May 21, 2013
The Global Transformation of Pharma: A Prescription for Canada
At this last meeting of the 2012-2013 season, we had the pleasure of welcoming Russell Williams, the president of Rx&D, as the keynote speaker. His talk focused on the unprecedented changes that the pharma industry is going through worldwide and how that applies to Canada.
He began by saying that this is an interesting, dynamic time in our industry, an industry that saves lives, improves patients’ quality of life, gets people out of hospitals quickly and invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in research. It’s an industry that does all this good and makes great discoveries, but when we look at the behaviours of governments, and the way they are working with our industry, it’s clear that they don’t understand some of the risks and challenges facing our industry. Russell said that he wasn’t sure anyone was listening to our industry anymore, even though we believe in what we do. He said he felt that in discussions there were often “a lot of glassy eyes on the other side of the table”. So why aren’t people working with us? Why aren’t we more loved?
He said that our industry needs to consider what our payers and clients are thinking. A global recession coupled with a single payer system has led to cost containment strategies and these are the sole factors driving their thought processes. They are also thinking about the looming pressure of sustainability, as there are 10 million baby boomers coming, representing one third of the population. Therefore, there’s an urgent need for change now — an unprecedented need. Unfortunately, the notion of sustainability in public health dollars has morphed itself into cost containment, which does not represent good healthcare planning.
Russell then polled the audience, asking them what percentage of public healthcare spending do pharmaceuticals account for? The answer is surprisingly low, as innovative pharmaceuticals account for only 5-6% of total spending. The take-away message from this is that the pharma industry is not the cost driver. In fact, administrators of hospitals and doctors are the fastest growing cost drivers. However, because generics have reduced their pricing over the years, private payers are changing to be more like the public sector. They are looking at issues based exclusively on cost and not on health outcomes. Russell emphasized that if we can’t change that mentality, we are going to have serious problems.
Russell quoted Winston Churchill by saying, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Words meant to inspire us to tackle the difficulties facing our industry and overcome them. He went on to provide some ideas on how to accomplish this. He said that our industry is ultimately about healthcare and patients and we can’t lose sight of that. Russell stated that he didn’t believe that our healthcare has to be an “either/or” system. He believes that, if we invest $1 in innovative medicine, we can save public money and other healthcare costs up to $7. Using innovative medicines will be part of the sustainability of our healthcare system. He also said that we have to make sure we help the payers predict what things are going to cost in the future, so we can show them how medicines will save money over the long term.
Russell continued by expressing his excitement about personalized medicine. He felt that it was an example of how a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. He mentioned biologics, specifically saying that although they are very expensive medicines, if we can show that only 100 or 1000 Canadians are going to use them, then the price is much more manageable from a payer perspective. We need to focus on getting the right medicine to the right patient at the right time.
Russell shared that the new agenda of Rx&D and our industry is focus — on sustainability and access and on strengthening Canada’s position and capacity as a preferred destination for global life science investment and research investment. He polled the audience to find out what they felt was the most important factor for attracting international Rx&D investment to Canada. 56% of the audience said that it was a combination of factors: intellectual property protection, procurement policies, regulation and quality science, and 33% responded that it was intellectual property protection.
Russell went on to explain how Rx&D is working to increase investment in Canada. He said that while Canada currently doesn’t have patent term restoration, he hopes that we can soon harmonize with Europe regarding Canada’s intellectual property, as this would result in huge increases in investment in our country. He continued by saying that Rx&D’s contribution across Canada is changing. They are going to the best universities around the country and niche companies in the industry to collaborate with them and build new relationships. The code is a basis of Rx&D’s work for collaborations and Canada is considered to be a leader in the industry because of this.
The last portion of Russell’s talk focused on how Rx&D are trying to tell their story better. They want to communicate that they’re about people and patients. One way they’re doing this is through the “Living Proof” program, which focuses on real people dealing with our medicines and their exciting stories. He finished his talk by showing a video developed for this program, which was an inspiring story of an HIV patient who was enrolled in a clinical trial when his viral load was unbelievably high. By taking the trial medication, his viral load is now undetectable and he has a new lease on life. Russell used this video to communicate that there is unprecedented discovery going on in the pharma industry and it should be a source of pride and excitement to all those who are a part of it.
Russell ended with some inspirational words for the audience. He encouraged us to continue to be passionate about what we do and be proud of our industry. He concluded by saying, “We can’t allow ourselves to become tired. We need to keep our commitment to making medicines that save lives. We are a team, we are a family.”