Pharmaceutical Brand Building in a Changing Scenario: Thinking Outside the Box

In this article, I shall explore unconventional ways of “Building sustainable Pharmaceutical Brands” thinking  outside the box, after quickly taking you through the “Challenges of Change” in the evolving dynamics of  the Indian branded generic market.

A paradigm shift has taken place:

To get insight into the future challenges of the pharmaceutical industry in general ‘Complete Medical Group’ of U.K conducted a study with a sizable number of senior participants from the pharmaceutical companies of various sizes and involving many countries. The survey covered participants from various functional areas like, marketing, product development, commercial, pricing and other important areas.

The findings in the paper indicate that a paradigm shift has taken place in the global pharmaceutical industry, where continuation with the business strategies of the old paradigm will no longer be a pragmatic approach.

The situation is not much different in India too, due to rapidly evolving change in the dynamics of pharmaceutical business environment.

Besides the above finding, my own experience also vindicates that just as today is not a mega yesterday, tomorrow will never be a mega today.

The lessons learnt:

Taking a cue from the above study, which brought out several big challenges facing the global pharmaceutical industry in general and turning it into Indian perspective particularly in the post product patent regime beginning in 2005, my submissions are as follows:

- The increasing interventions of the Government is creating an all pervasive pricing pressure both for branded generics and patented drugs in various ways. The critical issue of predictability in the business environment along with the factors related to gaining greater market access are the ‘top of mind’ concerns of the pharmaceutical players in India.

- Better understanding of the new and differential value offerings that the doctors and patients will increasingly look for beyond the physical pharmaceutical products; will indeed be the cutting edge for the winners in this new ball game.

- Top management of the pharmaceutical companies should start evaluating the long term sustainability of the current pharmaceutical business model, especially for the branded generics. They will now need to include in their strategy wider areas of healthcare value delivery system with a holistic disease management focus.

- Offering just a better choice of medication for the treatment of a disease may no longer be considered enough without further value addition. Added value with disease prevention initiatives and help managing the ‘quality of life’ of patients, especially in case of chronic ailments, will assume increasing importance in the pharmaceutical business process.

- Greater and more frequent incremental innovation across the pharmaceutical value chain will be critical success factors.

- The ability to harness new technologies, rather than just recognize their potential and  flexibility to adapt to increasingly demanding regulatory environment together with newer value requirements of the patients, should be an important part of the business strategy of any pharmaceutical company in the changing paradigm.

- More complex, highly fragmented market with cut throat competition along with various questionable sales and marketing practices, especially in the area of branded generics, demand for better, more aligned and integrated decision making process across various functional areas of the pharmaceutical business.

- Avoiding silos and empire building have long been a significant issue, especially for big pharmaceutical companies. Better and high quality strategy will include more pragmatic and efficient sales and marketing investment decisions, a robust ethics and compliance mechanism and jettisoning all those activities, which will no longer deliver intrinsic or extrinsic differential value to the stakeholders.

- Growing regulatory control in the business environment, including change in the MCI regulations for the doctors, strict implementation of long overdue ‘Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP)’ drafted by the Department of Pharmaceuticals for the industry and recent developments in the Clinical Trial process, will prompt a drastic change in the existing business practices.

- There will be a greater need for more innovative management of the pharmaceutical communication channels, including social media, striking a right balance between ‘pushing’ information to the doctors and patients and helping them ‘pull’ the relevant information, whenever required, through various well structured processes.

Need to think outside the box:

Unfortunately, even in the changing paradigm, the fundamental way by which the pharmaceutical industry has been attempting to address all these challenges has not changed much.

Though one should hope for the best, it will not be a bad idea to have a contingency plan ready, just in case prescriptions in generic names are made mandatory in India, even if selectively. Otherwise effective marketing of branded generics may be in jeopardy.

To explore the future growth potential the pharmaceutical companies are still focusing on the areas like, new product development, conventional sales and marketing, leveraging IT in all areas of decision making process including supply chain and greater market penetration skills, to name just a few.

