Anthony Hooper says being in charge of US marketing for Bristol-Myers Squibb is the best job in the world…and he should know.

After joining in 1996, the South Africa native started a 17-year odyssey. He began by running Australia, then was put in charge of Northern Europe. After a tour in Asia, the firm handed him Intercontinental, which includes Asia, the Middle East/Africa and South America. Hooper landed Europe next and then, finally, the United States. Grand total: 157 countries.

“That leaves only Antarctica,” jokes Hooper.

America has proved his toughest challenge: “I used to always say, jokingly, that running the US was one of the easiest jobs. I’ve been eating my words for three years.”

That’s not humble pie he’s dining on; Hooper’s methods have proven sound. About five years ago, BMS arrived at the position many companies now face, enduring patent expiries on major drugs such as Glucophage for diabetes and Taxol for cancer. The firm decided to focus its therapeutic strategy on addressing unmet medical needs.

In the last four years, the 10th biggest drug company by sales (as of 2005) has become what some might call the ultimate specialty company, bringing eight new products to market which are not classic primary care medicines: Abilify (psychosis), Reyataz (HIV), Erbitux (oncology), Baraclude (hepatitis B), Orencia (arthritis), Emsam (depression), Sprycel (oncology) and Atripla (HIV).

While partnering has enabled his firm to stay competitive within primary care, Hooper has taken a targeted approach on specialist launches, making use of fewer reps. Baraclude was launched with a sales team of 30.

Another strategy: allowing sales reps to carry more than one product. The 140-person virology force details Reyataz, Sustiva and Atripla. Sprycel was launched by adding it to the bag of reps already selling Erbitux. “That has really allowed us to maximize usage,”  explains Hooper.
Hooper has stayed cool in crisis. Last year Canadian generics company Apotex briefly launched a generic form of BMS blockbuster Plavix, flooding the US market. BMS and partner Sanofi-Aventis won a court injunction stopping new sales, but the court didn’t order a recall. BMS upped DTC advertising. In addition to efforts to improve Plavix use in hospitals, Hooper also began incentivizing his team for prescription growth.

Third-quarter prescriptions for brand and generic increased 13%. Hooper doesn’t fear that many of those were for the copycat version. “The important thing was to maintain position and usage of the brand,” he says.

Plavix soon may be the only brand left, but its patent is being contested in a case slated to start last month. BMS says it’s confident in the patent’s validity. In the wake of the Plavix episode, which also led to a federal probe over a side deal with Apotex, BMS ousted Peter Dolan and replaced him with Jim Cornelius as CEO.

Later, it inked a $500-million settlement with the government over pricing and past marketing practices along with a corporate integrity agreement. Cornelius, looking to burnish BMS’s image, has a kindred spirit in Hooper, who began his career as a criminal prosecutor.

“Integrity and credibility are the most important things we need to have and for people to believe in,” says the husband and father of two. “We have a huge responsibility to bring drugs to market that meet unmet medical needs, drugs that have a fine balance between efficacy and safety, and the [responsibility] then to make sure physicians understand how to treat patients.”

The company refrains from DTC ads for a year post product launch, allowing time to educate professionals about the products. The timeout also ensures patients are accessing the right data online.

“People will want you to be an organization that can be trusted, an organization they can turn to for advice and for guidance,” Hooper says. For a healthcare company, that means more than just the bottom line. “We’re in this game for the long term.”

Anthony Hooper
Pres., US pharma, wrldwd. med. grp.; exec. cmte.
Bristol-Myers Squibb

BMS gen. mgr., Australia/ NZ, to pres., Europe, ME & Africa, wrdlwd. med. grp.

From criminal attny. to asst. vp, marketing, Wyeth Labs