Thinking outside the bag

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The chilly morning commutes into the office, and the dark journeys home, are evidence enough that fall has set in. But it's not only the seasons and the leaves that are changing. There are plenty of shifts taking place in pharma, too. It's our duty to cover these, and the November issue of MM&M is full of them.

While this month's cover story, “Pharma's Got A Brand New Bag,” is unlikely to induce a James Brown-esque, I-feel-good factor among traditional sales reps, it's a strong signal of commitment to change by one large pharma company.

GlaxoSmithKline, the company in question, is realigning its sales operation, very broadly shifting emphasis from primary care to specialty and adopting a more qualitative, outcomes-based approach.

The crunch at the rep level is GSK's announcement that it will no longer base reps' bonuses on sales targets but on the service they deliver. Outcomes will be king. And while the details of the plan, which comes into play in 2011, are still being thrashed out, reps will be assessed in part by customer feedback and how well they embody the company's values. Does this mean that, in pharma, “sales” has become a dirty word? And are target-based bonuses about to go the way of the branded tchotchke?

As it happens, reps may not even be called reps anymore; instead, titles such as “account managers” and “medical scientific liaisons” are already being bandied about within the orange-adorned quarters of Research Triangle Park, all part of a movement to “retrofit the sales organization to a marketplace that's changed vastly,” as Matthew Arnold puts it.

Of course, GSK is not the only pharma company fiddling with the foundations of its field force. The dearth of new products in the past few years, the demise of the blockbuster and our arrival at the edge of the patent cliff —underwritten by the industry-wide admission that the number reps is just too damn many—has sent pharma sales strategists into overdrive, searching for new ways to trim the flab, other than simply trimming the flab (although that was a useful start).

Pfizer, for example, has abandoned its top-down approach in favor of deploying regionalized sales forces, while AstraZeneca, fresh from pulling the plug altogether on personal promotion for older drugs like Nexium, has just launched live video detailing online in support of its arthritis drug, Vimovo. In the case of the latter, those people formerly known as reps are called “account specialists.”

It's not just the sales function that's changing, however. In “Bold School," Marc Iskowitz delves deep into the debate over commercial support for continuing medical education and talks with Dr. Ronald Vender, chief medical officer for the Yale Medical Group, who is bucking the trend away from pharma-funded programs with a strong argument in favor of industry support —but only in the right situations.

For us at MM&M, the big change was moving our annual Awards shows to a decadent new venue at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York—and what a move that turned out to be. You can read about the winning entries in the Awards supplement, bagged with this issue, plus you can see photos from this spectacular evening. There are more photos on our website ( along with heat-of-the-moment interviews with winners. Congratulations to all of you and thanks to everyone who came—it was a fantastic night and I for one can't wait for the next one!
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