Though these areas are not totally irrelevant today, adhering only to such tools and responses steadfastly, do ring an alarm bell to me. In a changing  paradigm, only these tools are just not good enough for business excellence and to squarely address the new “Challenge of Change”.

The moot question will therefore be why have we not been able to address the needs of the new world order, as effectively as in the past, with these traditional tools?

More importantly, if we do not try to address today’s business issues thinking ‘outside the box’ or with ‘lateral thinking’, the implications could be rather serious in the times to come?

A different concept of “Building Mega Brands”:

Building brands, as we know, involve creating equity around an entity that delivers value to the customer, over and above the key functional properties of any product. Traditionally, the pharmaceutical companies have been largely focusing on building mega brands following widely varying strategies.

In the Indian scenario, rapidly evolving pharmaceutical business environment could make such strategies unsustainable or vulnerable, more for the branded generics, as mentioned above.

To meet those disruptive but emerging changes in the business environment, there is a need to take the conventional brand building exercises, especially for the likes of branded generics, beyond the confinement of just a single product.

A thought:

That said, I would now like to make a provocating submission.

Instead of investing huge sums in building a single product brand, can we build a larger brand with a well thought out cluster of products?

Cost efficient yet a powerful and different type of brand building process could well be thought around, say, the ‘Corporate franchise’ with a  cluster of products in different price bands for different customer segments belonging to a specific therapy category or disease area or falling in some other area, yet bonded with a strong commonality criteria?

Thus, instead of consistently watching large branded generics grow, mature and die following even an extended product life cycle, pharmaceutical companies could well explore another opportunity to build a more sustainable and a much longer term emotional equity into their brands.

Who knows, tomorrow’s list of India’s top mega brands may not be dominated by the likes of Augmentin, Corex, Monocef, Voveran or Human Mixtard, but perhaps by quite  different types of mega brands like, GSK Anti-infectives, Cipla Respiratory Care, USV Diabetic Care, Abbott Cardiac Care or Galderma Derma Care, just to cite a few examples.

‘Serum Institute Vaccines’ perhaps could well be considered as one such mega brand, incubated and grown in the pharmaceutical green field of India, over a long period of time and now known the world over.


It is quite clear now that the pharmaceutical business models are undergoing an acid test and serious re-evaluation in the changing paradigm. There is a view that further changes are inevitable due to variety of factors that are squeezing both sales and profit margins, posing severe challenges to future growth at a brisk pace.

Some strategic measures to address this ‘Challenge of change’ are now being deliberated upon. However, how profound will these changes be or how effectively the pharmaceutical players counter these changes for a long term sustainability of business excellence, will indeed be quite interesting to watch.

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. 


Biologic Medicine: Ushers in a different ‘Mega Race’ for inorganic growth

During the last several years the success of biologics compared to conventional small-molecule drugs to meet the unmet needs of patients, is gradually but surely changing the area of focus of pharmaceutical R&D altogether, making the biotech companies interesting targets for M&A. Over a period of so many years, the small-molecule blockbuster drugs business model made pharmaceuticals a high-margin industry. However, it now appears that the low hanging fruits to make blockbuster drugs have mostly been plucked.

These low hanging fruits involved therapy areas like, anti-ulcerants, anti-lipids, anti-diabetics, cardiovascular, anti-psychotic etc. and their many variants, which were relatively easy R&D targets to manage chronic ailments. Hereafter, the chances of successfully developing drugs for cure of these chronic ailments, with value addition, would indeed be a very tough call.

Deploying expensive resources towards finding a cure for so called ‘chronic diseases’ may also not promise a strong commercial incentive, as the treatment for ulcer, lipid disorders, diabetics, hypertension etc. are currently continues lifelong for a patient and a cure will limit the treatment to a short to medium term period.

Greater promise in biologics:

On the other hand, the bottom-line impact of a successful R&D outcome with safer and effective drugs to treat intractable ailments like,various types of cancer and blood disorders, auto-immune and Central Nervous System (CNS) related diseases, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Myasthenia gravis, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s diseases etc., will be huge. It is believed that well targeted drugs of biologic origin could well be successful treatment for such intractable diseases.

