Pharma Not To Let Go This Never Before Opportunity To Reposition Itself

‘While the COVID-19 pandemic has placed unparalleled demands on modern healthcare systems, the industry’s response has vividly demonstrated its resilience and ability to bring innovations to market quickly.’ This appeared in the McKinsey & Company article – ‘Healthcare innovation: Building on the gains made through the crisis,’ published on November 12, 2020.

Just a couple of days before that, on November 09, 2020, an interesting article appeared in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on the resilience of the pharma industry. It also discussed on how ‘an often-disparaged industry is finding a rare opportunity to promote its value,’ to turn around public perception of its image and reputation during the pandemic. The article elaborated this point by quoting: “It was a fight between pharma, tobacco companies and the government for who would be at the bottom in terms of reputation,” – now “Covid is giving them an opportunity to step out of that world and into the world of ‘we can help,’ and it’s giving pharma a comeback.”

As is known to many, pharma industry was long vilified for its many self-serving objectives. But the Coronavirus pandemic helped immensely to highlight its role in developing medications and vaccines to save the humanity. It happened never before – ever, with this intensity and scale. Thus, the shift is inspiring many pharma giants to reposition their marketing and communications, the WSJ report added. This article will deliberate on how pharma marketers can leverage this once in a lifetime opportunity, with actionable insights on Covid pandemic-induced – changing needs of healthcare customers.

Covid-19 to change the way companies do business - A recent survey:

In this McKinsey & Company survey, published on June 17, 2020, more than 200 organizations across industries had participated in this study. Notably, over 90 percent of the participating executives expect the fallout from COVID-19 to fundamentally change the way companies do business over the next five years, with a lasting impact on their customers’ needs. In the pharma industry too, these trends are clearly visible and undergoing a metamorphosis. I quote below a few important points from this study, as illustrations:

  • Nearly 73 percent respondents from the pharma and medical supplies industries agree that the changes brought about by Covid-19 will be a big opportunity for growth.
  • Only 21 percent of the same executives feel that they are prepared with resources, expertise and commitment to address the changes they see coming, for harvesting the new growth opportunities.
  • Curiously, only 25 percent of respondents reported that capturing new growth was a top priority today, compared to roughly 60 percent before the crisis hit.
  • Notably, across the industries only pharma and medical product industries have increased their focus on innovation during Covid crisis. Although, many are still playing safe, which may be a shortsighted decision, the research paper observed. 

Understand the shifts and the opportunities with actionable insights:

That the current Covid crisis has significantly exacerbated and accelerated many disruptive forces, is vindicated by another survey: ‘Global B2B decision-maker response to COVID-19 crisis.’ This was published by the McKinsey & Company on October 20, 2020. It also reiterated, ‘B2B decision-maker preferences and behaviors have shifted dramatically since the onset of COVID. The GTM revolution is here and B2B sales is forever changed.’ I shall quote two of these areas, as follows:

A. Changes to pharma sales models: Companies with significant field forces can no longer rely on in-person coverage to outcompete. This is because:

  • The tide has turned: digital self-service and remote rep interactions are likely to be the dominant elements of the B2B go-to-market model, going forward.
  • Don’t count on returning to a pre-COVID-19 level of in-person sales coverage, as only 20–30% of B2B buyers want to ever interact with reps in person even in their ideal/post-COVID-19 model.
  • Around 90% of B2B decision makers expect the remote and the digital model to stick around for the long run, and 3 in 4 believe the new model is as effective or more so than before COVID-19 (for both existing customers and prospects).
  • 97% of B2B buyers claim they will make a purchase in an end-to-end, digital self-serve model, with the vast majority very comfortable spending more online.
  • Video-conference connections are critical and are preferred over audio/phone by almost 4 out of 5 B2B buyers.

B. Influx of competitors from different industries: Medical-device firms historically had a narrow competitive set and were insulated by a complex and highly technical regulatory approval process. They are now facing competition from previously unexpected new entrants, including Wearable Health Devices (WHDs) makers, such as Google, Apple among several others. As I also wrote about a year ago, on December 02, 2020, this is mostly because, WHDs help improve disease outcomes, creating a unique disease treatment experience.

Which is why, in the new normal, creating a holistic and innovative ‘Customer Experience’ is as important and challenging as creating ‘Innovative Drugs’.

