease related online information, just as in other parts of the world.  

Any benefits to patients’ seeking such information online?

In my view, there are several benefits to patients seeking disease-related information before meeting their doctors, such as:

  • Patients can come to their appointment better prepared. By doing their research ahead of time, patients can come to their appointment with a better understanding of their condition, the different treatment options available, and what to expect. This can help them to make more informed decisions about their care. 
  • Patients can ask better and more relevant questions. By having a good understanding of their condition, patients can ask their doctor more specific and informed questions. This can help them to get the most out of their appointment.
  • Patients can feel more confident and empowered. By being informed about their condition and treatment options, patients can feel more confident and empowered to take control of their own healthcare. 

Is this a healthy trend that deserves to be encouraged?  

From a large number of studies, it appears that the increasing number of patients seeking online health and disease information has both pros and cons.

Pros: 

  • Patients can become more informed about their health and conditions. This can lead to better communication with doctors and more informed decision-making about treatment.
  • Patients can access information from a variety of sources, including medical websites, patient support groups, and social media. This can be especially helpful for patients with rare or complex conditions. 
  • Patients can find information that is tailored to their specific needs and interests. For example, they can find information about their condition in their native language or about treatment options that are available in their area. 

Cons:

  • The quality of online health information can vary widely. Some websites are more reliable than others, and it can be difficult for patients to assess the credibility of the information they find online. 
  • Patients may misinterpret information they find online or apply it to their own situation incorrectly. This can lead to anxiety, confusion, and even harmful health decisions.
  • Patients may delay seeking medical attention if they are self-treating based on online information. This can be dangerous, especially for patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. 

Overall, the pros of patients seeking online health and disease information outweigh the cons. However, it is important for patients to be aware of the potential risks and to take steps to ensure that they are getting accurate and reliable information.

Points to consider for patients who are seeking online health and disease information:

  • Use reputable sources, such as websites from government agencies, medical organizations, and universities. Here pharma companies can also play a very meaningful role. In this context, I also wrote an article on December 17, 2018 titled - Rewriting Pharma Strategy For ‘Doctor Google’ Era.
  • Be critical of the information you find online and don’t take it all at face value. Check multiple sources and talk to your doctor to confirm what you’ve read. 
  • Don’t use online information to self-diagnose or self-treat. If you have any concerns about your health, see a doctor. 
  • Patients can also talk to their doctor about how to use online health information safely and effectively. 

Role of pharma companies in this area:

As I mentioned above, pharmaceutical companies can play an important role in helping patients get credible online information on healthcare and disease information. The following are some of the many things they can do:

  • Create and maintain high-quality websites and social media pages that provide accurate and understandable information about diseases and conditions, treatment options, and clinical trials. These websites and pages should be easy to navigate and should be updated regularly with new information. 
  • Partner with other organizations, such as patient advocacy groups and medical associations, to develop and distribute educational materials about diseases and conditions. These materials can be made available online and offline.
  • Support research on how to best communicate health information to patients. This research can help pharmaceutical companies develop more effective ways to reach patients with credible information. 

Some global and Indian examples:

1. Some recent global examples of pharmaceutical companies taking steps to help patients get credible online information on healthcare and disease information:

  • Pfizer: In 2022, Pfizer launched a new website called “Pfizer Rx Path” that provides patients with information about their medications, including how to take them, potential side effects, and interactions with other medications. The website also includes a tool that allows patients to search for clinical trials for their condition. 
  • Novartis: In 2023, Novartis launched a new social media campaign called “#NovartisAnswers” that aims to provide patients with answers to their questions about diseases and conditions, treatment options, and more. The campaign features a series of videos and blog posts that are created in collaboration with medical experts. 
  • GlaxoSmithKline: In 2023, GlaxoSmithKline partnered with the patient advocacy group “Parkinson’s UK” to develop a new educational website about Parkinson’s disease. The website provides patients with information about the disease, its symptoms, and treatment options. It also includes a forum where patients can connect and share their experiences. 

By taking these steps, pharmaceutical companies can play an important role in improving patient health outcomes.

2. Some recent Indian examples of domestic pharmaceutical companies taking steps to help patients get credible online information on healthcare and disease information: 

  • Sun Pharmaceutical Industries: In 2022, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries launched a new website called “Sun Pharma Health” that provides patients with information about a variety of diseases and conditions, including COVID-19, diabetes, and cancer. The website also includes a section on “Patient Resources” that provides patients with tips on how to manage their health and medications.
  • Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories: In 2023, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories launched a new social media campaign called “Dr. Reddy’s Health Talk” that aims to provide patients with answers to their questions about diseases and conditions, treatment options, and more. The campaign features a series of videos and blog posts that are created in collaboration with medical experts. 
  • Cipla: In 2023, Cipla partnered with the patient advocacy group “Diabetes India” to develop a new educational website about diabetes. The website provides patients with information about the disease, its symptoms, and treatment options. It also includes a section on “Living with Diabetes” that provides patients with tips on how to manage their diabetes and live a healthy life. 

By taking these steps, Indian pharmaceutical companies can also play a very important role in improving patient health outcomes in India.

In addition to the above examples, many Indian drug companies are using social media platforms like X (Twitter) and Facebook to educate patients about diseases and conditions. They are also partnering with doctors and other healthcare professionals to create informative content about healthcare. For example, in 2022, the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) launched a campaign called “IPA Health Talk” on Twitter. The campaign aims to provide patients with accurate and timely information about a variety of health topics. The IPA also partners with doctors and other healthcare professionals to create and share informative content about healthcare on its social media channels. 

