Desperate measures

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James Chase
James Chase

When Bob Marley wrote Three Little Birds (“Don't worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright,”) he clearly hadn't foreseen the magnitude of the storm that continues to batter the pharmaceutical industry in 2012.

A recent study by PharmaIQ, called “The Big Pharma Recession Report” found that 44% of drug company execs are worried about losing their jobs. The sad part is, as stupendously large and depressing as that number might be, its shock value has been heavily diluted by the constant flow of bad news from all corners of the industry.

Tales of downsizing and consolidation have come so thick and fast that we have almost become numb to the numbers. Abbott, Takeda and Novartis started the year with a few thousand job cuts between them, while last month AstraZeneca culled more than 7,000 of its workforce. And as the numbers continue to grow, you can almost feel an industry-wide acceptance that every little thing most definitely ain't gonna be alright for some time.

The PharmaIQ study found that 60% of employees who are working in downsized departments said the same amount of work is now being done by fewer people. “Doing more with less” is alive and well, it seems.

Unfortunately, this is something pharma market researchers know only too well (Did you think market research departments would somehow be protected from the elements?). The latest numbers from TGaS Advisors show that the in-house market research headcount has dropped sharply in the past year; conversely, the workload per capita has continued to increase. The result, says our March cover star, Sanofi's Todd Francis, is that “you become less able to think about what you need to be doing next and more focused on the questions that are being asked (by marketers).” Essentially, it's a resource-enforced shift from proactive to reactive. That can't be good for a department charged with predicting things.

It gets worse, I'm afraid. Exclusive, new data from this year's State of the Industry Survey—the annual collaboration between TGaS and the Pharmaceutical Marketing Research Group (PMRG)—uncovers several more disturbing trends for the discipline.

First, respondents report there are gaps in research in many of the areas where funding could potentially increase, such as payer research and analysis, and the evolution of secondary data (especially in devices).

Second, client-vendor relationships may be deteriorating: vendors report a reduction in the clarity of RFPs and pharmas' understanding of research techniques, while pharmas report a reduction in the quality of proposals and vendors' understanding of business objectives.

On top of all that, researchers are sensing a waning influence within their organizations.  Suddenly, the discipline that is well-versed in showing value for business decisions must now demonstrate its own worth. And the consequences of standing still could be dire. “If we don't evolve,” warns Merck's Praveen Advani, “market research could be outsourced and the function as we know it today could soon be obsolete.” Consider the gauntlet well and truly thrown down.

Okay, that's enough bad news. There is still life in this industry, not to mention some great work. Which reminds me, you have until April 13 to submit your entries to the MM&M Awards 2012. If you want some help, you'll find numerous tips and insight from 16 of our recent judges on pages 28-29. After all, if you are going to enter, then enter like you mean it.
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