Reposition pharma to create a holistic ‘Customer Experience’ in the new normal:

At the very beginning of this year, on January 13, 2020, I asked: What Pays More: Creating Innovative ‘Customer Experience’ Or ‘Innovative Drugs’? Although both are crucial for pharma, in the current scenario, the former, I reckon, is no less important or less demanding than the latter for pharma marketers. The question, therefore, arises, what new insights it will entail to meet the unmet changing needs of healthcare customers? The answers may point towards several areas, which are worth pondering over.

Leaving this exhaustive search for pharma professionals to gain the necessary insights for action, let me give an example of only one such area to drive home the point. An interesting article deliberating this area was published by Reuters Events on November 17, 2020. Especially in the new normal, finding solutions to unmet customer needs would prompt harnessing the combined and synergistic power of medical and marketing skills, creating a culture to match, as the article highlighted.

Elaborating this need, the author stressed, the traditional model of medical and marketing functions working in silos is often a barrier to a holistic customer approach. This is because it stifles the opportunity for co-creation of well-synchronized solutions on a number of medico marketing issues during patients’ disease treatment journey mapping. These customer-centric medico-marketing issues, I reckon, are coming more often now with the increasing number of more informed patients, especially about their personal health care and treatment needs.

Traditionally, in the pharma industry ‘working in silo culture’ is quite prevalent – medical and marketing functions are no different. Encouragingly, during this pandemic, several companies have formed cross-functional teams of medical and marketing professionals. They also create brand plans, develop content and communication strategies in the new digital platforms, as preferred by the customers. Let me hasten to add, most companies, especially in India will need to catch up with this new way of working, creating a new culture, soon.

Two interesting examples of medico-marketing during Covid Crisis:

There will be several examples in this area. However, to illustrate the point of creating a holistic ‘Customer Experience’ in the new normal, let me cite two examples of medic-marketing in this area, during Covid crisis. Coincidentally, both the examples are from the global pharma major Pfizer – the Company (along with BioNTech) that offered the first Covid-19 vaccine to the western world for public use under ‘Emergency Approval’ by the British drug regulator.

The first example is a website for Pfizer prescription medicine assistance program – called Pfizer RX Pathways. It mentions at the very top, ‘Pfizer recognizes the public concern in relation to COVID-19, which continues to evolve. Click here to learn how we are responding.’ When clicked, it takes the viewers to another website, where Pfizer says, ‘we are committed to helping keep people safe and informed.’

The second one tackles the uncertainty and anxiety that many people feel during the Covid pandemic – reassuring the viewers that “science will win.”  It starts with: “At a time when things are uncertain, we turn to the most certain thing there is—science. Science can overcome diseases, create cures and yes, beat pandemics. It has before; it will again.”

There are many other examples, including a social media series on Covid-19 of the Company, which help enhancing holistic ‘customer experience’ in the contemporary situation, for which the concerned companies’ brands are also rewarded by the customers.


As of December 13, 2020 morning, India recorded a staggering figure of 9,857,380 of new Coronavirus cases with 143,055 deaths. The threat of subsequent waves for further spread of Covid infection still looms large in many states. The good news is, at least, one Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be available in India within a month’s time. Meanwhile, as many people believe, when a company or an industry does most things right, as experienced by its customers, its reputation goes up, and vice versa. For example, the Gallup Poll, published around a year ago – on September 03, 2019 said: ‘The pharmaceutical industry is now the most poorly regarded industry in Americans’ eyes, ranking last on a list of 25 industries.’ Interestingly, similar Gallup Poll, published a year later – on September 08, 2020 noted, ‘the pharmaceutical industry’s image has improved modestly since last year, and it has yielded the “worst rated” distinction back to the federal government.’

So, something good must have happened during this one-year period, the most influential of which being Covid Pandemic. We have seen above, how some pharma players have repositioned themselves to provide a holistic ‘Customer Experience’, through innovative multichannel communication – being on the same page with customers. Medico-marketing approach played a stellar role in these efforts. As more healthcare customers get enlightened on their health and treatment needs by charting through the cyberspace, they are expected to lap-up such multichannel communication, alongside other equally cerebral pharma initiatives.

Undoubtedly, Covid pandemic is a triggering factor for this change, both among the healthcare customers and the pharma players. This trend is not going to disappear soon, as various top research studies have highlighted. Well-deserved pharma image and reputation boost has started gaining speed, following what some companies are demonstrating to customers during the Covid crisis. Pharma marketers, I believe, will not let go this never before opportunity to reposition their respective companies. It will help them achieve well-cherished brand excellence, supported by a robust Company image and reputation. As the good old saying has proved again to the pharma industry – even during the Covid pandemic, ‘as you sow, so shall you reap.’

