In the realm of cliché, the concept of “patient-centricity” has become ubiquitous in pharma/biotech circles. Visit any pharma or biotech website, click on the “About Us” or “Company Mission” page, and you’ll find language that attests to the company’s dedication to patients, or to “meeting patient needs,” or to “putting patients first.” In an industry that highly values differentiation, the similarity of every company’s patient-centric language is somewhat surprising. What’s more, the emphasis on patients starts to ring hollow when one considers the actual behavior of many pharma and biotech companies.
The scandal surrounding Martin Shkreli, the embattled head of Turing Pharmaceuticals, prompts my focus on pharma/biotech claims of patient-centricity. Replete with accusations of price-gouging and securities fraud, the Shkreli scandal is one of the most lurid to hit the industry in several years. With the headlines flying back and forth across the media, I thought I’d visit the Turing website to see what it says about patients. Sure enough, Turing’s home page describes the company as “a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company focusing on patients with unmet medical needs. We are dedicated to helping patients, who often have limited or no effective treatment options, by developing and commercializing innovative treatments for serious diseases and conditions across a broad range of therapeutic areas.”
But at least Shkreli was being honest when he recently commented that his “only mistake” was in not raising the price of Daraprim even higher. I’d like to see other biopharma CEOs come clean about their paramount focus on profits. Such honesty might damage many corporate reputations, and upset the general public, but at least we’d get a truer, more transparent indication of these companies’ motives.
To be fair, just about every pharma and biotech company I’ve consulted for has been populated by many high-level executives who have seemed truly dedicated to helping patients, and whose passion for meeting patients’ needs has been contagious. I do not doubt their sincerity for a second. However, when push comes to shove in the boardroom, it seems the profit motive always wins. Whenever a company’s bottom-line decision ends up benefiting patients, it seems merely a coincidence. Shkreli’s declaration of responsibility to his shareholders may be an unpleasant truth, but at least it’s honest.
I fully expect to receive howls of protest from individuals within and outside of the industry, attesting to various companies’ pure motives and good works. I am, in fact, quite willing to be convinced of these companies’ devotion to patients; it would be refreshing to hear more good news from an industry awash in accusations of greed. But my point is that it’s hard these days to shake the image of an industry in which profits appear to trump patients, in case after case. If companies were more up-front about their own profit motives, perhaps we’d all be better informed.
While we’re on the topic of honesty, here’s another thing I’ve learned: Whenever a pharma/biotech company claims to have a collaborative culture, in which everyone’s opinion is valued, what that actually means is that the only person whose opinion really matters is the CEO.
But I don’t mean to make this a snarky solstice. I hope you enjoy this holiday season, and I wish you a happy and productive 2016!