Tag Archives: marketing

How to Stop “Off-Label” Marketing and Sales of Prescription Drugs

I’m a little tired of reading about “off-label” promotion of prescription drugs, especially in the context of whistleblower instigated fraud cases and lawyer/patient driven product liability cases.  I’m not a lawyer but here are some solutions that would discourage inappropriate “off-label” promotion and would consume far fewer resources and certainly cost a lot less than is being spent now on litigating these types of offenses.

First, Pharma companies should not promote products for uses that are not approved by the FDA.  If a company is found guilty of “off-label” promotion, in addition to any corporate fines (which should equal total product revenues during the time of illegal promotion) , responsible individuals should be held legally accountable and convicted, with personal fines, disgorgement of incentive compensation during the time of illegal activities, and even incarceration if warranted.  No corporate settlements.  It is very likely that criminally charged front line employees directed or even trained to promote for off-label uses may be more than willing to offer up and provide evidence against culpable higher level executives who encouraged or approved of the promotion.  I’m pretty sure this would increase executive management oversight to ensure compliance.

To remove the financial incentives for “off-label” promotion, government programs (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and states) should not reimburse for unapproved uses of prescription drugs.  If the patient wants to pay for the unapproved use of a prescription drug that a physicians has prescribed, that should be their choice.  At the same time, that choice carries the liability that if something should go wrong; the only legal recourse for the patient should be to hold the prescribing physician and perhaps their healthcare provider accountable.  Because “off-label“ use is an informed decision, neither the patient nor the physician (or healthcare provider system) could sue the pharmaceutical company for any negative consequences resulting from the unapproved use.  Physicians who prescribe for unapproved uses but post a diagnosis that aligns with approved uses just so the patient can get it reimbursed would face fraud charges and be held personally liable.  Similarly, there would be no need for federal or state litigation against pharmaceutical companies for False Claims that inappropriately causing taxpayers to fund unapproved uses.

If physicians and patients have made a choice to use a product “off-label” and private payers (insurance companies, employers, or PBMs) choose to pay for the unapproved use then they should assume the same liabilities as stated above.  They are making an informed decision and the payer is agreeing with that choice by reimbursing for the unapproved use.  The patient could sue the prescribing physician, healthcare system, and perhaps the payer, but they would have no legal recourse against the pharmaceutical company should a harmful event occur from the unapproved use.

But what about all the “medically established” unapproved uses in treating things like cancer?  The same rules and legal liabilities should apply.  Physicians have the choice to prescribe, patients have the choice to take, and payers have the choice to reimburse for the unapproved use if they want to assume the liabilities with the inability to sue the pharmaceutical company.  If the medical experts, patient advocacy groups, or government programs and insurance companies feel a prescription drug should be approved and reimbursable for a particular use, they should petition the FDA and submit their clinical proof of efficacy and safety to obtain an FDA approved label claim for the product.

While preserving physician, patient, and payer choice these recommendations remove a major financial incentive (reimbursement) for pharmaceutical companies and increase the legal consequences for individuals who inappropriately promote for off-label uses of prescription drugs.  More importantly, it appropriately shifts product liability for unapproved uses to healthcare providers and payers.   www.PharmaReform.com

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

Do Prescription Drugs Add to, Shift, or Reduce Healthcare Costs?

One would think that by implying your prescription drugs keep people healthy and out of the hospital you could also imply and conclude that drug treatment will lower overall healthcare costs for those patients.  The pharmaceutical industry has implied this for decades.  And, this may actually be true in many cases but the evolving new healthcare market is becoming much less receptive to what would seem to be obvious and will be demanding more and better data to support any claims of improving clinical outcomes at lower cost.   Interestingly, some healthcare providers have already determined this is not just a pharmaceutical industry issue.

For example, pharmacists for years have claimed that they can help patients avoid medication errors and improve patient care through patient counseling and follow up.  They are often the only healthcare provider with that opportunity once a prescription is written, especially for chronic conditions.  Seems logical that pharmacists obviously play an important role here.  But then you read the recent study that suggests that mail order pharmacies may do a better job of lowering costs while improving clinical outcomes than local pharmacies.  Whether or not this study can be replicated or validated remains to be seen but it represents how it is going to be better to have data to support your position than to rely on implication.  Think about pharmacists who now are trying to make their case for improved clinical outcomes with counseling at the local pharmacy.  What data do they present to refute this mail order study?

