As deliberated in my just previous article in this blog, Covid has been a watershed in several areas of pharma business. One such key area is its competition driven strategic business model. It aims to deliver significant value for a longer time than the competition, protected by a patent thicket driven TINA factor – and only for those who can afford such patented drugs. It didn’t matter, if a vast majority of patients are denied access to these medicines, with a dangerous pricing trend acting as an insurmountable barrier. Flying solo has been the motto of most players in this ball game, to delight the stock markets.
Interestingly, Covid pandemic seems to be changing this model. Pharma industry, by and large, is now trying to demonstrate its core value for the society – moving away from displaying competition driven one-upmanship. In this article, I shall deliberate on this area.
Covid poses both – a humongous challenge and a great opportunity:
As the article, published in the MIT Sloan Management Review on April 16, 2020 highlights: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic may well prove to be the biggest challenge for humankind since World War II.’ The same holds good for the pharma industry, as well. The drug companies are now expected by all, to play a pivotal role in the fight against the pandemic ‘that is bringing health care systems to their knees and sending shock waves through economies across the globe.’
This is generally because, pharma industry possesses wherewithal to develop effective drugs and vaccines to combat this health crisis – if not alone, but certainly collectively. It also offers a great opportunity for pharma to ‘walk the talk,’ by demonstrating upfront that meeting all patients’ unmet needs lie at the core of the pharma business. As I quoted a global CEO in one of my articles articulating, this crisis also comes as ‘a Shot at Redemption in Pharma Industry.’
Thus, if the industry reacts quickly and responsibly, it may have the chance to also redeem a reputation that’s been tarnished for years. Some of these instances are, illegal marketing practices, corruption scandals, and obscene pricing of vital drugs, the MIT Sloan article underscored. Flying solo in this situation may not be just enough, if not foolhardy.
Flying solo in this situation may not be enough:
Taking this initiative won’t be a piece of cake, either, if pharma companies prefer to do it alone during this unprecedented health crisis. The drug players will need to be willing and able to successfully collaborate with other players in the race to develop treatments and vaccines. Otherwise, their legitimacy will be fundamentally questioned, especially when the entire world is running against time.
The rationale of two top drug companies entering into collaborative arrangements is obvious – the realization that pooling of all resources together is the best way of delivering effective Covid related solutions to the society at the shortest possible time. The good news is, pharma has already taken the first step in this direction, even when some of them are competitors, in several areas – moving away from their competition driven business models, as of now.
Once strange bedfellows – now partners:
The article published in the Bloomberg Law on June 05, 2020 very aptly observed: ‘The race to address the pandemic has brought together strange bedfellows as big-name companies’ partner with their rivals.’ The Scientist also wrote on July 13, 2020: ‘The urgent need for tests and therapeutics has brought companies together and pushed researchers to work at breakneck speeds.’
One can find this happening on the ground now, as some major pharma and biotech companies, including Eli Lilly, Novartis, Gilead, and AstraZeneca, formed a group called COVID R&D to share resources and expertise to try to accelerate the development of effective therapies and vaccines for COVID-19. Besides, Roche Holding AG and Gilead Sciences Inc. have teamed up on trials for a drug combination to treat Covid-19.
There are several instances of such collaboration also in the Covid vaccine area. For example, GlaxoSmithKline plc struck a deal with Sanofi to produce 1 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine booster. Besides, Pfizer from the US and BioNTech from Germany are joining hands to co-develop and distribute a potential Coronavirus vaccine, aimed at preventing COVID-19 infection.
It’s a reality today that Covid-19 has brought not just the strange bedfellows within pharma and biotech companies together. Academia and governments have also moved on to the same collaborative platforms, to save people from a deadly and super contagious infection, in the shortest possible time. We have witnessed this
in India, as well. For example, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Aurobindo Pharma Limited have also announced a collaboration to develop vaccines to protect against SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19.
The rationale and some possible issues:
Each of these players is bringing some expertise and intellectual property to the table. “As they work together, they’re going to create more, so you have the ‘yours,’ the ‘mine,’ and the ‘ours’ of collaboration,” as the Bloomberg Law points out. That said, any collaboration of such nature and scale will have its own share of legal issues, such as, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, revenue sharing models, and more.
