Magazine Article | April 1, 2019

Big Wins Are Not Enough To Repair Biopharma's Broken Image

Source: Life Science Leader

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

To be sure, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been a global tragedy. But it is also one of our industry’s most shining moments. Because today if someone is diagnosed with HIV, not only is it no longer a death sentence, but they have at least 41 medications from which to choose toward managing their virus. And while credit for the successful battle against HIV/AIDS involves a number of key stakeholders, it was the biopharma Burroughs Wellcome that introduced the first HIV treatment, AZT, developed and approved in only 25 months back in 1987. Despite this success, our work in HIV is not done, as evidenced by this month’s cover feature with Deborah Waterhouse, CEO of ViiV Healthcare. A joint venture (JV) launched in November 2009 that today involves GSK, Pfizer, and Shionogi, ViiV Healthcare specializes in developing drugs just for HIV. Thus far, the company has launched three new HIV medications, gained five FDA approvals, and has hopes of gaining approval and launching two other HIV medications before the end of 2019. You can learn more on p. 20.

Cancer is another area where biopharma has played a significant role in improving patient outcomes. In fact, since President Nixon first declared war on cancer in 1971, nearly half of all cancers are today considered curable. According to the American Cancer Society, 64 percent of all cancer survivors were diagnosed five or more years ago, and nearly half are 70 years or older. Yet in spite of biopharma’s significant contributions that have improved outcomes for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and numerous other therapeutic categories, we continue losing in the U.S. court of public opinion. It seems big wins against dreaded diseases are not enough to change the negative perception attached to the biopharmaceutical industry — and odds are it will get worse before it gets better. Because although the seven executives who testified in the Senate hearing (Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change, Part II, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019) represented our industry admirably and professionally, it was obvious that most participating senators were more interested in generating sensational soundbites for the media and their constituents than developing viable solutions for that which ails U.S. healthcare.

During this year’s annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Life Science Leader (with the help of Russo Partners) conducted a roundtable discussion, titled “What Can Be Done To Save Biopharma’s Reputation?” We were deliberate in having all participants hail from companies on the smaller side, hoping for perspectives that were not the well-worn talking points of Big Pharma or heads of industry trade associations (e.g., BIO and PhRMA). The primary goal: Provide you, our readers, with actionable information you can use immediately to help fix our industry’s image, which you can read more about beginning on p. 30. Though these execs provide great insight, let’s first focus on our character. Because our industry’s reputation is only what others think we are, while our character is who we actually are — and we all can contribute more positively in that regard.