Biopharma Changes Along with Economy

A panel of Chicago Booth alumni examined provisions in the economic stimulus package that will affect the biopharmaceutical industry, from incentives to computerized health records to attempts to make health care treatments more affordable.

Alumni also talked about effects of the economic downturn. The panel discussion, sponsored by the student-led Biopharma Club, took place February 16 at Gleacher Center.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals is keeping a close eye on $1.1 billion earmarked in the stimulus package for “comparative effectiveness research,” said Kristi Lengyel, ’07, associate director for advocacy and alliance development and external affairs at Takeda. The provision will fund government research into medical treatments and devices to see which work best. “The industry in general is making sure that patients and physicians have choice, and that it’s comparative effectiveness and not cost effectiveness,” Lengyel said.

The stimulus bill aims to curb health care costs through conversion to electronic health records.

Deanna Markley, ’06, manager of global market analytics at Hospira, said one trend in the information technology field is finding a way to integrate patient information “from the front desk all the way to the patient’s point of care.” Computerized information systems could streamline workflow and improve patient safety, by tracking allergies or drug interactions, she said.

Electronic records could also empower patients. Electronic reporting would allow people to “monitor and benchmark” results of various tests or screenings, said Konstantine Haralampopoulos, ’95, vice president, business marketing and sales at Glycemion. He said a confirmatory lab report is generated with use of his company’s diabetes risk assessment device. Patients may request that the report be sent to them electronically.

John Brooks, ’04, a systems manager in information technology who previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 12 years, said he has worked with digital records since about 1994. It likely will take more than a decade, however, before electronic systems uniformly prevail, he said. First national standards and formats would need to be developed, which alone could take two to three years.

Computerized medical records and prescriptions likely would benefit patients and would smooth a disconnect between physicians and pharmacies, said Matthew Hesser, ’03, senior product manager, patient strategies, at Takeda. “Once we can actually make this fully electronic, we’ll be much better off.”

The economic recession is changing the way biopharmaceutical companies do business. Companies are eliminating redundancies, cutting costs, and streamlining company processes to make them more effective and efficient, Markley said.

“In these times,” Haralampopoulos said, “you don’t know where to cut. People say the first things to be cut are R & D and marketing, but that’s really the two things that are driving your boat.”

Hesser said companies are focusing more on their core competencies. They are partnering with other firms to perhaps share sales forces or other aspects of their businesses.

He said companies are finding new ways to maintain access to patients and physicians. “For years this was just an arms race — who could have the biggest sales force, who could have the most number of sales reps going into a physician’s office,” Hesser said. That model is changing. Sales forces have shrunk because of the poor economy, and patents are expiring on many drugs. “The days of having four sales reps calling on one physician are over.”

His company looks for ways to target the message about its drugs to the particular market segment that would be interested in them and not the general population. That could mean advertising on such specialized Websites as WebMD, he said.

“For me, it’s creating as many touch points outside of the office as possible,” Hesser said.

Also, with medicines getting more expensive in order to defray development costs, his company aims to find ways to make it easier for patients to get the drugs they need, like offering rebates at pharmacies or creating patient assistance programs, he said.

Given the state of the economy, Takeda makes a “philanthropic effort to give medicines to patients who need it,” Lengyel said.

                                                                                                                    —Mary Sue Penn