These initiatives by Indian pharmaceutical companies are expected to help improve access to credible information on healthcare and disease for patients in India. Such endeavors are now well poised to increase manifold in the years ahead.

Conclusion:

Patients’ quest for trusted information from cyberspace is valuable because it can lead to better health outcomes. By having access to information about their conditions, treatment options, and clinical trials, patients can make more informed decisions about their healthcare. They can also become more empowered to advocate for themselves and to get the care they need.

However, it is important for patients to be aware of the potential risks of seeking health information online. The quality and accuracy of this information can vary widely, and it can be difficult for patients to assess the credibility of the information they find online. Patients should also be careful not to misinterpret information or to delay seeking medical attention if they are self-treating based on online information. 

Overall, the value of patients’ quest for trusted information from cyberspace outweighs the risks. By being informed and critical of the information they find online, patients can use cyberspace to improve their health and well-being.

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.

 

Criticality of Bridging the Skill Gap in Today’s Indian Pharma Industry

To address the shortage of adequately skilled workers in the country, in 2023, the Government of India released a new version of the national skill development initiative called Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana 4.0 (PMKVY 4.0). It is touted as a major upgrade over the previous versions of the scheme and aims to train 100 million people in different skills by 2024. This is expected to have a positive impact on the economy, creating new employment opportunities.

In this article, I shall deliberate on its current relevance in the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Let me start with some of the new features of this scheme and their relevance to the drug industry as I move on.

Some new features and details of the scheme:

As I see it, PMKVY 4.0 includes a number of new features and details over the previous versions, as follows:

  • A focus on high-demand skills: The scheme will focus on training people in high-demand skills, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing.
  • A greater emphasis on apprenticeships: The scheme will encourage more apprenticeships, which will provide trainees with hands-on experience.
  • A focus on women and underrepresented groups: The scheme will make special efforts to train women and underrepresented groups.
  • A greater focus on quality: The scheme will have a stronger focus on quality assurance to ensure that trainees are getting the best possible training.

Similarly, the specific details of the scheme include:

  • The scheme will be implemented by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).
  • The scheme will cover a wide range of skills, including IT, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail.
  • The training will be provided by a network of training providers, including government institutions, private training institutes, and industry partners.
  • The training will be free for all eligible candidates.
  • The scheme will also provide financial assistance to trainees to help them cover their living expenses during the training period.

Studies on the lack of a skilled workforce in the Indian pharma industry:

In tandem with the above, the lack of a skilled workforce in the Indian pharmaceutical industry has also emerged as a major concern in 2023. The industry is growing rapidly, creating a high demand for skilled workers.

Unfortunately, a huge shortage of adequately skilled workers keeps increasing. A contemporary study by the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance found that the industry will need an additional 1 million skilled workers by 2025. Moreover, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has also identified the pharmaceutical industry as one of the top 10 industries facing a shortage of skilled workers. 

Factors contributing to this shortage:

Several factors have contributed to this shortage, including:

  • The rapid growth of the Indian pharmaceutical industry: The Indian pharmaceutical industry is growing at a rate of 10% per year. This rapid growth has created a demand for skilled workers that the industry is struggling to meet.
  • The increasing complexity of pharmaceutical manufacturing and marketing: Both are becoming increasingly complex, demanding employees with different skill sets. who have the knowledge and skills to operate complex equipment and follow strict procedures in the manufacturing process. Similarly, pharmaceutical marketing is also becoming increasingly complex due to the increasing number of regulations governing the industry, the growing importance of digital marketing, and the need to target a wider range of patients with varied demands and expectations. 
  • The lack of adequate training opportunities: There are not enough training opportunities available to meet the demand for skilled workers in the pharmaceutical industry. This is due to a number of factors, including the high cost of training and the lack of qualified trainers.
  • Mismatch between salary and expectations: There is often a mismatch between the salary offered and employee expectations. The average salary offered in pharmaceutical marketing is not as high as in other industries, such as technology. This makes it difficult to attract and retain skilled marketing professionals. 

The impact of the shortage of adequately skilled workers:

The shortage of skilled workers gives rise to negative consequences for the Indian pharmaceutical industry, such as:

  • Reduced productivity: The shortage of skilled workers is leading to reduced productivity in the pharmaceutical industry. This is because unskilled workers may lack the knowledge and skills to perform tasks efficiently.
  • Increased costs: The shortage of skilled workers is also leading to increased costs in the pharmaceutical industry. This is because companies have to pay higher salaries to attract and retain skilled workers. 
  • Quality problems: The shortage of skilled workers can also lead to quality problems in the pharmaceutical industry. This is because unskilled workers may not be able to follow GMP procedures correctly. Also, because unskilled marketing professionals may not be able to develop and implement effective marketing campaigns. 
  • Compliance issues: The shortage of skilled workers can also lead to compliance issues in the pharmaceutical industry. This is because unskilled workers may not be aware of the regulations that apply to the industry or the consequences of their violations on patients and society.

