Toward the end of my conversation with this month’s cover feature subject, Bayer AG board of management member and global innovation leader, Kemal Malik, I inquired if there was a question he hoped I had asked. “I guess I thought you’d ask me, ‘What is the biggest challenge to innovation in the life sciences,’” he replies. Elaborating, Malik continued, “Society needs to understand the value of innovation, its importance, that it comes at a price, and that innovation doesn’t happen for free.” For example, the cost of bringing the anti-coagulant, Xarelto, to market for Bayer and its collaborative partner, Johnson & Johnson cost > $2 billion.
Now truthfully, I have heard this message before, often while attending PhRMA’s annual meeting. However, what surprised me is Malik’s next comment. He contends society’s failure to understand that life sciences companies need a reasonable return is the fault of life science leaders — not society. “As an industry, it is the responsibility of senior leaders to communicate, educate, and engage with stakeholders when criticism is levied by NGOs [non-governmental organizations (e.g., non-profits, patient advocacy groups)]. We [senior leaders] have been unwilling to do that.” In addition, Malik said, “We can’t rely on industry trade groups and associations to go out there and do it for us.”
At this point in our conversation I shared with Malik a short story of a recent engagement I had with a member of an NGO which, coincidentally, involves one of Bayer’s products. While attending the 33rd Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Amanda Rusmisell (@A3Rusmisell) was tweeting about an upcoming rally against Essure, Bayer’s nonsurgical birth control product. As she included the conference twitter hashtag, #JPM15, I noticed the tweet and inquired about a time and location for the rally. Having previously worked for Organon Pharmaceuticals, which had developed a wide range of contraceptive products, I was curious and more than willing to engage. But immediately after tweeting that she would let me know the details of the rally, Rusmisell followed with the tweet, “@Rfwrightlsl Looks like your magazine is in the business of helping businesses to get things to consumers faster. That isn’t always good.” Considering the negative social media firestorms that have engulfed companies (e.g., Chimerix) that have decided not to sooner provide drugs still under investigation to patients, I was surprised and replied, “Really? Tell that to a cancer patient.” Though perhaps not her intent, Rusmisell exposed one of the challenges with social media — space limitations impeding effective communication. She may have intended to send a playful jab, but it was perceived as an attack.
I asked Malik how he goes about engaging with combative stakeholders. “Very actively,” he responded. Regarding Essure in the United States, he affirms, “We have said of the social media forum, ‘Come and talk to us,’ we have an open invitation to all of those people, and will engage with people as individuals or groups, and will do so at the physician level.” Though we often view society’s misunderstanding of the value our industry brings to mankind as being a problem, perhaps the real problem resides elsewhere and requires a mirror. Leaders aren’t victims, and there is only one person who can stop them from being positioned as such.