The collaborators, in pursuit of saving mankind from Covid-19, are expected to find enough alternatives to resolve these glitches for a win-win outcome – not just for now, but much beyond – with the dawn of a new collaborative model. The rapid general acceptance of this collaborative model by more and more drug companies to meet unmet medical needs in many other areas – much faster, in all probability, will delight the health care consumers and also be appropriately rewarded.
Leveraging the collaborative business model beyond pandemic:
E that as it may, it still remains an open question to many, whether such collaborative model will be leveraged for an accelerated rate of drug, vaccine and diagnostics development beyond the pandemic.
The good news is, as The Scientist article reported, some pharma players are seriously pondering how to continue working in this new way – with the same sense of urgency and purpose, for other disease areas too. They believe, the lessons being learned with the collaborative models, may help expedite development of therapeutics in other serious conditions, such as, Alzheimer’s, intractable cancers and autoimmune diseases.
If and when it happens as a predominant business model, suffering patients and the society, in general, would lap it up and the innovators would be suitably rewarded. However, the paper also says, there are still some drug companies who prefer to continue working in a more insular fashion, as was happening in the old normal. But, experts also feel, that should not cause any worry, as long as majority prefers to continue following the collaborative models, in the new normal, as well.
Pharma would make a good profit from collaborative business models too:
For those who say that drug companies won’t make good profit from Covid drugs and vaccines, Pfizer CEO has an answer. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, reportedly, has no patience for the argument that pharmaceutical companies should not be making a profit on the drugs and vaccines they introduce to fight Covid-19. This article highlights, at $19.50 per dose, the 1.3 billion doses of Pfizer BioNTech Covid vaccine that the Pfizer plans to make by the end of next year, could translate to nearly $13 billion in sales, after the company splits its revenue with its partner BioNTech. It is roughly the same as Pfizer’s all-time best-selling drug Lipitor sold in its best year.
Adding to it, another article on the same issue, published by Fierce Pharma on August 13, 2020, further reinforced the above expectation. It wrote, the longtime Evercore ISI pharma analyst haspredicted the total market for COVID-19 vaccines would be worth $100 billion in sales and $40 billion in post-tax profits. It assumed frontrunner Moderna would supply about 40 percent of the market, Novavax would take 20 percent and the other vaccine developers would split the rest. “One could look at the field under this base scenario and conclude it is reasonably valued in total,” the analyst concluded.
Nonetheless, there could still be several points that remained unanswered in this analysis. But the bottom line is, the collaborative model is not just profitable, it starts generating profit earlier and faster – virtually eliminating the cost of possible delays when a company flies solo.
With a seemingly flattening curve, the Covid pandemic still continues, alarmingly. As of October 25, 2020 morning, India recorded a staggering figure of 7,864,811 of Coronavirus cases with 118,567 deaths.
With this backdrop, COVID-19 has provided the pharma industry a new opportunity to demonstrate its true value to the society – not the self-serving ones. It’s now clear that no one can rule out, there won’t be a similar unprecedented health catastrophe in the future too. It may come in various different forms, or may even be from a rapid and complex mutation of the same lethal virus.
Moreover, such crisis may not come and go in just a few months – may even linger for a long time. In any case, these may again be equally disruptive – or even more disruptive to lives, livelihoods and the economic growth engine. In such a scenario, putting the brightest scientific brains of the world together will be critical, and adding top speed to the process being the essence to come out of the crisis with least possible damages.
Covid pandemic has also demonstrated that the competition-based model of the drug could be a serious retarding force in that endeavor. What will matter, is a well-structured collaborative model that can create a win-win situation – both for patients and the business. I reckon, it’s about time to move into this model to find most effective drugs and treatment solutions for many other unmet needs related to a host of intractable diseases, much sooner.
There could, of course, be some business issues with this model. But those can be resolved amicably for an all-weather greater success in business, along with protecting the society – for all. From this overall perspective, it appears, Covid pandemic now sends a strong signal to pharma companies to move away from predominantly competition driven business models, expanding more into collaborative ones.
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.