Magazine Article | November 29, 2012

What's Wrong With Big Pharma?

Source: Life Science Leader

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader magazine

At this year’s CPhI (Convention on Pharmaceutical Ingredients) worldwide event, I sat down with CARBOGEN AMCIS’ CEO, Mark Griffiths. When I asked him to share what he sees as some of the challenges currently facing the industry, he gave me an earful. For example, he told me that in the last 18 months he spent significant resources on procedural matters, such as filling out questionnaires. Mind you, these questionnaires are from companies which CARBOGEN AMCIS has worked with for years. For one company, he completed two separate questionnaires which were asking for the same thing. When he pointed this out to the company’s representative, he was told that they needed to have it in this particular format. I understand the need and benefits to standardization; frequently I have argued in favor of it for single-use technologies. However, perhaps companies should get their ducks in a row prior to having their supposed strategic partners’ waste time duplicating work.

Another issue Griffiths mentioned involves competing merely on price. He says his company works on a number of very complex projects, and he often faces the challenge of explaining to price-conscious customers that quality comes with a price. He has sat in front of customers who told him he was too expensive and that, as a result, they were opting to take their business elsewhere. But then, maybe six months later, these same companies would return, because the competitor that had the lowest price failed to deliver.

During the past 10 years, CARBOGEN AMCIS has responded to the changes in the marketplace by diversifying its customer base and embracing small biopharma companies in addition to big pharma clients. Griffiths sees these smaller companies as not only being faster and more aggressive, but also more willing to strategically partner. Since they don’t have the bandwidth of their larger counterparts, they need more support — that is where strategic partnering comes in.

Griffiths stressed that now it is more important than ever to build relationships with a variety of functions within big pharma companies in order to achieve strategic partnerships, acknowledging that decision making has shifted from technical and scientific people to folks with a purchasing orientation (i.e. driven by cost). A more streamlined process for sharing information and a commitment to dialogue can go a long way in building mutually beneficial partnerships.

Having worked in both big and small pharma, I can certainly empathize with Griffiths’ opinions and insights. However, big pharma is getting plenty of things right. Just look at some of the past articles I have written on Pfizer, Lilly, Genzyme, or even this month’s feature on Merck’s Jim Robinson, VP of product and technical operations. Not only did Robinson educate me about process intimacy — see page 20, he also enlightened me on accountability via John Miller’s book, The Question Behind The Question — QBQ.