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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

Is there a doctor in the house?

We hear much talk about the future of pharma being focused on producing more innovative medicines and reaching new markets. But the key players in the industry within Europe have something else on their minds…

You'd have had to be from another planet not to realise that one of the biggest topics of the day is not how to produce better or more innovative medicines faster, or how to reach new markets, but how to cut as many costs as possible, as quickly as possible. And in a world where the rules have changed and the centre of gravity shifted no one can argue against this logic – it has to be done. But what happens when the quest for cost reduction and containment directly results in lower efficiency and increased indirect costs?

The recent trend to slash medical departments (along with other reductions), while not universal, is happening at many companies. The move is either to make do with a much-reduced number of permanent staff or even to outsource the medical function to external consultants. This cost-saving approach appears to be one efficiency that can backfire.

As I talk to many of the key players in the industry across Europe both on the agency and industry side I am staggered by the common issues that this change has caused. Timelines, stretched to breaking point by the lack of available resource for medical approvals, adds costs in terms of the resource needed to make up the shortened time available, increases the risk of mistakes, and decreases the time available for planning and making the materials as effective and as creative as possible. The cost of the reduction in the effectiveness of rushed materials is not easily quantifiable but is nonetheless very real.

This reduction in effectiveness is sometimes further exaggerated by the increasing reluctance of some time-short medical departments and external medical consultants to give final medical clearance until the very last moment. Whereas in the past, medical could be involved all the way through the development of the project, increasingly we see involvement or engagement only when final sign-off makes that engagement absolutely necessary. With little background or time to check up on some of the reasons why the project was developed in the way it was, it's little wonder that sometimes ideas, data and claims that are legitimate and could enhance target audience understanding, get rejected. And it's likely that external consultants – while doing a great job – may be less motivated to provide added-value or creative solutions when genuine problems do arise.

Perhaps its time for the industry to take a closer look at the true consequences of some of the across-the-board, direct cost-reductions and start to figure in some of the additional indirect costs, and loss of revenue due to less effective marketing communications. Most companies are looking at sales and marketing efficiency, but maybe factoring communication effectiveness and including the impact of medical review on this might be the lifesaving operation needed at a very critical time.

Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

27th October 2011

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