Big pharma has big problems. The root cause is a lack of research and development productivity, which means a dearth of new products to make up for
looming patent expirations. Something near half of big pharma’s
revenues will be threatened by generic competition within the next
three to four years, and that will radically change the face of the
The R&D productivity problem isn’t exactly new. When I was at
the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the mid-90s we were already
talking about the “NCE gap,” which referred to the number of new
chemical entities that needed to be developed to justify pharma
companies’ valuations at the time. Back then, there was still a
possibility that new discovery tools would boost productivity and
prevent a collapse of the industry.
revenue growth and valuations, but things weren’t as healthy as they
looked. The revenue growth was due to price increases, new indications
for existing products, changes to guidelines (e.g., blood pressure,
cholesterol) that increased the number of people who were recommended
for drug therapy, combination products, new formulations, growth
outside the U.S., and the arrival of the Medicare Part D prescription
drug coverage. Almost all of these growth levers are now tapped out.
According to the Washington Times (Drugmaker ads to target Obama idea)
the pharmaceutical industry is now planning a large advertising effort
to undermine President-Elect Barack Obama’s plan to have the government
negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare, rather than leaving it up
to the PBMs that do the job now.
My old BCG buddies are at it with a new report, which the Times cites.
Giving Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices –
a provision that they currently don’t have – would cause the
pharmaceutical industry to lose $10 billion to $30 billion in annual
revenues, according to a report released last month by the Boston
“If you start to take a pretty big price decrease out of that large
market, it has an enormous impact on drug companies and really their
ability to generate their type of shareholder return that they have had
in the past,” said Peter Lawyer, a senior partner with Boston
According to the Times, the ads will “tout the importance
of free-market health care” and may try to have the same impact as the
famous Harry and Louise ads of 1993 that undermined the planned Hillary
Clinton-led reform bill. (By the way the brains behind the Hillary
effort was ex-BCGer Ira Magaziner.)
If that’s really the aim, someone is misjudging the mood of the public.
People aren’t looking for “free-market” anything at the moment,
especially when what the pharmaceutical industry really means by “free
market” is pricing freedom for themselves. And remember, drugs are
protected by patents, which are granted by the government, not the free
Here’s some friendly advice to the pharmaceutical industry: don’t
make the mistake of attacking the policies of our new President. Such a
move is likely to backfire.