What the industry is doing today:

Some steps, though not considered enough by many, are being taken by the Indian pharmaceutical industry to address the shortage of skilled workers. Here are some specific recent examples:

  • Establishing training institutes: The industry is establishing training institutes to provide training to workers in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) has established the IDMA Skill Development Institute in Hyderabad. The institute offers courses in pharmaceutical manufacturing, quality control, and regulatory compliance. 
  • Partnering with educational institutions: The industry is partnering with educational institutions to offer courses in pharmaceutical science and technology. For example, the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) has partnered with the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) to offer a diploma in pharmaceutical technology.
  • Promoting apprenticeships: The industry is promoting apprenticeships as a way to train workers in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) has launched the Apprenticeship Training Scheme for the Pharmaceutical Industry. Under the scheme, apprentices are paid a stipend and receive on-the-job training from experienced professionals.
  • Offering scholarships and grants: The industry is offering scholarships and grants to students studying pharmaceutical science and technology. For example, the IPA has launched the IPA Scholarship Scheme for Women in Pharmaceutical Sciences. The scheme provides scholarships to female students studying pharmaceutical sciences at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
  • Emphasizing on continuous learning: The industry is emphasizing on continuous learning for its employees. For example, several pharmaceutical companies offer their employees training programs and workshops on new technologies and regulations. 

Industry needs to work more closely with the government: 

The Indian pharmaceutical industry needs to work more closely with the government to address the shortage of skilled workers. The areas could possibly include:

  • Increasing the number of training institutes
  • Providing financial assistance to students studying pharmaceutical sciences
  • Relaxing the eligibility criteria for apprenticeships
  • Recognizing the skills of workers trained in other countries 

Where the government should take greater initiatives:

These areas may include the following:

  • Funding training programs
  • Partnering with educational institutions
  • Promoting apprenticeships

Conclusion: 

The shortage of skilled workers is a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry. However, the industry is taking steps to address the challenge. There isn’t an iota of doubt in the contemporary pharma business environment that rebalancing the skill sets required, especially for employees in pharma sales and marketing, is more imperative today than ever before. Thus, it is important for the industry to continue to take steps to bridge the skill gap by addressing the shortage of its skilled workforce. This is essential today to maintain India’s position in the global market, at least as the reliable pharmacy of the world.

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.

 

 

Drug Prescription In Generic Names Only, No Branded Generics

The World Bank Report released on April 07, 2023 highlights that patients’ Out-of-Pocket (OoP) expenses as a percentage of their total healthcare expenditure in India still accounted for as high as 50.59%. This means that patients in India generally pay for the majority of their healthcare costs themselves, rather than through insurance or government funding. The high level of OoP expenses in India has been a major problem for many patients, even today. Studies indicate it often leads to financial hardship, especially for low-income families.

A number of factors contribute to the high level of OoP in the country, as a whole, with regional variations. According to several studies, the healthcare costs in India are rising faster than inflation, making it increasingly difficult for more people to afford the care they need, especially for life threatening ailments, such as cancer.

Different union governments while in power have taken several steps to address this problem, such as, in 2018, the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), a national health insurance scheme. It provides free coverage for poor and vulnerable families. The PMJAY is expected to have helped in reducing OoP for some patients, but it is not yet clear how much of an impact it has had overall.

On April 24, 2017, I asked on this blog – would drug ‘Prescriptions in Generic Names Be Made A Must in India?’. Interestingly, in August 2023, a new circular from the National Medical Commission (NMC) notified professional conduct regulations for Registered Medical Practitioners (RMP), including guidance to doctors on drug prescriptions.  This has raised a furor, as it were, among many medical practitioners and their associations. In this article, I shall deliberate on the pros and cons of this decision and its practicality in India. Let me start with the rationale behind such thinking, as I see it.

The rationales behind drug prescription only in generic names in India:

As I see it, there are several rationales behind doctors prescribing drugs only under generic names in India. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Cost savings: Generic drugs are typically much cheaper than brand-name drugs. This is because generic drugs do not have to go through the same expensive clinical trials and marketing campaigns as brand-name drugs. As a result, they can be sold at a much lower price. This can save patients a significant amount of money, especially for expensive medications. 
  • Increased access to medicines: The lower cost of generic drugs can make them more accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford them. This is especially important in India, where a large proportion of the population lives below access, the poverty line. Generic drugs can help to ensure that everyone has access to the medicines they need. 
  • Improved competition: The availability of generic drugs can lead to increased competition in the pharmaceutical market. This can drive down prices even further and benefit patients.
  • Reduced risk of counterfeit drugs: Generic drugs are regulated by the government and must meet the same quality standards as brand-name drugs. This means that patients can be confident that they are getting a safe and effective product, regardless of whether it is a generic or brand-name drug. Counterfeit drugs, on the other hand, are often made with substandard ingredients and can be dangerous to take. By prescribing generic drugs, doctors can help to reduce the risk of patients getting counterfeit drugs. 
  • Transparency and accountability: In addition to these benefits, prescribing drugs under generic names can also help to promote transparency and accountability in the pharmaceutical industry. When doctors prescribe drugs under generic names, it is easier for patients to compare prices and choose the best option for their needs. This can help to drive down prices and improve the quality of care. 

A draft regulation was notified in 2022 for comments by all concerned:

For this purpose, a draft regulation was issued by the National Medical Commission (NMC) on May 23, 2022, for comments by all concerned, before it becomes mandatory in 2023. The NMC has also stated that it will take steps to ensure that the quality of generic drugs is maintained. The NMC will work with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) to ensure that generic drugs meet the required quality standards.

The final notification goes beyond drug prescription in generic names:

On August 03, 2023, The National Medical Commission (NMC) notified the professional conduct regulation for Registered Medical Practitioners (RMP). It not only provides guidance to avoid branded generic drugs and prescribing drugs with generic, non-proprietary and pharmacological names only, but also, restricts doctors from getting involved in any third-party educational activity like Continuing Professional Development, seminar, workshop, symposia, conference, etc., which involves direct or indirect sponsorships from pharmaceutical companies or the allied health sector. 

