Magazine Article | September 2, 2014

Want To Know The Secret To Discovering New Cures?

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

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

When I sat down to speak with the subject of this month’s cover feature (page 24), Daiichi Sankyo’s Glenn Gormley, M.D., Ph.D., I revealed that my father, Dr. David L. Wright, M.D., Ph.D., was also a trained pediatrician (retired). Gormley told me his early work at the chemistry bench, developing drugs for children with leukemia, served as his motivation for going to medical school. “I wanted to follow the compounds into the clinic,” he said. Given that Gormley went on to become board certified in pediatrics and endocrinology, completed a post doc fellowship in oncology, and is presently working as the senior executive officer and global head of R&D at a company with one of the hottest oncology pipelines, some might argue he is living a purpose-driven life.

And that got me thinking about the purpose of drug development. Of course, the number one purpose of every business is to create revenues, and enterprises are created because of a perceived need not being met. But in drug development, that purpose has a direct undeniable link to the patient — your customer. And as we all know, keeping that customer is imperative to the success of any business.

Consider how one of the latest buzzwords in our industry is patient-centric. As is our industry’s custom, we have been tossing it around as if we just discovered Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and have taken to applying it to everything from how to deliver healthcare (i.e., patient-centric care) to how clinical trials should be designed (i.e., patient-centered clinical trials). But it was more than 60 years ago when George Merck, then chairman of Merck & Co., stated, “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient … It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear.” As an industry, it is obvious we haven’t done a good job at executing this vintage notion. Just look at the numerous stakeholders created to fill a perceived unmet need, such as biotech drug companies, patient advocacy organizations, and numerous consortiums. These, along with pharmaceutical companies, physicians, insurance payors, medical research centers, CROs, and government regulators, desire to play a role in drug discovery and development. While many of these can be defined as businesses, thereby being similar of purpose, this is not universal. Further, not all of these have the patient as their primary source of revenue. Thus, keeping the patient/customer is not their primary mission. If you want to discover new cures, you must have a sense of purpose that transcends revenue creation in order to motivate employees and place the patient at the center. To learn the fundamental organizing principles necessary to create such a purpose, check out Combining Purpose With Profits by Birkinshaw, Foss, and Lindenberg in the Spring 2014, MITSloan Management Review. Done well, the profits will follow.