The golden opportunity of meeting the unmet needs of the patients with effective biologics, especially in high-growth therapeutics, as mentioned above, has given the M&A activities in the pharma-biotech space an unprecedented thrust.

Biologic versus conventional drugs:

Biologics Conventional and NME drugs
Large molecules (>5000 molecular weight) Small molecules (~500 molecular weight)
Bio-technologically produced or isolated from living sources Chemically synthesized
Complex structure/mixtures (tertiary structure, glycosylated) Simple well-defined structure
High target specificity Less target specificity
Generally parenteral administration (e.g., intravenous) Oral administration possible (pills)

(Source: MoneyTreeTM Report. PWC, 2009)

According to IMS, Biologics contribute around 17% of global pharmaceutical sales and generated a revenue of US$120 billion MAT March 2009. As we see today, gradually more and more global pharmaceutical companies, who used to spend around 15% to 20% of their annual sales in R&D, are channelizing a large part of the same to effectively compete in a fast evolving market of biologics through mainly M&A route. This is also driven by their strategic intent to make good the loss in income from the blockbuster drugs going off patent and at the same time fast dwindling R&D pipeline.

A shift from small molecule based blockbuster model to a biologics-based blockbuster one:

Frost & Sullivan forecasts a shift from small molecules-based blockbuster model to a biologics-based blockbuster one for the global pharmaceutical majors, just as biologics like Enbrel ,Remicade, Avastin, Rituxan and Humira, as mentioned below, have already proved to be money spinners.

The top 10 global brands in 2009:

Rank Product Chemical/Biologic Global Sales US$ Mn
1 Lipitior Chemical 12,511
2 Plavix Chemical 9,492
3. Seretide/Advair Chemical 7,791
4. Enbrel Biologic 6,295
5. Diovan Chemical 6,013
6. Remicade Biologic 5,924
7. Avastin Biologic 5,744
8. Rituxan Biologic 5,620
9. Humira Biologic 5,559
10. Seroquel Chemical 5,121

(Source: EvaluatePharma)

Faster growth of biologics attracting attention of large pharma players:

Currently, faster growth of biologics as compared to conventional new chemical entities is driven by novel technologies and highly targeted approach, the final outcome of which is being more widely accepted by both physicians and patients. The large global pharmaceutical companies are realizing it pretty fast. The type and quality of their recent acquisitions, vindicate this point.

Mega race for biologics and vaccines:

Driven by the above factor, in 2009 Pfizer acquired Wyeth for US $68 billion, Roche acquired Genentech for US $ 47 billion and Merck acquired Schering-Plough for US $ 41 billion. Only the above three M&A are valued more than US $ 150 billion and that too at a time of global financial meltdown.

Acquisition of Wyeth enabled Pfizer to expand its product-mix with vaccines, animal health and consumer products businesses and at the same time leveraging from Wyeth’s biologics capability.

Similarly, Merck got tempted to acquire Schering-Plough mainly because of latter’s rich R&D pipeline with biologics.

Roche, which was basically a pharmaceutical company, post-acquisition of Genentech, became a major bio-pharmaceutical company with a great promise to deliver in the years ahead.

Other M&As, which would signify a shift toward the growing space for biologics are the acquisition of MedImmune by AstraZeneca and Insmed by Merck and the recent bid of Sanofi-Aventis for Genzyme.

Faster growth of biologics:

As mentioned above, despite patent cliff, biologics continue to contribute better than small molecules to overall growth of the R&D based global pharmaceutical industry.  Most of these biologics are sourced either through acquisition or  collaborative arrangements.

Currently cash strapped biotech companies with molecules ready for human clinical trials or with target molecules in the well sought after growth areas like, monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, cell or gene therapies, therapeutic protein hormones, cytokines and tissue growth factors, etc. are becoming attractive acquisition targets, mainly by large pure pharmaceutical companies with deep pockets.

