What Pharma Can Learn From World Cup Soccer

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  • 07/15/2014
Pharma companies have to take a page from the World Cup champion German soccer team and stay on offense about innovation.. all the time.    As the Wall Street Journal notes:

“After years of timid, low-scoring play, that one word has become the theme of Brazil's World Cup. When the history of this tournament is written, the sport's cognoscenti will likely point to it as an event that changed the game. The finalists, Germany and Argentina, have survived the most offense-oriented tournament of the modern era, a series of games where playing defensively almost guaranteed an early exit.”

Pharma could learn a lot from the World Cup champion German club.   Stay on offense. 

Last night I attended a dinner hosted by Poppy McDonald the publisher of The National Journal to discuss what “value” means to various health care interests.   Attendees included Chris Jennings, who advised both the Clinton and Obama administrations on health care reform, John Rother, the former head of policy for AARP (and now CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care), Nancy Ennis-Davenport who is the CEO of National Patient Advocacy Foundation and Alex Wayne, who writes about health care for Bloomberg.  Julie Rovner led the discussion. 

It was a lively group and the discussions were spirited and friendly.  The conversation quickly turned to and focused on the price of Solvadi and whether it was reasonable or not. 

I was struck by how, for the most part, few at the table thought in terms of what Solvadi would replace, how much money it would save relative to the cost of treating people with liver disease, the horrible side effects of current treatments and how a 12 week cure could and would affect productivity, disability costs, etc., etc. 

And while there was a lot of moaning about drug prices, there was scant discussion about the price of liver transplants, bone marrow grafts, intensive care, etc. 

Innovator drug firms have usually done a lousy job thinking about or making the case for the value of their products.  But even when they are good at it, they are not consistently making the case.  Too often they are on defense, using lobbyists to fend off regulation with apologies and explanations about the price of drugs.

And by playing defense, pharma, more than ever, is in danger of being booed and reviled.  The audience expects both sides to mount an offense.  Thus, “A team that dared to play passively for even the briefest period of a match was guaranteed to hear derisive howls from the Brazilian crowds, no matter how hot and humid it was or how tactically intelligent slowing down the game might have proven.
"Every team has realized you need a balance, that you need to attack and defend," said Avram Grant, the former manager of the English club Chelsea. "If all you do is defend, you lose."

All pharma does is play defense. At it’s peril. That’s what the dinner discussion about Solvadi and the World Cup showed me.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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