When more than 250 top-tier pharmaceutical thought leaders get together for 2 days of debate, discussion and discourse, and you ask them to shape the future of Pharma, some feathers are bound to get ruffled. And although the healthcare sector and the drug manufacturing industry have a reputation for being conservative, often citing stringent legislation to justify the slow pace of change, the speakers and delegates at this year’s Pharma Integrates (PI) were keen to emphasize that change is coming, and disruptive innovation is making its presence felt.
Some of the key themes to emerge during the roundtable sessions were the need for improved integration, openness, collaboration and trust between healthcare stakeholders. Somewhat controversially, Sir Peter Lachmann, Emeritus Professor of Immunology, University of Cambridge, pondered whether GMPs are really necessary and suggested that good manufacturing practices simply add unnecessary cost. Furthermore, he also implied that “Phase III Trials are without appreciable value and should be abolished!” Other speakers questioned whether the medical profession is making too big a deal about patient data privacy? What’s the risk, they asked, postulating that digital anonymity is somewhat overrated!
But what of pharmaceutical conservatism and disruption? Not all conservatism is bad, said the PI delegates. It should be remembered that peoples’ lives are at risk. Yet, we are surrounded by disruption. It causes chaos, stimulates innovation, results in failed companies and produces new products, processes, industries and leaders. To survive and flourish we need to be responsive to the changing environment and to devise new ways of providing patients with improved health outcomes at a fraction of today’s cost. But what can Pharma do?
What about directing some innovation at prevention? What about publishing information regarding failed trials and products, and being more honest about what didn’t work? The PI panellists suggested that Pharma should think about the out-of-industry areas it can disrupt, but warned that it would take a massive cultural shift to implement any change. They postulated that the opposite of Pharma conservatism is not innovation, but an entirely new model of therapeutic development, emphasizing that disruption is rarely internal and is most often derived from other industries.
In the area of data, a delegate pointed out that most pharmaceutical companies are information factories, but that knowledge is not widely used or exploited enough to make it productive or influence the decision making process. We need to get better at using the data we collect and not think of it as a disposable by-product. And we need to do it quickly, before Google swoops in and does it for us! Would an open-source model work for the pharmaceutical industry? Let’s wait and see.
Change is afoot and both speakers and audience members alike were keen to ensure that drug production avoids becoming a risk mitigation business and continues to be an opportunity creating one. And if the drug discovery funding model is becoming outdated and inefficient, then we need to look over our collective shoulders at the more agile biotech players: there’s plenty of innovation in biologics. Medicines are expensive because patients have to pay for Pharma’s failures and the slow development process. Collaboration might be the key to future success, but clear deliverables, timelines and specific targets must be established to make alliances work.
The clarion call was that Pharma doesn’t need disruptive innovation: it needs a disruptive business model! And that’s where the patient plays a key role. The influence of the patient in Pharma was cited as the most disruptive factor in the entire industry. The industry needs to design products and services based on what the patient, and not what the organization, needs. But that premise is hampered by a lack of decision-making skills and the need for diversity thinking. Yes, patient data needs to treated with care, competence, clarity, dignity and absolutely no commercial access, but if you give people access to their (health) information, they will use it — wisely — which will ultimately improve the drug development process.
Much was deliberated in London, with enthusiasm, energy and passion. And whereas it might be an easy option to conclude that all is not well in the pharmaceutical industry, it would be the wrong conclusion. Event Chair and former CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals, Bill Burns, closed the event by saying that whatever your role in the life sciences sector is, we should have the courage to be proud of what the pharmaceutical industry does and its ongoing mission to help and improve the health outcomes of millions of patients, all over the world, many of whom wouldn’t be alive today without the hard work, dedication and diligence of those who work within in. “Isn’t it wonderful,” he summarized: “Good medicine is good business.”
Pharma Integrates 2015 took place in the Grange City Hotel (London, UK) on the 17–18 November. Organizer and Life Sciences Index founder, Christopher Watt, commented: “Now firmly established in the life science calendar, there really is no other event like Pharma Integrates. It truly provides a platform for open debate and the opportunity for those taking part to shape pharma’s future. We are proud that, right here in London, we’re championing the global pharmaceutical industry and already looking forward to our landmark fifth edition in 2016. Based on the input and feedback we’ve received so far, it’s going to be another must-attend event.”
Fellow founder Samuel Thangiah added: “We’d like to thank everyone, including our much-valued sponsors, our 70+ speakers and our delegates for attending, supporting and participating so actively. Once again, it’s been 2 days of thought leadership, discussion and, perhaps, a little bit of controversy, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Life Science Index launched in 2011 and is a specialist provider of events designed for pharmaceutical executives to network, stay current on topical issues and provides continuous professional development. For more information, visit pharma.lifesciencesindex.com.