It justified its decision by saying, “India’s out-of-pocket spending on medication accounts for a major proportion of public spending on health care. Further, generic medicines are 30% to 80% cheaper than branded drugs. Hence, prescribing generic medicines may overtly bring down health care costs and improve access to quality care.” The notification also provided guidance on telemedicine consultation and prescriptions.  

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) Protested against it:

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) submitted a memorandum to the Indian regulator, the National Medical Commission (NMC), on February 7, 2023, protesting against the compulsory prescription of generic drugs. The memorandum argued that the regulations would harm patients and doctors, and that they were being implemented without proper consultation with stakeholders.

The IMA also stated that the regulations would violate the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression of doctors. The memorandum said that doctors should be free to prescribe drugs based on their medical judgment, and that they should not be forced to prescribe generic drugs.

The IMA’s protest is significant because it is the first major challenge to the NMC’s regulations on compulsory prescription of generic drugs. The protest could have a significant impact on the implementation of the regulations, and it could also lead to changes in the regulations.

It is important to note that the IMA is not the only organization that has expressed concerns about the NMC’s regulations. Several other medical associations have also expressed concerns, and some doctors have also spoken out against the regulations.

The controversy over the NMC’s regulations is likely to continue for some time. It is important to note that there are valid concerns on both sides of the issue. It is also important to remember that the regulations are still in the early stages of implementation, and that it is too early to say what their long-term impact will be.

A few reasons why doctors in India may be hesitant to prescribe drugs under generic names. 

Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Lack of awareness: Some doctors may not be aware of the benefits of generic drugs. They may believe that brand-name drugs are always better than generic drugs, even though this is not always the case. 
  • Influence from pharmaceutical companies: Pharmaceutical companies often give doctors incentives to prescribe their brand-name drugs. This can create a conflict of interest for doctors, who may be more likely to prescribe brand-name drugs even if they believe that generic drugs are just as effective.
  • Patient demand: Some patients may specifically ask for brand-name drugs, even if generic drugs are available. This can put pressure on doctors to prescribe brand-name drugs, even if they believe that generic drugs are a better option.
  • Quality concerns: There have been some cases of counterfeit generic drugs being sold in India. This can lead to doctors being hesitant to prescribe generic drugs, as they may be concerned about the quality of the drugs.

Some ways to encourage doctors to prescribe generic drugs:

  • Educate doctors about the benefits of generic drugs. Doctors need to be aware of the benefits of generic drugs in order to be willing to prescribe them. They should be taught about the cost savings, increased access, and improved quality of generic drugs.
  • Reduce the influence of pharmaceutical companies on doctors. Pharmaceutical companies should not be allowed to give doctors incentives to prescribe their brand-name drugs. This would help to ensure that doctors are prescribing drugs based on the best interests of their patients, rather than on financial considerations. 
  • Encourage patients to ask for generic drugs. Patients should be aware of the benefits of generic drugs and should ask their doctors to prescribe them whenever possible. This will help to create a demand for generic drugs and encourage doctors to prescribe them. 
  • Improve the quality control of generic drugs. The government should take steps to improve the quality control of generic drugs in India. This would help to reduce the risk of patients getting counterfeit drugs. 

By taking these steps, we can encourage doctors to prescribe generic drugs and make them more accessible to patients. This would help to save patients money, improve access to medicines, and reduce the number of counterfeit drugs in circulation.

Conclusion:

I now revert to this month’s notification of the National Medical Commission (NMC) on the professional conduct regulation for Registered Medical Practitioners (RMP), providing  new guidance for drug prescriptions in India. It clearly indicates that doctors should avoid prescribing branded generic drugs, instead prescribe drugs with generic, non-proprietary and pharmacological names only. ‘However, in the case of drugs with a narrow therapeutic index, biosimilars, and similar other exceptional cases, the practice of prescribing generic names only, can be relaxed,’ it elaborated.

Weighing the pros and cons of this notification, I reckon, despite the reasons articulated by doctors and their associations, besides the branded generic manufacturers, there are many benefits to prescribing drugs under generic names only. Generic drugs are typically much cheaper than brand-name drugs, and they are just as effective. They can also help to reduce the number of counterfeit drugs in circulation, besides several other benefits, as cited above. As a result, doctors should be encouraged to prescribe generic drugs whenever possible. Let me hasten to add, changing the prescribing practices of doctors and addressing concerns about the quality of generics can be a complex and gradual process.

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.

 

‘Indian Pharma’s Apathy Towards Digital Marketing’ – A Misgiving Or Real?

As I gather from different sources, an increasing number of Indian pharma companies are increasingly embracing digitalization in their marketing operations, especially after the crippling experience during the Covid lockdown period. They realize the use of digital platforms would be a great enabler for them to reach a wider audience, promote their products, and engage with healthcare professionals more effectively, in any given situation. The depth, span, and speed of adaptation of this initiative is fast gathering momentum in the capable hands of astute marketers.

In this article, I shall explore this area to ferret out the fact, whether ‘The Indian pharma industry’s apathy towards Digital Marketing’ is a misgiving or still a reality. However, I would start with an important note about getting caught in some possible controversies due to occasional overenthusiasm in this space. 