Similarly, Express Scripts® recently reported on several research studies that demonstrate the ability of Pharmacy Benefits Managers to lower costs and improve clinical outcomes.  Again, even as part of the “managed market,” Express Scripts® felt compelled to support their benefits claims with data.

Why is this important?  Because pharmaceutical companies who still feel they can use traditional marketing and sales advertising and promotion to imply being able to lower costs while improving clinical outcomes  without actually having the data are going to have a much more difficult time convincing decision makers and selling their products.  More importantly, pharmaceutical companies that develop the real world data to support their claims for improving clinical outcomes and lowering overall healthcare costs (and not just shifting costs to another part of the healthcare system), will find a more receptive audience and create a significant competitive advantage.

We are entering a time where the healthcare market will expect you to prove (“show me the data”) that you (as a healthcare provider) or your products or services are delivering demonstrated (data driven) real world clinical outcomes that reduce overall healthcare costs.   mike@pharmareform.com



Are Pharmaceutical Marketing and Sales Targeting Pharmacists?

In an earlier post we discussed the role of the clinical pharmacist in the evolving new healthcare market.  Medication therapy management as required by CMS as a part of Medicare Part D plans is a good example of where and how pharmacists can and are expected to help improve adherence and therefore clinical outcomes while potentially lowering overall healthcare costs.  Given the healthcare failure statistics we  previously discussed it’s hard to imagine that medication therapy management really gets all that much attention from pharmacists or pharmaceutical marketers.

A recent featured article in Health Benefit News highlights the success WellPoint has experienced in a pilot program to enlist and pay pharmacists for more attentive “medication therapy management.”  They were able to demonstrate increases in adherence which not surprisingly translated to better control of disease symptoms for hypertension,  hyperlipidemia, and diabetes mellitus.   While pharmacy costs went up they also “saw a great reduction in hospitalizations.”  Overall, in the one year study, they saw cost neutral results, but concluded “it’s going to take more than a one-year time frame to see dramatic changes in cost.”

The healthcare market (with pressure from government, payers and insurers) is getting more aggressive about delivering better clinical outcomes as one way to help increase quality and lower the cost of care.  So whether it is through Accountable Care Organizations, Integrated Healthcare Systems, or just enhancing outcomes from solo or group practice settings, I believe pharmacists will play an increasingly important role in medication therapy management, especially adherence-enhancing programs.   Pharmaceutical marketers who view the retail or hospital pharmacist as merely a dispenser of medications and cursory counseling will be putting their products at risk of competitive erosion and never meeting their full commercial potential in the evolving new healthcare market.

So what’s a pharmaceutical marketer to do?

Well, how many pharmaceutical marketers have assessed (not just mentally speculated) how their product might perform in this type of a trial or study?  How many have commissioned similar types of studies?  How many marketers have partnered with healthcare provider systems to determine the adherence value (clinical outcome differences) between adherent and non-adherent patients and what the value proposition could be?  How many marketers have actually met with pharmacists about their evolving role? How many have started to work with pharmacists on developing educational programs and materials for their products?  How many have pharmacist training programs for their patient education programs?  More importantly, how many pharmacists are considered high priority calls for your sales representatives?

I think I just heard somebody say…”of course we are doing all this.”

Great.  Now, are you doing it as  just another marketing tactic?

I might suggest that if you are doing it to genuinely help patients, pharmacists, and healthcare provider systems achieve their goals, you will find a much more receptive audience, ready to embrace your efforts and make meaningful contributions to your product success without feeling compromised.      mike@pharmareform.com

Healthcare Failure Statistics can Identify ACO Opportunities for Pharmaceutical Marketing

When I first read through the 65 performance metrics outlined in the ACO draft proposal from CMS (Table 1, pages 174-194) it was easy to imagine how drug treatment could help healthcare providers in an ACO meet or exceed some of their performance expectations.  Based on studies that have already been done, including regulatory clinical trials, it is clear that making sure patients are getting the right drug, in the right dose with supportive patient education and adherence programs could have a dramatic impact on improving clinical outcomes while reducing overall healthcare costs.  But pharmaceutical marketers will want to look beyond just matching and aligning their products’ regulatory claims with these performance metrics to find the hidden opportunities to deliver maximum value and patient benefits.