Another M&A model:

Besides mega race for mega acquisitions, on the other hand, relatively smaller pharmaceutical players have started acquiring venture-backed biotech companies to enrich their product pipelines with early-stage drugs at a much lesser cost. For example, with the acquisition of Calistoga for US $ 600 million and venture-backed Arresto Biosciences and CGI Pharmaceuticals, Gilead known for its HIV drugs, expanded into blood cancer, solid tumor and inflammatory diseases. In 2009 the same Gilead acquired CV Therapeutics for US $1.4billion to build a portfolio for cardiovascular drugs.

Smaller biotech companies, because of their current size do not get engaged in  very large deals, unlike the top pharma players, but make quick, decisive and usually successful deals.

Another commercial advantage for biologics – lesser generic competition :

After patent expiry of a New Chemical Entity (NCE), innovators’ brands become extremely vulnerable to cut throat generic competition with as much as 90% price erosion, as these small molecules are relatively easy to replicate by many generic manufacturers and the process of getting their regulatory approval is not as stringent as biosimilar drugs in most of the markets of the world.

On the other hand biologics, which involve difficult, complex and expensive biological processes for development together with stringent regulatory requirements for getting marketing approval of biosimilar drugs especially in the developed markets of the world like, EU and USA, offer some significant brand protection from generic competition for quite some time, even after patent expiry.

It is for this reason, brands like the following ones are expected to go strong for some more time to come, without any significant competition from biosimilar drugs:

Brand Company Launch date
Rituxan Roche/Biogen idec 1997
Herceptin Roche 1998
Remicade Centocor/J&J 1998
Enbrel Amgen/Pfizer 1998

Change of appetite:

In my view, the voracious appetite of large pharmaceutical companies for inorganic growth through mega M&As, will ultimately subside for various compelling reasons.  Instead, smaller biotech companies, especially with products in Phase I or II of clinical trials without further resource to take them to subsequent stages of development, will be prime targets for acquisition by the pharma majors at an attractive valuation.


Although the large pharma majors are experimenting with pure biotech companies in terms of acquisitions and alliances, it will be interesting to see the long term ‘DNA Compatibility’ between these companies’ business models, organization and work/employee culture and market outlook to improve their overall global business performance, significantly. Only future will tell us whether or not just restructuring of the R&D set up of companies like, Pfizer, Merck, Roche and perhaps Sanofi-aventis at a later date, helps synergizing the overall R&D productivity of the merged companies.

In this context, Frost & Sullivan had commented: “Widely differing cultures at Roche and Genentech could make retaining top scientists a huge challenge. Roche is Swiss and a stickler for precision and time, while Genentech has a more ‘Californian attitude’ and is laid back and efficient in its work”.

Though the long-term overall financial impact of the ‘mega race for mega deals’, as mentioned above, is less clear to me, acquisition of biotech companies, especially well thought through smaller ones, seems to be a pretty smart move towards inorganic growth by the global innovator companies.

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.

Global Pharmaceutical Industry: Capturing the micro-trends, having potential to become future mega-trends.

The situation:Almost the entire developed world is reeling under recession… Slowed down business growth… Gradual drying up of research pipeline… Skyrocketing R&D cost… Pressure on product price …Market capitalization going south… Cut throat market competition… Depressed business sentiments…Past M&As are no longer yielding desired results… Global pharmaceutical companies are to lose nearly US$100 billionin sales as many blockbuster drugs are set to go off-patent over the next five years. Sounds quite like a dooms day! No, in my view, the industry including in India, is going through a transformation process. Is any trend emerging through this process? Yes, of course. Let us now try to capture these micro-trends, which have a potential to become tomorrow’s mega-trends.The response:

Before we delve into that, let us see how the global pharmaceutical industry has been responding to such a situation during this trying time. A strong instinct of survival, in such a situation, will undoubtedly prevail. This instinct is driving some of the large companies, with reasonably deep pocket, towards consolidation. This is happening through mergers, acquisitions and even through hostile takeovers.

Globally, from 2008 to date about 58 mergers and acquisitions have taken place, mega, big or small. Amid the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co. and Roche Holding AG could raise a mindboggling amount of US $155 billion to expand and survive in their business.