Some possible reasons for a brouhaha or controversy:

There may be several reasons why a brouhaha or controversy could continue surrounding the use of digitalization in Indian pharma companies’ marketing operations. Some possible factors include:

  • Compliance and Regulatory Issues: Digital marketing practices must ensure full compliance with regulations set by regulatory bodies, such as the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) and the Medical Council of India (MCI). Any violation of these regulations can lead to legal consequences and damage the reputation of the companies involved.
  • Misinformation, data Integrity and Misleading Claims: The widespread use of digital platforms can make it easier for misleading, breach of data integrity and false claims to be disseminated. Regulators and critics may raise concerns about the accuracy of information being shared and the potential impact on patient health. 
  • Privacy, cyberthreats and Data Security: The use of digital platforms involves the collection and storage of user data. Privacy concerns, including cyberthreatscan arise if pharmaceutical companies do not handle personal information responsibly or if patient data is compromised due to inadequate security measures. 
  • Unethical Practices: There have been instances where pharmaceutical companies have been accused of engaging in unethical practices in their marketing efforts. These may include off-label promotion (promoting a drug for an unapproved use), undue influence on healthcare professionals, or aggressive marketing tactics that prioritize sales over patient welfare. 

It is important to recognize that the specific reasons for the ongoing brouhaha on this topic may have further evolved. From this perspective, let me now focus on a few Indian examples where using digital tools and analytics could offer several advantages for domestic pharmaceutical companies, as available from different sources.  

Examples of some areas where Indian players are using digital tools:

Here are some recent examples of how Indian pharmaceutical companies have utilized digital tools and analytics in their marketing operations, as available in the public domain:

  • Enhanced Targeting: Aurobindo Pharma Limited has implemented data analytics to identify key customer segments for targeted marketing. By analyzing prescribing patterns and patient demographics, they tailor their marketing efforts to reach specific healthcare professionals and patient groups more effectively. 
  • Personalized Marketing: Biocon Limited has embraced digital tools to deliver personalized marketing content. Through their digital platforms, such as websites and mobile applications, they provide customized information about their products, disease education materials, and patient support resources.
  • Improved Marketing ROI: Lupin Limited has utilized digital analytics to measure the performance of their marketing campaigns. By tracking key metrics, such as website engagement, social media interactions, and email response rates, they can optimize their marketing spend and allocate resources to channels that yield higher returns. 
  • Efficient Resource Allocation: Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd has leveraged digital tools and analytics to optimize resource allocation. They analyze market data and customer behavior to identify regions and healthcare facilities with the highest growth potential, enabling them to allocate their sales resources strategically.
  • Real-time Market Insights: Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd utilizes digital tools and analytics to monitor real-time market insights. By leveraging social listening tools and data analytics platforms, they stay updated on market trends, competitor activities, and customer feedback, enabling them to adapt their marketing strategies accordingly.
  • Improved Customer Engagement: Cipla Ltd has focused on improving customer engagement through digital channels. They utilize social media platforms, online forums, and chatbots to interact with healthcare professionals and patients, providing information, answering queries, and offering support. 
  • Streamlined Communication: Torrent Pharmaceuticals Ltd has implemented digital communication tools to streamline interactions with healthcare professionals. They utilize virtual meeting platforms, webinars, and online training sessions to engage with physicians, pharmacists, and other stakeholders more efficiently, eliminating geographical barriers.
  • Data-driven Decision Making: Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Limited leverages data analytics for data-driven decision making. By analyzing sales data, market trends, and customer feedback, they gain insights that inform their strategic decisions regarding product launches, marketing campaigns, and market expansion. 

These examples demonstrate how Indian pharmaceutical companies have harnessed digital tools and analytics while recomposing notes in a pharma marketing playbook to enhance their business operations. However, please note that specific initiatives and strategies are still evolving, and the extent of adoption may vary among different companies. 

Conclusion:

From the above perspective, I reckon, Indian drug companies are increasingly embracing digital toolsand analytics to enhance their marketing efforts. With the advancement of technology and the growing importance of digital channels, pharmaceutical players in India are recognizing the need to adapt and leverage digital tools to stay competitive and effectively reach their target audience. Hence, any feeling about the ‘Indian pharma industry’s apathy towards Digital Marketing’ seems to be a misgiving to me.

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.

Accelerating Footfalls In Less Charted Pharma Marketing Frontiers

Having experienced unprecedented disruptions, especially in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical business, many global and local drug majors, are rethinking their marketing strategies. These have, no doubt, been prompted by the challenges of change, which are sometimes stark, but more often than not - nuanced.

Many of them are now, therefore, charting into less charted or even uncharted frontiers of pharma marketing warfare. Most companies had no choice, though, but to embrace new approaches, at least as a stopgap, to reach their target audience – hoping to revert to pre-pandemic practices, ultimately.

Interestingly, some pharma majors could envisage that long-term focus on many of these new and innovative areas – more effectively than even the pandemic lockdown time, could be a game-changer in the business. Accordingly, they tried to adapt, several of these approaches, quickly and effectively – for sustained excellence in the post-COVID paradigm.

In this article, I shall focus with several global and local, publicly available examples, of innovative pharma marketing approaches that are now being tried by several top drug companies in the post-COVID period.

I. Continuation of pandemic induced innovative approaches – global examples: 

  • Virtual Conferences and Events: Experiencing success with virtual events and conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic, many pharma companies are leveraging this digital space to reach out to healthcare professionals and patients. These events now include webinars, selected virtual conferences, and online workshops.

Pfizer, reportedly, held its first virtual investor day in September 2020, which was attended by thousands of participants from around the world. The company also organized several virtual events to educate healthcare professionals about its vaccine.

  • Social Media Marketing: The use of social media marketing is also increasing in the pharmaceutical industry. Companies are using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to reach out to their customers and engage with them on a regular basis to build long-term relationships.

For example, Novartis, among a few others, is using social media to promote core values of its products and engage with customers. The company has built a strong presence on social media platforms where it shares news and updates about its products and research, as well.