Healthcare failure statistics (e.g., hospital related infections, treated but uncontrolled diseases, lack of responsiveness to treatment, complications of multi-drug treatment, and patient non-adherence to treatment) while disconcerting, have often been ignored or just taken for granted.  But, these types of numbers can give clues as to where prescription drug treatment could help healthcare providers in ACOs (or other healthcare provider systems) improve the quality of care and clinical outcomes in cost effective ways.

Across healthcare, the list of failure statistics seems never ending from clinically inappropriate drugs or dosing being prescribed to adherence related issues, outright medication errors, and patient disappointment with the explanation about discharge medications.  Even a cursory internet search of product relevant disease states will yield a wealth of failure statistics that could potentially be improved, many simply with the appropriate use of  prescription drugs.

Don’t be discouraged by the variability of the statistics for any given problem.  The precision of specific numbers is not important because at this stage you are looking for clues for where you might be able to make an improvement.  You’ll get real world hard numbers from the healthcare provider sites you work with to develop your baseline data.

You should be able to put together a disease and treatment statistical profile for each of your products.  What I am suggesting is going beyond the global numbers of patients and market shares traditionally used for determining opportunities and driving forecasts.  You need to dig deeper to find the performance improvement opportunities, the types of patients or situations that represent less than satisfactory healthcare performance.   Here are a couple of examples:


There are plenty of safe and effective prescription drug treatments available, including generic drugs.  When you take a quick look at the overall average numbers there might not seem to be much of an opportunity for significant performance improvement.  After all, 68% of adult hypertensive patients are being treated with anti-hypertensives and 64% are achieving blood pressures less than 140/90mm Hg (controlled).   But a closer look reveals that the percentage of treated patients is much low in younger patients (age 18-59), especially men (47%) and Mexican Americans (50%).  The percentage of controlled hypertension is also lower in older patients (58%) than in younger patients (72%), in general.  Insurance coverage has also been identified as a factor with 71% of uninsured hypertensive non-elderly adults uncontrolled.  More striking is that 52% of those with private and 45% with public insurance remain uncontrolled.


Again, at first glance one might find it hard to suggest there is an opportunity for performance improvement when you read that over 60% of elderly patients receive pneumococcal vaccine.  But a closer look reveals that the percentage of adults aged 65 years and over who had ever received a pneumococcal vaccination was 39.8% for Hispanic persons, 64.9% for non-Hispanic white persons, and 44.5% for non-Hispanic black persons.  More importantly, despite vaccinations and effective antibiotics there are still 52,000 deaths related to pneumonia in the US every year.


While there may be considerable opportunities realized by encouraging more patients with signs and symptoms of depression to seek treatment, here are some statistics that would suggest there are even opportunities within the treated patient population.  Only 24% of depression patients recover following 16 weeks of drug or psychotherapy and remained well during 18 months of follow-up and  50% of depressed patients treated by medication relapse within two-years.

My intent here was not to provide an exhaustive statistical profile for these diseases but rather to demonstrate that previously ignored or taken for granted healthcare failure statistics, especially those related to treatment  failure may represent new ways to help healthcare providers achieve their quality and clinical outcome performance metrics.  It may take some investigation into the reasons behind some of these numbers but if they are patient selection, dosing, or adherence related, you could be onto something.

Developing a useful value proposition and supportive data will require identifying the specific failure-based  statistic opportunities and then determining with provider systems which improvements will make a difference for them and what data could be developed to demonstrate meaningful improvements.  Keep in mind, healthcare provider systems will now have electronic medical records to help track and follow interventions (e.g., education and adherence programs) and patient responses to treatment.

Again, this goes beyond marketing your regulatory claims for safety and efficacy.  It also takes some research beyond traditional market profiling in a marketing plan.  It will require creativity to interpret the ACO performance metrics in the context of how your products will be assessed and how your product might be able to improve some of the relevant healthcare failure statistics.  These healthcare system improvements in quality or clinical outcome performance metrics not only benefit patients but could have significant financial implications for healthcare providers.  mike@pharmareform.com

Getting Accountable Care Organizations to Promote your Prescription Drugs

In the previous post we discussed the CMS proposed ACO concept for developing healthcare provider systems that engage individual healthcare providers with “shared savings” incentives to improve the quality of care delivery and clinical outcomes as defined by 65 performance metrics.

