Thursday, November 10, 2005

Drug pushers

Times are getting tough at Big Pharma. Time to cut costs. Where to start?
Does the pharmaceutical industry have too many sales reps?

It is an issue uppermost in the minds of companies grappling with an increasingly tough market; but industry executives at the Reuters Health Summit in New York this week said they would not be rushing into major cutbacks.

"Frankly, there are lots of other places in the company to trim expenses before you would turn to the sales force," said Hank McKinnell, chief executive of the world's biggest drug maker, Pfizer Inc. (Reuters)
As we learn in this glimpse into the sausage factory, sales reps are medicine's educators. Even though the average sales rep face time with a doc is now down to 90 seconds (even shorter than the average clinical encounter!), the industry still feels it is the best way to educate their targets about the newest clinical data. Ninety seconds sure beats speed reading the medical literature.

Big Pharma is like the university: its main tasks are research and education. OK, maybe not so much research:
According to Lehman Brothers, the industry as a whole now spends half as much again on selling its drugs as it does on researching them, with sales and marketing costs having risen to 25 percent of sales from around 20 percent in 1990.
Next time Joe "Big Pharma" Lieberman touts his constituency, he should make a point of their important educational function.

But as they are required to say on television: "Big Pharma's drugs are not for everyone. If you have a serious illness but not much money and no insurance, if you have other things to do with your money besides provide obscene profits to socially unproductive industries, or if you think there is a better way to finance medical care in the US, don't ask your doctor before taking these drugs. They may cause heart attacks, stroke, blindness or abject penury."

Cue music and happy faces.