  • Influencer Marketing: Many companies are partnering with influencers in the healthcare industry to promote their products. These influencers can be doctors, nurses, patient advocates, or even celebrities who are passionate about health and wellness. Influencer marketing can help companies reach a wider audience and build trust with their customers.

The French pharma major – Sanofi, has partnered with celebrity chef and diabetes advocate Charles Mattocks who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2011. The objective is to raise awareness about diabetes and promote the company’s diabetes products through social media and other channels.

  • Patient Education Programs: Companies are investing more on patient education programs to educate patients about their health conditions and treatment options. These programs can include online resources, mobile apps, and support groups. By providing patients with accurate and reliable information, companies can improve patient outcomes and build brand loyalty.

Merck, another global player, developed an online resource called MerckEngage to educate patients about their health conditions and treatment options. The platform provides patients with information about various health topics, including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

II. Continuation of pandemic induced innovative approaches – Indian examples: 

Some Indian pharma players are also not far behind in several innovative areas for business excellence in the post pandemic paradigm. Following are some of those examples from Indian pharma companies, as available in the public domains. These seem to have attracted greater focus in the pandemic period, and are continuing even today, with undiluted focus:

Virtual Conferences and Events: Illustratively, Lupin has been using virtual events to promote its products in the post-COVID period. The company is organizing virtual conferences and webinars to reach out to healthcare professionals and other customers. Similarly, Sun Pharma launched a virtual conference for healthcare professionals to discuss the latest developments in the field of dermatology.

Digital and Social Media Marketing:  Several Indian pharma companies are increasingly adopting digital marketing “strategies to reach out to their customers. Companies are using social media, online ads, email marketing, and other digital channels to promote their products and services.

For example, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories continue using social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to engage with healthcare professionals and consumers. Even, Cadila Healthcare, reportedly, has been using search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and social media marketing to reach out to its customers.

Telemedicine: With the rise of telemedicine during the pandemic, pharma companies are partnering with Telehealth/Telemedicine platforms to reach out to patients. Companies like Cipla have partnered with telemedicine platforms to offer online consultations and delivery of medicines to patients’ doorsteps. Sun Pharma has also been using telemedicine to reach out to its customers and has partnered with telemedicine providers to offer its products to patients who cannot visit a doctor in person.

  • Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) advertising: DTC advertising is gaining popularity among Indian pharma companies. With the rise of online pharmacies, companies like Abbott and Pfizer are launching DTC campaigns to increase disease and treatment awareness programs directly to consumers.
  • Collaborations and partnerships: Indian pharma companies are increasingly collaborating with other players in the healthcare ecosystem to provide integrated solutions. For example, as mentioned above, Lupin has partnered with a health-tech firm to offer a platform for online consultations and home delivery of medicines.
  • Greater patient-centric approaches: Some Indian pharma companies are adopting more patient-centric approaches for more effective omnichannel patient engagement initiatives. For example, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories have launched an initiative to educate patients on the proper use of medicines and the importance of adherence to treatment.

As the industry continues to evolve, we can expect to see more companies adopting newer and more innovative marketing strategies to engage with their customers.

Summary:

Many of the above examples are pandemic triggered innovative approaches to keep the neck above water during unprecedented business disruptions in the pharma industry. Interestingly, some companies are not just continuing but further sharpening these initiatives in the post pandemic days. Moreover, it’s good to note that these are now being implemented by the concerned sales and marketing teams with greater gusto and zeal.

The point to ponder, therefore, is pharma industry ready now to excel amid start and more often nuanced – the challenge of change? To respond to these challenges effectively, more companies now need to seriously evaluate and consider adapting such strategic footsteps, first as pilot studies and then gradually scale up, for business excellence in the contemporary period.

Let me hasten to add, in this ball game pharma leadership mindset change to act decisively, after accurately studying – based on data-science, to ascertain where and how to change could well be a win-lose situation. However, the good news is, recent data vindicate the accelerating footfalls in many these less or even un- charted pharma marketing frontiers, both globally and locally.

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.

Effective Change Management – The Magic Wand For Business Success And Sustainability

Change – just as it’s an integral part of our life, so is for any business, including pharmaceutical or healthcare. Interestingly, the phase of transition of such changes isn’t always slow and gradual. In many cases, especially for business, or for a lifestyle too, these transitions could also be faster and disruptive.

The speed of many such changes is now driven by rapidly evolving technology. Or these could often be triggered by some unanticipated event, like the Covid-19 pandemic that we all experienced, very recently. Such changes may impact people working in different functions, in different ways. Which is why, organizations need to be all-time ready, with a robust process in place – known as Change Management.

In this article, I shall focus on the relevance of putting in place a well-validated system driven Change Management process within, especially, the Indian pharmaceutical organizations. Let me start with my understanding on what is the Change Management, so that all of us be on the same page in this regard. 

To be on the same page on what is Change Management:

There are several definitions of the change management process expressed differently, but it’s core concept remains unchanged. One such illustration comes from The TechTarget network. It says:“Change management is a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of an organization’s goals, processes, or technologies. The purpose of change management is to implement strategies for effecting change, controlling change, and helping people to adapt to change.”

Why many pharma majors are considering it now, more than ever before:

Being amid a technological revolution, encompassing almost all aspects of life and then in the post-pandemic area, change is being expected as a way of life and business, more than ever in the past. Although pharma industry a late learner - and is also traditionally late to change – these can’t be now pushed to the back burner, any longer, as was happening in the pre-pandemic era.

