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Interview: Cavan Redmond, WebMD

The new CEO of WebMD talks to PMLiVE about his move from Pfizer
Cavan Redmond - WebMD

For a man who's spent almost his entire career in the pharmaceutical industry, former Pfizer executive Cavan Redmond may have been a surprise announcement for some as the CEO of US-based online healthcare information company WebMD in June 2012.

But as pharma companies move towards a broader healthcare solutions approach to business strategy, Redmond's appointment begins to make more sense, especially given his own personal faith in a person's ability and desire to manage his or her own healthcare through new technologies.

“Information is power, but trusted information really empowers people to make changes in their lives. So having a background in biopharma, where I've worked in marketing, R&D and consumer, and then having a chance to work in consumer space where you're trying to work with retailers and pharmacists every day, it gives you a broader understanding of the healthcare environment both in the US and elsewhere.”

…we have a generation who are growing up with an almost unlimited access to information

This background includes spells as group president, Animal Health, Consumer Healthcare and Corporate Strategy at Pfizer, president of Wyeth Consumer Healthcare (where he was recognised for leading Wyeth into biopharmaceuticals while a senior executive on the pharma side) and senior commercial R&D roles at Wyeth and roles at Sandoz, in Basel, Switzerland, and it's given him a front row view in changing attitudes to healthcare.

“Healthcare is being driven more by consumerism and the need for both physicians and patients to get real-time data on diseases, on treatment methods and on the changing healthcare environment,” says Redmond.

“Treatment options and understanding how to manage healthcare and the opportunity to impact your healthcare positively can be done using digital technology.”

Referencing the rise of the 'social mom' with her smart phone over the 'soccer mom' highlights the power such electronic tools can have in creating a “healthcare continuum”.

“What we have is a generation in front of us who are growing up with an almost unlimited access to information at their fingertips,” says Redmond.

“That same individual also wants to know the breadth of options available to them. Time is their most precious resource so what they are looking for is access to healthcare information and medicines.

“They want that continuum of care from the time they are a consumer through that of becoming a patient and they want deep understanding, so if companies can understand that, it might actually increase the efficacy rate of some products. In other cases it might reduce the time it takes for people to go see their doctor and it could create more treatment options.”

Healthcare continuum

There are issues with this drive for online information though, according to Redmond, with accuracy of data as essential as availability.

“The key is the information has to be valid,” he says. “Just any information doesn't do, so we'll see an evolution if not a revolution on validating data people are using – that's where analytics come in to it.”

It's not just a move that is confined to the more developed nations of Western Europe and the US however, and, just as with trends in the pharma industry itself, growth of this behaviour is being seen in emerging markets too.

“If you go through the streets of Shanghai you'll see not only the abundance of cellular technology but you'll see a deep understanding of how to search out data in order to ask better questions, all the way through the streets of London,” says Redmond.

“Access to medicines and the availability of medicines and treatments may vary country-to-country, but I think that on a global basis, in major countries we're seeing the general trend towards using technology to help people start their journey in healthcare.”

This rise in technology and the idea of a healthcare continuum is having a substantial impact on pharma strategy too, says Redmond. “We are in a period of tremendous change; all of us are looking at our strategy and then deploying capital based on these changes. For the first time in our industry's history, the way in which we are using technology and gathering information in healthcare is converging.”

“We'll succeed as an industry based on the robustness of our ideas – and it's this robustness that will drive the innovation that's required.”

Cavan Redmond Career Timeline

Began working in Biotechnology when Sandoz (Novartis) formed the Cytokine Development Unit. Brand marketing positions in US and Switzerland
Wyeth, Associate Director, International Marketing
Senior Vice President, Global Strategic Marketing, Wyeth
Executive Vice President and General Manager of Wyeth's high-growth BioPharma Business Unit
President, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare
Senior Vice President; Group President, Pfizer Diversified Businesses
Group President – Animal Health, Consumer Healthcare and Corporate Strategy of Pfizer Inc

Web MD's Chief Executive Officer and has served in this position since May 31, 2012

Adapting to change 

Referencing his time at Pfizer, Redmond says that the need to adapt to cope with this change in the healthcare environment is having a practical effect on the way pharma companies are run.