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.

Restructure, reposition and empower the DoP to deliver more to the nation: Break the Silos

A news item on July 25, 2011 reported, “DoP (Department of Pharmaceuticals) moots National Authority for Drugs & Therapeutics (NADT) with Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) under it”.

If I recall, some years ago, a Government of India (GoI) appointed taskforce had also suggested integration of the offices of the DCGI, CDSCO and NPPA along with all their powers and functions. However, nothing has fructified, as yet, not even the Central Drug Authority (CDA) Bill, which was mooted in 2007.

In the same context while taking a pause to look back, we note that in 2008 to help accelerating the growth momentum of the pharmaceutical industry of India through a more efficient government administrative and policy machinery, the GoI created a new department called the ‘Department of Pharmaceuticals’ under the MOC&F.

It was widely expected at that time that the DoP will be able to address the following key pharmaceutical industry related issues with an integrated approach to strike a right balance between the growth fundamentals of the industry and the Public Health Interest (PHI):

  • Drug policy and pricing
  • Providing access to high quality and affordable modern medicines to all
  • A facilitating drug regulatory system
  • An appropriate ecosystem to encourage R&D and protect Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)
  • Addressing the issue of high out of pocket expenses of the general population for healthcare
  • Fiscal and tax incentives required by the Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) within the pharmaceutical industry of India.

As stated above, all these will necessitate close coordination and integration of work of various departments falling under the different ministries of the government. 

The key Objectives of the DoP: 

Following are the stated key objectives of the DoP:

1 Ensure availability of quality drugs at reasonable prices as per the Pharma Policy

2 Facilitate growth of Central pharma PSUs with required support

3 Develop Pharma Infrastructure and Catalyze Drug Discovery and Innovation

4 Launch and Position Pharma India Brand.

The moot questions:

Considering all these, the moot questions that could follow are as follows:

  1. Do the objectives of the DoP effectively address the need to improving access to quality and affordable medicines to the common man with an integrated approach between all concerned departments of MOC&F and MOH&FW?
  2. Is the nodal department of the pharmaceutical industry – the DoP currently placed in the right Ministry to contribute more effectively to achieve the ultimate national goal of ‘ affordable healthcare for all’ ?

Need for greater co-ordinated approach:

The issue of access to quality and affordability medicines, reaching patients in conformance to a strict regulatory framework, will need to be addressed with an integrated systems approach.

As is commonly believed, increasing access to modern medicines will depend mainly on the following key requirements:

  1. Creating an appropriate healthcare infrastructure and delivery system across the country.
  2. Making prices of medicines reasonable/affordable to a large section of the population.
  3. Reducing high (80%) ‘Out of Pocket’ healthcare expenses of the common man through a well-structured healthcare financing/health-insurance model for all strata of society.

All these measures will entail very closely working together between the DoP and the related departments of MOH&FW. This situation calls for consideration of repositioning the DoP by making it a part of MOH&FW and NOT of MOC&F.

Pharmaceutical Industry: The areas of key importance:

Be that as it may, let us now try to have a closer look at the other aspect – the key areas of importance of the pharmaceutical industry for its accelerated growth and development and try to ascertain, if DoP is made responsible for all these critical areas, which Ministry they will need to deal with, the most:

1. Drug Policy and Pricing:

Currently DoP is responsible for an inclusive growth oriented drug policy and drugs pricing (through National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, NPPA) under the MOC&F. This key activity of  the department has immense impact on the performance of the pharmaceutical industry of India.

2. ‘Access’ and ‘Availability’ of modern medicines across the country:
Availability of pharmaceutical products is intimately linked to the quality of access to pharmaceuticals by a vast majority of population of India, as indicated above, depends on availability of requisite healthcare infrastructure and the delivery systems, besides the prices of medicines.

‘Jan Aushadhi’ scheme – a praiseworthy initiative of the DoP now seems to be a near disaster in terms of the project implementation.  This scheme could have been more meaningful with the support of adequate health related infrastructural facilities and in tandem with the projects like, National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), National Urban Health Mission (NUHM), Rashtriya Swasthaya Bima Yojna (RSBY) targeted to offer better healthcare to the common man with a robust and integrated healthcare delivery initiative.

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOH&FW) is responsible to create such healthcare related infrastructure and delivery system.