This month Merck & Co acquired Schering Plough for US$41.1 billion in a cash-and-stock deal that will create the second largest pharmaceutical company in the USA. Richard Clarke, Chairman and CEO of Merck said that the merged company would benefit from the rich R&D pipeline, a significantly broader product portfolio and a wider presence in the global markets.

Besides enriching R&D pipeline and achieving substantial revenue synergy, the merged entity is expected to achieve significant cost synergy of about US$ 3.5 billion by 2011. This deal comes just six weeks after Pfizer Inc swallowed up Wyeth for a record US$68 billion. This move of Pfizer’s is not only expected to enlarge its product portfolio, but also to significantly reduce its dependence on Lipitor, which goes off-patent in 2011.

Just after these, Roche clinched a deal to acquire 44% of Genentech Inc with US$ 46 billion. In 2008 almost 75% of Pharmaceuticals sales of Roche were contributed by the products brought in from Genentech stable. This signifies the importance of acquisition of Genentech by Roche.

Will the M&A strategy be viable in the longer term?

All these companies are basically looking for various avenues to tide over the impending crisis, especially in their R&D pipeline by acquiring other suitable companies. However, looking at the past records, it appears that many of these mega mergers may not fetch a sustainable longer term gain. Insatiable desire to merge or acquire another company for various reasons, keep coming back to these companies after a little while, once again. Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Sanofi Aventis etc will stand as good examples. Some believe that merging just for the sake of width and depth of the R&D pipeline could have its underlying risks, as business compulsion of two different research cultures to come together may cause a serious adverse impact on ‘the climate of innovation’. Such a congenial environment very often plays a critical role in the process of discovery of breakthrough drugs. Probably because of this reason many questioned whether Genentech’s productive R&D culture can flourish under Roche’s full control.

Let me now deliberate on emerging micro-trends in the global pharmaceutical industry. All these micro-trends, in my view, are having potential to get transformed into mega-trends in not too distant future.

Micro-trend 1: Reorganization of large R&D set-ups into smaller units to foster innovation.

Despite creating large R&D set-up through mega mergers, we have also witnessed that some pharmaceutical majors like, GSK, are reorganizing the large R&D set-ups into smaller units to foster innovation, under the leadership of Andrew Witty, the current CEO. This strategy is expected to reap rich harvest.

Micro-trend 2: From concentrating exclusively on innovative medicines to expansion into low risk generic medicines.

Not so long ago Global R&D companies focused only the business of innovative prescription medicines. Low margin generic business was not their cup of tea. Today the scenario has made a 180 degree shift. Low risk, low cost and high volume turnover of generic business is now attracting many R&D based companies.

We are now witnessing another model of mergers and acquisitions, which was pioneered by Novartis some time back. An increasing number of companies are planning to spread their business in less risky generics pharmaceutical businesses. This business model will not require going through lengthy R&D and ever increasing stringent regulatory approval process for their entire product portfolio, in the developed markets of the world. Following this business model Daiichi Sankyo acquired Ranbaxy, in India. Sanofi-Aventis is in the process of acquiring the generic company of Eastern Europe, Zentiva. GSK acquired Pakistan operations of Bristol Myers Squibb, other generic business in South Africa and Egypt and mature products business of UCB in some selected markets of the world. Pfizer has also recently made somewhat similar move in India by entering into a strategic alliance with Aurobindo drugs for sourcing generic formulations for their global markets.

Micro-trend 3: From only prescription medicine business to businesses like, OTC, Nutrition, Diagnostics, Animal Health products, to reduce the business risk.

Some research based companies are now trying to somewhat insulate themselves from high risk R&D business by focusing on, besides generics, other low risk areas like, over the counter medicines (OTC), nutrition products, diagnostics, animal health businesses etc. Companies like, GSK, Pfizer, Roche will be good examples for such strategy.

Micro-trend 4: From sharp business focus mainly on top 10 markets of the world to extension of focus on key emerging markets of the world.