Referencing his time at Pfizer, Redmond says that the need to adapt to cope with this change in the healthcare environment is having a practical effect on the way pharma companies are run.

“I think that companies have to be very focused, and for Pfizer, part of that focus was unlocking value with the announcement regarding its nutritional business [which was sold to Nestlé] and its strategic look at animal health [which Pfizer plans to spin off as a standalone business].

“Those decisions, besides unlocking value for shareholders, also allow greater focus on key areas. I think every company has to go through a process where it looks at its strategy and capital allocation in order to be able to create shareholder value, and equally important, in order to be able to create medicines for the future that they can sustain their business with.”

It's a strategy that has to cover a global business, says Redmond, with companies needing to remain strong in traditional US and European markets, and not just focus on areas of emerging growth.

“I strongly believe that companies should continue to look for opportunities in emerging markets in any new market but I think that it has to be balanced with structuring the organisation and developing strategy that supports growth in the developed world.”

Key to success both in developed and emerging markets is defining and understanding unmet medical need. This in turn is driving the trend towards more specific research to create personalised medicines: a move that represents a quantum leap away from the days when scale was everything in R&D.

The future looks bright

Despite the negativity that surrounds an industry driven by patent expirations, decreasing healthcare budgets and tougher regulation, Redmond is positive that this is a good era for pharma and healthcare.

He urges that we stop reminiscing about the past – one that was far from rosy, peppered as it was with numerous R&D and commercial failures – but instead look to the future.

“At the moment there's a lot of change going on around us and many more things we have to consider when bringing new research to the marketplace. But on one hand that's more exciting, right?”

Tied in with these developments, and his time at Pfizer and now WebMD, is the progression of self-medication, an area Redmond has great experience and interest in considering his former position as Chairman of the Task Force on OTC Modernization for the World Self-Medication Industry (WSMI).  He is really interested in the decision a consumer makes before he or she becomes a patient and how insight gained from this decision-making process is pivotal to understanding the idea of consumer care.

Such understanding can enable companies to help individuals make better decisions about their own health, leading to benefits for a healthcare system, as “you're not crowding GPs with the common cold, which would quickly overwhelm the system”.

It's a process that could potentially be aided by the switch of more pharmaceutical products to OTC medicines, suggests Redmond, although it's a decision that would be down to individual companies rather than widespread regulation.

“If companies are able to take a prescription medicine and switch it – provided the benefits and the risks are appropriate – to make it more widely available without the need for a prescription, I believe they should do that.”

It might require some encouragement however, considering the different demands of each product type.

“One of the most important things I've learned between pharma and OTC is that it requires a very different skill set and very different capabilities.”

For self-care overall, the biggest challenge is that over-riding term – information.

“You want to make sure that the patient or consumer standing at the shelf, can self-diagnose, that they have the ability to make a choice and that when they are making that choice it is clear what the benefits and risks are of the products.”

If pharma is to evolve into serving this aware patient, it needs to learn from OTC and communicate to consumers using language that they understand to provide a clear and valid message about health.

It's a goal Redmond has taken with him to WebMD: a company he sees as reinforcing its position as part of the healthcare continuum while technology and behaviours evolve by targeting more locally and partnering with the right companies.

“In the US, we're the number one source that patients go to when they want to understand a disease or drug, or gather other information about treatments, from vaccines to OTCs. In order to do that, we have our own editorial and writing teams that are independent – this is what has made the brand very strong.

“We also have a number of powerful partnerships and collaborations with government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and FDA and others where we work to make sure we are able to provide information in a clear and concise way.”

These efforts have already expanded in the UK, where WebMD has collaborated with Boots since 2009 to provide consumers with healthcare information. The company also has a successful professional site in Medscape France, and the recently launched Medscape Germany for German Healthcare Professionals.

“If you have a powerful engine like WebMD to provide patients with more information in real-time as the world changes, you can have a positive impact on healthcare where healthcare dollars are significantly reduced as we go forward,” Redmond concludes.

Tom Meek


The Interviewer
Tom Meek is web editor of PMLiVE
Twitter: @tmeek87

14th September 2012

From: Sales, Marketing, Healthcare



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