‘Change Management’ can’t be pushed to the back burner, any longer:

This process has now attracted a sense of urgency for many pharma players, as we read and look around. Several big companies have already started addressing the leadership challenges to manage and leverage the evolving changes, as I wrote in my article of October 3, 2022, in this blog.

To be in sync with both customers and employee expectations on an ongoing basis, the change management process in an organization has assumed a priority. User friendly state of the art technology is facilitating to effectively address the growing intricacies of today’s field staff role by infusing leadership mindset change in the organizational culture. Emphasizing this point in my article on July 19, 2021, I underscored that such change should necessarily reflect the company’s vision for the future, unambiguously.

Most companies have changed over a period of time in varying degree:

Most companies have changed over a period of time. Nonetheless, today’s need, pace and the process of change demand a data science based customized approach. The good news is several pharma majors have also started feeling that they require not just to change with time, but also need to put more data science based cerebral input to fathom why and how it changed to be more effective in the future.

An insightful understanding is essential to put in place and kick start a right change management process. To give a sense of it, let me cite a contemporary example of one of the successful global pharma majors – GSK. This case study was prepared by the Project Management Institute.

Achievement of a key milestone could make all the difference:

When GSK initiated this process in 2009, the organization realized that an important milestone in the implementation of the company’s change initiative must be to gain the trust and belief of leadership—many of whom were neutral or cynical about it.

To achieve this goal a custom made ‘Accelerating Delivery and Performance (ADP) program; was found to be quite effective for the company. It delivered both hard business benefits as well as softer organizational development benefits. This approach allowed the team to gain the attention of those leaders who wanted both.

Five principles formed the bedrock of the ADP approach:

The following ADP principles are time-tested, contemporary, and several of these were practiced by GSK in their change management process when it started in 2009.

  • Changes should begin with the initiator of change and focusing on greater customer satisfaction.
  • Active support of all stakeholders in the process of change is critical.
  • Include all staff who will be impacted by the change – while defining, explaining, and ensuring accountability and continuously measuring the time bound shared goals, especially the business and financial ones.
  • Make sure they all share ownership for the outcome of change, through seamless teamwork.
  • Make a pilot study before pan organization implementation.

The change management process continues:

That the change management process needs to be ongoing even for successful drug majors – such as GSK, is particularly evident from their Press Release on June 23, 2021.

The communique giving details of the organization’s strategic and other transformation pathways, also highlighted, “New GSK to deliver step-change in growth and performance over the next ten years driven by high-quality Vaccines and Specialty Medicines portfolio and late-stage pipeline.” 

Specific areas of change, as the pandemic wanes:

There are several studies in this area, such as the one published in the Growth Faculty Learn, published on February 07, 2023. Let me paraphrase its summary as follows:

  • Although the pace of change in different businesses may vary but will certainly keep changing. The leaders should, therefore, act proactively to lead their teams through a well validated change management process to gain a competitive edge.
  • Full preparedness for the change and garnering change management skills before the process begins are critical.
  • Advance planning for employee wellbeing, well structured individual and collective communication strategy, deciding on specifics of a hybrid work culture – all based on data-science, are of great importance.
  • To ensure the effectiveness of the change management process a positive workplace environment is a must, which will stand on five pillars - Trustworthiness, Empathy, Genuineness, Self-awareness, and a Learning mindset.

Thus, it’s high time for all to realize that the pharma business ball game is now changing fast for all, creating an urgent need to focus on the critical areas of change.

Conclusion:

It now boils down to an important point, which was also echoed in an article on this area published in the Pharma IQ on November 23, 2022. It underscored just as any living being keeps moving on the pathway of change, pharma and healthcare industry should proactively follow a similar path.

External environmental factors would play a catalytic role to accelerate the speed of change. These include fast evolving consumer friendly digital applications and health apps - newer, better, and more targeted drugs and treatment processes, or even unprecedented disruptions of lives and livelihoods, just what we all have recently experienced.

A study published in the Pharma Marketing Network on October 27, 2021, also reiterated that the main goal of any change management approach is to foster support of all concerned that leads to good outcomes within an organization. It found that an effective way to implement a change is by engaging and inspiring employees to adopt new (and improved) ways of working.

Against the above backdrop, putting a structured change management process in place by Indian pharma players, I reckon, is now essential. This approach seems to be a Magic Wand, as it were, for ongoing business success and sustainability in today’s rapidly evolving paradigm.

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.

 

Keep Pace with Pharma’s Even Nuanced Technology Driven Changes – For Success

Since 2020, unprecedented global disruptions affecting lives, livelihoods, and business, have impacted India in equal measure, if not more – across various areas, including the pharma industry. If there is one change that is creating a snowballing effect, is the rate of progress and use of technology in its operations.

Consequently, finding properly trained people, to drive the new avatar of technology driven today’s business – right from R&D, supply chain, manufacturing, sales and marketing, customer behavior, market dynamics – poses a facet of ongoing challenges.

This is primarily because, some key business-success requirements have now significantly changed, but many are still nuanced that one may tend to possibly ignore. Thus, early identification of these and placing properly skilled – right people in the right job, who can floor the gas pedal in search of excellence, assume two key priorities for the pharma players, more than ever before.

Most companies, as I understand, are finding this task quite time consuming, if not arduous. The options are basically two. The first one – spot, search and hire the best talent from outside the organization. And the second – spot the internal talents, hone their skills, handhold them for some time on the job, before they take charge and assume accountability for achieving the set goals. In this article, I shall focus on the relevance, criticality, and associated intricacies that pharma leadership may encounter in this process.