3. Drug Regulatory System:

The drug regulatory system of the country, which is so important to the pharmaceutical industry for its rapid growth and development, is now operating at a sub-optimal level for various reasons. The dissatisfaction of the industry with this key regulator reportedly has reached its nadir.

Almost the entire Drug Regulatory System in India is being run and governed by the office of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), which comes under the MOH&FW. DCGI’s office is responsible for effective and speedy implementation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India (DCA), which includes world class and ethical clinical trial standards in the country, marketing approval of all new products including exports, implementation of Schedule M (cGMP), all pharmaceuticals site registrations and effectively addressing the issue of spurious and counterfeit drugs, just to name a few. DoP has hardly any direct or indirect control over any of these key activities falling under the purview of the MOH&FW.

4. Biopharmaceuticals:

The Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology currently looks after this emerging area of pharmaceuticals sector. DoP has no direct control over these activities.

5. R&D and IPR:

R&D and IPR related issues in pharmaceuticals/biopharmaceuticals are very important areas of the pharmaceutical business in the country. Although IP Policy related areas are looked after by the Department of Industrial policy and Promotion (DIPP), some contentious and highly debated IP related issues like, Regulatory Data Protection (RDP), Patent Linkage etc. are currently within the domain of DCGI under MOH&FW. DoP has no direct role to play in these areas.

6. High out of pocket expenses for healthcare:

In India ‘Out of Pocket Expenses (OPE)’ towards healthcare is around 80%. Such high OPE, especially in case of very serious and life threatening illnesses, like cancer, cardiovascular emergencies etc. could make a middle class household poor and a poor household could even be pushed ‘Below the Poverty Line (BPL)’.

Thus high OPE is indeed a very serious issue of the country, which can only be addressed through policy initiatives by designing appropriate health insurance/healthcare financing scheme for all strata of society in India.

For a large section of the society, this issue can be addressed by MOH&FW in consultation with Ministry of Finance, just as they have come out with an innovative and praiseworthy RSBY scheme for the BPL families. DoP does not seem to have much role to play in this area, as well.

Thus the objective of GoI to have greater focus on healthcare in general and the pharmaceuticals in particular could be better achieved, if the DoP is made a part of MOH&FW by breaking the independent silos in form of the NPPA, CDSCO, DCGI etc., now operating, especially, in these two ministries.

Key issues of pharma industry versus key objectives of the DoP: From the above details, if one compares the key issues and success factors of the pharmaceutical industry of India versus the key objectives of the DoP, one will notice a dis-conformity.

If this is allowed to continue even the all-important first objective of the department, ”Ensuring availability of quality drugs at reasonable prices as per the Pharma Policy” will continue to remain an illusion. It is indeed surprising to note that this objective does not talk anything about improved access to modern medicines by the common man, either.

Over a period of over last four decades India has experienced that only through increased focus on affordability, the objective of increased access to medicines by the common man could not be achieved in India. Besides other healthcare infrastructure related factors, high OPE still remains a key barrier to access to modern medicines by the common man.

Why is  DoP trying to revive the loss making pharmaceutical Public Sector Units (PSUs)?

As stated above, the second objective of the DoP, which states, “Facilitate growth of Central pharma PSUs with required support” is equally intriguing. Everyone knows that all these PSUs created by spending tax payers’ money , miserably failed to perform and deliver even when the Indian pharmaceutical industry continues to register a CAGR growth of around 15% decade after decade. It is indeed difficult to fathom, which magic wand of the DoP will be able to bring these loss making and heavily bleeding PSUs out of continuous non-performance and governance failure in an era of fierce competitive pressure within the industry, by pouring even more from the national exchequer’s fund in the bottomless pits of losses of these PSUs?

I reckon, if these PSUs still attract interest of some good private buyers/investors with reasonable valuation, the government should unhesitatingly decide to unlock these values, sooner the better.


In my view, if the DoP is expected to ensure improved “access to affordable and quality modern medicines to all”, as discussed above, the department should be repositioned and made a part of MOH&FW, rather than keeping it with the MOC&F, ignoring any possible political squabbles between the two concerned ministries, even in the coalition politics of India.

Such restructuring, repositioning and empowerment of the DoP in turn, will help achieving one of the key healthcare objectives of the nation, simultaneously fostering rapid growth of the industry making it a formidable global force to reckon with, both in the innovative and generic pharmaceutical business of the world.

This expected scenario, if gets translated into reality will justify the creation and existence of the DoP at the cost of huge amount of public fund.

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.