Some pharmaceutical industry executives, healthcare providers, and even patients may view these performance metrics as a biased, bureaucratic process for defining medical practice and imposing the “cheapest, least expensive” treatment options.

Whether or not the ACO concept survives in its current form is not important, but rather, I believe it represents the next level of managing healthcare delivery that can not be ignored.   I believe the draft ACO concept also represents an important new context for how pharmaceutical companies need to be looking at developing, marketing, and selling their prescription drugs.  Here’s why…

For decades the pharmaceutical industry has boasted about cost savings, cost-effectiveness, and the pharmacoeconomic value of prescription drug treatment.  Professing that prescription drugs can reduce overall healthcare costs by avoiding the ancillary costs associated with chronic diseases, reducing office visits, keeping people out of the hospital, and most importantly, preventing and curing diseases.  And despite the industry’s best efforts, these claims and propositions have seemed to nebulous, lacking in credible data, and therefore mostly fell on deaf ears within traditional healthcare provider systems.

In an ACO-type healthcare delivery system, these value propositions have real meaning, especially as they relate to the defined performance metrics.  With electronic medical records, insurers, payors, and providers will now have more robust information systems to track and report performance of prescription drugs and validate the value propositions in their own healthcare system.  That means marketing and research must be aware of how their products will now be assessed against these performance metrics and design clinical trials that go well beyond establishing regulatory claims for efficacy and safety.

Getting your product identified as a “treatment of choice” in a performance metric would be the ideal and almost assure commercial success for a prescription drug in that healthcare system.  In fact, pharmaceutical companies who align their products and deliver data driven proof for improving healthcare delivery performance metrics as defined by ACOs will find healthcare provider systems more than willing to encourage the use of their products over other, less performance impacting therapeutic options.  Rather than trying to find ways to limit the use of seemingly expensive new products, this new perspective provides rationale for healthcare provider systems to proactively promote the use of prescription drugs that can help them meet or exceed their performance goals in a cost-effective way.

In the next post we’ll explore how healthcare statistics can provide an interesting platform for driving prescription drugs in this new performance metric, ACO-type healthcare provider market.   mike@pharmareform.com

Pharmaceutical Industry Implications of Accountable Care Organization Performance Metrics

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has prompted CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) in the US to draft a proposal for establishing Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s).  This draft proposal outlines a concept for enrolling patients into healthcare provider systems (local networks of hospitals, physicians, laboratories, etc) to coordinate a continuum of care to keep patients healthy and to better manage their diseases for improved clinical outcomes at lower cost.

Included in this proposal are 65 performance metrics (Table 1, pages 174-194); specific quality and clinical outcome measures of care delivery.  Healthcare providers in an ACO will be required to track, record, and report their performance against these metrics to qualify for what’s called “Shared Savings” …  financial rewards … or essentially bonuses for meeting or exceeding these performance metrics, but they’ll also be subject to financial penalties for delivering expensive care or under-performance against these metrics.

What kinds of metrics are we talking about?

Well … some are more general … like the use of survey results to capture for example;

  • The  level of satisfaction with physician – patient communications
  • patient feedback about their provider experiences
  • And whether or not the healthcare system has best practice processes in place like patient education, the extent of electronic medical records, and the use of e-prescibing

Other performance metrics are clinically oriented and much more quantitative, for example;

  • The number of readmissions following hospitalization
  • Healthcare acquired conditions (e.g., surgical or catheter related infections, pressure ulcers)
  • The percentage of patients vaccinated or being treated with specifically identified treatments of choice ( e.g., beta-blockers, ACE- inhibitors, or ARB therapy for heart failure patients with Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction, warfarin for patients with atrial fibrillation)
  • or the percentage of patients controlling their hypertension, blood glucose if they’re diabetics, or controlling their cholesterol levels

The ACO performance metrics go well beyond the tracking and reporting requirements hospitals now capture in their quality systems.   More importantly, these performance metrics are more likely to get the attention of healthcare system administrators and individual healthcare providers because they will be held financially accountable for delivering against these metrics.

