Divining the Future from JP Morgan Healthcare Conference Presentations

The J P Morgan Healthcare Conference is, among other things, an annual four days of back to back 30 minute presentations by Pharma, biotech, device companies, CROs, and a diversity of healthcare institutions.  C-level presenters, mostly CEOs, trying to persuade analysts and potential investors that they have the business model designed for increasing shareholder value, some bolstered by forward looking statement disclaimed historically based promises for product approvals, revenue and earnings growth,  dividends, and stock buy backs.

The conference is the premiere healthcare conference in the industry and has become “old home week” for industry executives to reconnect, schmooze, and initiate discussions for potential deals.  Getting an invitation is near impossible if you are not among the presenting companies or on the JP Morgan A-list.  I am neither, so I spent last week listening to all the webcasts that are available for the Pharma and biotech company presentations.

Perhaps the single most stunning, yet less obvious (non- investor perspective) “take away” for me was how rapidly Big Pharma is moving away from Primary Care.  With almost 75% of prescriptions now being filled with generic drugs, the trend may not be that surprising.  What is surprising is that the pace of proactive strategic abandonment of Primary Care is far more dramatic than what I believe most people in the industry would want to admit or even realize.

This trend really got my attention when companies with traditional Primary Care portfolios blatantly stated or clearly outlined that they have strategically refocused their pipelines and commercialization efforts to target specialty markets.  With very few exceptions, company presentations were absent references to products or commercial strategies targeting the Primary Care market.  Oncology, neurology, psychiatry, rheumatology, and dermatology seem to be the focus of attention unless you had a Hepatitis C compound in your pipeline.

Again, the interest in specialty products is not surprising.  They command higher prices, yielding higher margins with less onerous managed market intervention into prescribing practices.   From a commercial perspective, specialists represent a smaller, more easily targeted and sales force friendly customer base.   Specialty market physicians and their patients also seek out and are more receptive to disease and treatment information making promotional education a viable and efficient tactic.

The implications of this trend away from Primary Care are clear.  Fewer sales reps needed for calling on Primary Care.  Less need for expensive Primary Care sales and marketing support activities such as purchasing mass market prescription data, coordinating the complexities of territory management and sales reporting, and dealing with sales force related employee relations issues.  It also means fewer industry sponsored educational programs for Primary Care.  Fewer Primary Care clinical trials.   And,  fewer new Primary Care products means Primary Care physicians and their patients will have to be satisfied and content with the treatment options currently available to them.

The real message here is that while Primary Care has been at the foundation of Big Pharma growth and financial success in the past and there may well be exceptions in the future, the importance and interest of Primary Care to Big Pharma is diminishing quickly.  If your expertise or responsibilities include pharmaceutical sales and marketing to the Primary Care market, I believe your days are numbered and you probably have fewer days than you might think.  Specialty products and markets are where the action is and where the industry is headed and it is moving fast.   mike@pharmareform.com

Let Pfizer Compete in the Generic Market with Lipitor®

In a previous post we discussed the opportunity for Big Pharma companies to potentially preserve market share for their brands by competing with generic versions on price once their products lose market exclusivity.  Pfizer seems to have taken this strategic concept to a new level.  First cutting deals with Pharmacy Benefits Managers to make Lipitor® available at or below generic drug prices, then turning around and also providing discount coupons to lower patient co-pays for example from $10 for generic drugs to $4 for Lipitor.

Pfizer’s aggressive approach to “competing “ in this market has been met with considerable negative commentary and even Congressional inquiry.  Interestingly, Pharmacy Benefits Managers and their trade association (Pharmaceutical Care Management Association), the same groups that use and advocate similar tactics to encourage generic drug use,  are on the front lines of criticizing the Pfizer co-pay discount tactic.  The contention is that the Pfizer campaign will cost insurance companies and employers more,  even if patients benefit from a lower out of pocket cost.   And some of those in Congress have expressed concern,  wonder if the discounts provided by Pfizer will be passed along to insurers and employers or be pocketed by the PBMs.

Well, if there was such a thing as a “free, open market” there might be a simple answer to this.  Let the market decide.  If Pfizer wants to price their products similar or even lower than their generic competitors,  they can.  If patients want to use the discount coupons to lower their co-pays,  they can.  If generic drug companies want to provide co-pay discount coupons,  they can.  If the PBMs, and their insurance company and employer partners,  want to lower or even eliminate their co-pays for generic drugs, they can.

If this is really about “price” and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, especially for a particular product, within regulatory quality standards, let the low cost producer and provider with the lowest price win.  Why shouldn’t branded product manufacturers be able to compete on price in the generic drug market, if they want to?  m ike@pharmareform.com