Intense focus on the drug industry in last two years – blessings and burden:

A recent research study on Talent Trends For Life Sciences Organizations, published by Randstad Sourceright on July 22, 2022, came out with some interesting findings in this area. The key ones are as below:

  • In the past couple of years, the intense global focus on Life Sciences Industries brings both blessings and burden on the industry.
  • Key drug manufacturers received unprecedented levels of financial and regulatory support for the development of therapies and vaccines for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19 onslaught on the people across the world.
  • In tandem, the drug industry had to withstand tremendous pressures and intense scrutiny to achieve this task by re-prioritizing their R&D focus, which no drug manufacturer had experienced ever before.

Alongside, pharma customer characteristics and behavior also started changing fast in many areas, and consequently the market dynamics. Many of these changes are still nuanced and are driven by contemporary technology. Amid lesser concern for Covid-pandemic, the ongoing metamorphosis in the world of work – impacting almost all functional areas of a customer-driven organization, poses a fresh pharma leadership challenge.

Thus, for future business success, pharma companies now need to capture relevant real-time data, and analyze them to gain in-depth insight of these changes. Consequently, it is important to figure out how much the quality of talent requirement has changed for an organization, to continue to remain as patient centric. However, before doing that, it’s worth figuring out what kept the wheels of pharma businesses moving during the years of the recent pandemic.

What kept the wheels of business moving during the pandemic:

Several important studies have made dip-stick assessment in this space. One such recent study findings of Randstad Sourceright highlighted the following three, among others, as the key success factors for employee motivation in trying times, which kept the wheels of business moving:

  • Empathy of the leadership,
  • Flexibility in work life
  • Ingenuity of employees to quickly adapt to the new normal

Some of these, or all, may linger in the minds of many employees. They may still long for empathy at work and flexibility in the workplace, to unleash their full potential for organizational success. Otherwise, they may look outside, especially to those companies who can meet their expectations, in the new normal.

In this situation, fostering EQ within the organization to encourage employees committing to the corporate shared goal, is a key requirement for pharma’s performance excellence. The bottom-line is,how well an organization continues to nurture and retain or attract new talents, besides honing their skills in line with the changing customer value delivery process, would be critical.

Need to identify even nuanced changes in workplaces:

Thus, before making a dip-stick assessment to ascertain the changes in organizational talent requirements, it is worth getting a sense from the available studies what’s going on today in the industry.

Like many other countries, the pandemic is no longer an unsettling unease for most pharma organizations in India. At the same time, studies reiterate that it’s for sure that the pandemic related disruptions have ushered-in visible or nuanced transformations, especially in the operational areas of the life sciences business.

Some recent studies, such as, one done by McKinsey & Company on – Creating the workforce of the future, made a notable observation. It emphasized, “Pharma companies struggle to predict where they will see the talent gaps, these disruptions create, though a majority monitor key trends and track talent needs. Only a minority of companies (40 percent) believe that they really know which skills are needed now, let alone in ten years (less than 25 percent).”

Which is why, I reckon, it is now critical for the Indian pharma leadership to identify, analyze and address, both perceptible and nuanced transformation within their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. And then zero-in on changing talent requirements of employees in key operational areas, including sales and marketing – to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

However, it is worth remembering that the supply of quality talent remains limited, although it is essential to catapult the business in a higher growth trajectory. Besides, gradually changing employee expectations in the workplace culture – work-flexibility could emerge as another sought after factor to attract new talents from the millennials. 

The ways to move forward in this area:

Many companies may decide to hire new talents from outside the company, whereas some may look for developing people internally, through well-structured internal human development initiatives. However, the research study of Randstad Sourceright finds: ‘67% of life science and pharma leaders believe reskilling and upskilling employees for different roles is an effective way to address talent scarcity. Additionally, 63% say they already invest in internal mobility platforms to augment their recruiting efforts, while 53% plan to increase their investments in this area.’

Further McKinsey & Company in their above-mentioned article also suggested: ‘Reskilling employees to address talent gaps can help a company retain the bulk of its operations workers and empower them to take advantage of a new world.’ So did another article on building pharma talent of tomorrow, published in the Pharma Executive on October 05, 2022. It emphasized that training current employees who already know the business, and are familiar with the inner workings, would expectedly take much less time to deliver that is expected of them.

I also understand, a few large Indian pharma majors are also focusing on internal talent development as one of the key organizational development initiatives. They are identifying internal talents in an organized manner, up-skill them to shoulder new responsibilities – following a well-charted career path for each one of them. It’s important for the leadership to demonstrate and make these employees also feel that they are of great value to the organization.

From the above perspective, I reckon, in today’s environment when many employees are eager to search for a greener pasture that suits them better, the above approach also provides an opportunity for pharma employers. This opportunity is primarily to retain talents, by incentivizing them with learning, and development process, besides a chance for career progress in the company.

Conclusion:

One thing for sure is critical to ensure that right talents are always placed in the right job. This is crucial to keep pace with not just significant transformations. But even for emerging and nuanced technology driven changes in customer characteristics, behavior, and market dynamics. Thereafter, each organization will need to identify available in-house talents for upskilling, honing and development. Whereas some fresh new talents may necessarily be required to hire from outside or outsourced.

Several recent studies have also indicated that the best strategy in this regard, is the optimal combination of hiring from outside or outsourcing the new requirements, alongside internal talent development initiatives, and charting a career path for them. To chart on this emerging frontier calls for a mindset change. Thus, it is important for us to remember that only permanent factor in the pharma business is – change. Can one ignore it? Of course, but at one’s own peril, because in the long run “What You Do is Who You Are” in the future pharma business.

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.