While there is considerable debate about, and even resistance to,  the details of the draft proposal and uncertainty as to whether or not CMS can actually implement the ACO concept, this should not create a “wait and see” mentality for pharmaceutical marketing and sales.  The ACO draft proposal should be viewed as a feasible strawman proposal which will foster pilot programs at a few healthcare provider systems and will certainly elicit commentary and alternative proposals as to how to hold healthcare providers accountable for delivering higher quality care at lower cost.

In an earlier post we discussed the pharmaceutical sales and marketing challenges created by the complexity of ACO organizational structures and decision making processes. In our next post we’ll explore how this ACO concept and the 65 performance metrics could actually provide a platform to help drive revenues for pharmaceutical companies in this evolving new healthcare market.   mike@pharmareform.com

Successful Pharmaceutical Marketing needs the Support of Clinical Pharmacists

The increasingly influential role of clinical pharmacists in the evolving new healthcare market represents an opportunity for pharmaceutical marketers.   At the same time, to take advantage of this opportunity, pharmaceutical marketers will need to redesign their commercialization strategies and tactics.  Clinical pharmacists are not going to be receptive to traditional marketing and sales tactics.

Pharmaceutical marketers who lack sophistication and try to merely enroll clinical pharmacists as their sales advocates will be woefully disappointed.  Clinical pharmacists are well educated, well informed, and very analytical when it comes to evaluating therapeutic treatment options.  They have an insatiable need for clinical data to support not only efficacy and safety but also the value proposition for a product.

Pharmaceutical marketers should spend some time understanding the different roles clinical pharmacists might play in the evolving healthcare system and better determine the information needs and evaluation criteria used for assessing products in therapeutic categories that pertain to their marketed products.  More importantly, pharmaceutical marketers should understand the best ways for packaging and presenting their product information so as to assist clinical pharmacists with their product evaluations, presentations, and fulfilling their clinical responsibilities.

Assuming you have a high demand product that fills a significant unmet medical need, clinical pharmacists can play a critical role in making sure your product is available in their healthcare system, is a part of treatment guidelines and highlighted in any e-prescribing support systems they use to encourage appropriate use.  They can facilitate educational programs for physicians and patients to ensure that the right patients are considered for your product, are aware of any potential safety issues, and reinforce the value of your product relative to other therapeutic options.  Clinical pharmacists are also well qualified to be clinical care coordinators in Accountable Care Organizations, and are organizationally well positioned to ensure patient compliance and adherence while monitoring and tracking the financial benefits derived from appropriate use of the product.

So tactically, what does this mean for pharmaceutical marketers?  Here are some things to consider.  Who will be making your product presentations to ensure product inclusion on formularies and securing reimbursement?  Do they have the credibility and training necessary to discuss the clinical data and value proposition (e.g., outcomes and quality metric implications) without having to refer questions to the company Medical Affairs department?  Do you have a user-friendly, comprehensive product dossiers with any efficacy, safety, or value claims (including outcomes and quality metric implications) supported by published clinical data?  Can you provide clinical trial designs and templates for doing comparative efficacy trials for your product?   Can you customized your healthcare provider and patient education materials  for specific healthcare systems?  Are you ready with electronic medical records integration technology and patient care support apps for mobile devices (think e-prescribing and adherence support)?  Can you help with customized electronic models for tracking and analyzing improvement in outcomes and quality metrics consistent with the healthcare provider system goals and objectives?

Reception of these tactics will depend on the healthcare provider system and the clinical pharmacists but also the quality and value of the products and tactics being made available.  The key is for pharmaceutical marketing to align with and embrace the needs of clinical pharmacists and find ways to help healthcare provider systems accomplish their goals and objectives in this evolving new healthcare market.  Pharmaceutical marketers who figure this out can create a significant competitive advantage and enhance revenue growth, assuming they have the innovative products, the data to support their claims, and tactics that are supportive and embraced by healthcare provider systems.


The Clinical Pharmacist: A Powerful Role in Accountable Care Organizations

The clinical pharmacist has gradually evolved in influence from the early 1980’s to a new point of power with healthcare reform, especially in anticipation of Accountable Care Organizations.  While some may have an extended clinical role out of their community pharmacy (e.g., nursing home services), I’m not talking about the dispensing pharmacist behind the counter at your local pharmacy.  I’m talking about the highly trained drug treatment specialists with extensive clinical experience who now play an even more influential role in the increasingly managed healthcare delivery system.