Not so long ago, large multinational companies (MNCs) used to have major focus on top 10 markets of the world. Now a days many of these companies are extending their business focus on emerging markets, like, India, Brazil, China, Russia, Turkey, Mexico etc, which are riding high on a very strong growth curve, unlike USA, Europe or Japan.

In these markets to gain a critical mass, the MNCs will need to enter the generic business and the best way to do it is by acquiring a good generic company. For this reason, in India we may soon start witnessing MNCs acquiring large to mid-size domestic Indian pharmaceutical companies. Daiichi Sankyo has just shown the way by acquiring Ranbaxy in India. This process has not started in full swing, as yet, probably because of expected very high valuation for their respective companies, by the Indian promoters following Ranbaxy deal.

Micro-trend 5: Gradual shift in R&D focus from infectious to chronic to preventive (vaccines) to personalized medicines.

Global pharmaceutical industry got a head start with the innovative drugs to treat infectious diseases. It gained growth momentum by changing its R&D focus on non-infectious chronic disease areas. We now observe a micro-trend to move towards preventive therapy like vaccines even for cervical cancer. With the emergence of stem cell research in the USA and with the rapid progress of RNAi technology, very soon we may enter into the area of personalized medicines, as well. Thus, in my view preventive and personalized medicines will be the high growth pharmaceutical business of future. At that time, the pharmaceutical business model will change significantly though, to adapt to the changing business environment.

Is the era of Blockbuster drugs over?

Let me now reiterate that contrary to the belief of many, future R&D pipelines of the global pharmaceutical companies are not too dry, either. I am not in agreement with many pontificating that the future of blockbuster drugs is over. Published reports indicate that 581 primary-care driven NCEs covering disease areas like, Central Nervous System (CNS), Cardiovascular, Vaccines, Respiratory, Anti-infective etc, are currently in Phase I and Phase II stages. Similarly 637 specialist-care driven NCEs covering disease areas like, Oncologics, Autoimmune agents, HIV, Immunostimulants, Alzheimer, Immunosuppressive etc, are also in phase II and Phase III clinical trial stages. Altogether 1218 NCEs are currently in Phase II and Phase III stages of clinical trial.

Indian Pharmaceutical Companies – are they in a dilemma?

In sharp contrast to prevailing scenario in the global pharmaceutical industry, in India, after a paradigm shift to a new IPR regime, the domestic pharmaceutical industry seems to be in a great dilemma, to some extent they seem to be in a state of identity crisis. Many domestic companies seem to be getting too overawed by the change in their ‘reverse engineering’ business model, as a fuel for growth.

At this stage, it is very important for all these companies to appropriately change their business model based on their competitive strength and quickly adapt to the new paradigm. Instead of considering the research based global companies as competitors, they should look at them as potential collaborators for various outsourcing opportunities; starting from contract research, contract manufacturing to contract marketing, as well. Why not?

Need to move from fragmentation to consolidation for leveraging the business growth:
Indian pharmaceutical industry is now highly fragmented. This is the high time to move away from fragmentation to consolidation, which will help the domestic pharmaceutical industry to attain adequate scale to invest significantly in their well considered business model to fuel the growth engine.

India is making progress in pharmaceutical R&D:

In India some domestic pharmaceutical companies have made significant progress towards R&D output. Published information indicates that Biocon, Piramal Healthcare, Glenmark, Ranbaxy and Suven Life Sciences have between them 45 NCEs. Most of these fall under oncology, infectious, metabolic and respiratory disease areas. Out of these 19 NCEs are in pre-clinical and the balance are in Phase I& Phase II clinical trial stages.

To sum-up, I witness the following micro-trends globally, which we should keep tracking with interest:

 Reorganization of large R&D set-ups into smaller units to foster innovation.

 From concentrating exclusively on innovative medicines to expansion into low risk generic

 From only prescription medicine business to businesses like, OTC, Nutrition, Diagnostics, Animal
Health products, to dilute the business risk.

 From sharp business focus mainly on top 10 markets of the world to extension of focus on key
emerging markets of the world.

 Gradual shift in R&D focus from infectious to chronic to preventive (vaccines) to personalized


By Tapan 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.