Keep Calm and Sell Drugs: Your New Daily Affirmation?

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Call it the pharma marketer's daily affirmation. This month's cover line, Keep Calm and Sell Drugs, is designed to give our readers a little mantra to help them get through turbulent times.

To be sure, anything borrowing from the well-known “Keep Calm” genre should not be construed as advice. The doctor is definitely not in.

But even this tongue-in-cheek message happens to contain a kernel of truth. To see what I mean, read our annual Pharma Report. You'll see an industry in perpetual transition — pipelines drying up, patent cliffs on blockbusters coming due, cost and pricing pressures ratcheting up. It's not all that different from 2010, actually. And yet spending on medicines in the U.S. increased 6% last year.

So, while we don't suggest you affix this aphorism permanently to the walls or tattoo it on your shoulder, it's not all that far off from what industry pros are probably telling themselves as they navigate the numerous factors impacting their business.

Read the 2017 Pharma Report

Much sager words — not to mention some honest-to-goodness advice — could be heard in the keynote address of Dr. Gautam Gulati, the keynote speaker at last month's MM&M Transforming Healthcare conference.

Going beyond the pill has been held up as a pathway to breaking free of that familiar narrative of parched pipelines and exploding patents. But we've been taking about going “X Pill” for a number of years and made very little progress, Gulati observed.

Company cultures geared toward creating and maximizing shareholder value are to blame, Gulati said, as well as an inability to keep up with the pace of innovation: digital diagnostics and therapeutics, robotics, and the internet of medical things. “We're at this juncture where we're having this ‘oh shit' moment,” he quipped.

Gulati went on to offer a multi-step, common-sense approach:

Explore the interstitium. Live in the patient's reality, not just your own. “Put aside the MBA notion of looking for a problem to solve and building a product against it,” he urged. “That's OK, but don't do it at the expense of experiences designed for people.”

Close the 99% gap. That is, the 99% of the time when we're not engaged directly with the healthcare system. One idea: “Flip the Clinic.” Instead of spending the clinical visit on data gathering, use it for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.

Design for variation. In a world of personalization and precision, we need to understand the variations truly embedded within the individual. Design for variations, not standardizations.

See also: Pharma faces its 'oh, shit' moment

Rethink the “go big or go home” mentality: Rather than “the next killer app,” the most impactful things might be right in front of our eyes.

Beware the “super chickens”: In an experiment pitting a cohort of expert egg-laying chickens against an average one, the latter took top prize because the former group pecked themselves to death. The lesson? Experts are important, but they often come with a resistant attitude. Include patients and a variety of other voices among your KOLs.

Consider these five steps a way for industry to change its mindset. And if you like, try out our little “Keep Calm” mantra. It may help you get through your next company meeting, or just elicit a chuckle by the watercooler.


Marc Iskowitz is editor in chief of MM&M. 

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