I’m talking about the clinical pharmacists who evaluate and make formulary recommendations for treatment options within large healthcare systems, managed care, Pharmacy Benefits Managers, government agencies (think CMS), and at healthcare insurance companies.  I’m talking about clinical pharmacists who are rounding in the hospital with attending physicians; monitoring, evaluating, and consulting on drug treatment. And, I’m talking about clinical pharmacists who are delivering and managing chemotherapy and other intravenous drug treatments in the outpatient or home health settings.

Clinical Pharmacy’s power comes from the ability to influence formularies and reimbursement decisions, draft treatment guidelines, and recommend treatment choices.  They are frequently involved in clinical trials and may find themselves increasingly involved in designing, executing, and evaluating “comparative effectiveness” studies.

More importantly, clinical pharmacists could be in the best position of healthcare providers to monitor and manage patient compliance and adherence to treatment, ensuring that treatment outcomes and quality metrics improve, and patients realize the full benefit of drug treatment after the prescription has been written.

The intensifying cost consciousness of the managed healthcare market being driven by healthcare reform and the opportunity for financial incentives from Accountable Care Organizations will further elevate the relevance, importance, and value of the drug treatment expertise of the clinical pharmacist.

It is important for pharmaceutical marketers to understand and appreciate the increasingly influential role of the clinical pharmacist in the evolving new healthcare market.  See why in the next post.  mike@pharmareform.com

Branded Prescription Drugs at Generic Drug Prices

Over 70% of prescriptions today are filled with generic drugs.  Once a branded product loses patent protection, they experience generic erosion and a rapid decline in market share of prescriptions.  With the healthcare market becoming increasingly more managed (think government, insurers, and Pharmacy Benefits Managers) and the dramatic difference in price (generic drugs being significantly less expensive) it doesn’t take long for generic drugs to replace branded products in the market.

But …  what would happen if the branded product manufacturers (Big Pharma) started to “match generic drug prices” once their product patents expired?   As generic drugs of the branded product come to market, the branded product matches their price or even prices slightly lower than the generic drug to preserve their market share.    Surely, nobody could be a lower cost manufacturer than the innovator, brand manufacturer.

Let’s think about this. The branded company development costs are well behind them.  Manufacturing facilities, equipment, and staff are already in place.  Training, quality systems, and regulatory compliance requirements are also in place.  Operational efficiencies have been honed over years of production.  Branded manufacturers can certainly negotiate at least as good a terms on API (active pharmaceutical ingredients), packaging, and supplies as the generic drug companies.  And while branded manufacturers may have higher “overhead expenses” that’s an accounting allocation issue.  Building a patient base, marketing, sales, and supply chain logistics are already in place for the branded product.

The generic drug company on the other hand has to develop the generic product (formulation and establishing bioequivalence can be challenging), purchase and set up manufacturing capabilities (or retool what they have), source API, packaging, and supplies, put in place new manufacturing SOPs (standard operating procedures) and regulatory required quality processes.  They have to hire and train new personnel (or at least retrain current staff), develop their regulatory filing, and secure FDA approval.  They may even have to challenge the patent validity of the innovator product.  And once approved, they have to market to and negotiate with the supply chain and the managed market.  In the end, these are all new costs for generic drug companies that have to be covered in the price of their new product entry.

In the past, branded products matching generic drug prices would have meant leaving money on the table and forfeiting profits as generic drugs gradually made their way into the market over a period of years.  Today, however, it only takes a matter of months before a majority of branded prescriptions drugs can be converted to generics.

I’m sure somebody has already done the math on this from a Big Pharma profitability perspective but I still believe that “matching generic drug prices” could have value for patients and Big Pharma.   Matching generic drug prices would preserve a large patient base of lifetime revenue (albeit at lower margins) for the branded product.  It also rewards loyal patients with lower prices for the same drugs they may have been taking for years. It would certainly make it easier and more efficient for healthcare providers, patients, and the managed market in that there would be no reason to worry about changing patient prescriptions.   And, while Big Pharma might view this as “throwing in the towel” ,  this approach would be a challenging “game changer” for the generic drug industry.  mike@pharmareform.com