Over the past months, the coronavirus crisis has shone a light on our industry’s failings and successes. As pharma races to come up with answers to the disease that is causing global chaos, our industry is changing around us. The dynamics of our relationship with government and healthcare services won’t go back to the way they were – and that’s a good thing.

The Pharma Playbook: Rewritten

Public health is no longer a “corporate social responsibility”. It is critical to business survival. The spotlight is on us. When the next crisis hits, will we be more prepared? If we want to play a meaningful role in the future of our industry, we must get on board with public health.

As the lines blur between public health and pharma, new rules are emerging. One: offer partners more than just drugs. Two: go big or go home. Three: embrace ambiguity and imperfection. If your strategy is hung up on the old days of churning out pills, the pandemic will chew you up and spit you out.

Are You Already Missing COVID-Era Opportunities?

A time of disruption is also a time of opportunity. We are already seeing pharma companies experimenting with new ways of cooperating with governments. Sometimes this is done purely to ease public scrutiny, like when Gilead donated the first 1.5 million doses of remdesivir to the US. Of course, this is no blueprint for future models. Gilead soon followed this move up with a pricing strategy set to earn them $1 billion in profit during 2020. Clearly, this is a huge financial win. But from a strategic perspective, it is treating this accidental breakthrough like a golden ticket. Gilead happened to have remdesivir in their back catalogue. It is not exactly a replicable model.

More Trouble Ahead – Who’s Ready for It?

It is in everyone’s interest that pharmaceutical companies are highly attuned to patient needs. We can’t be transfixed by what worked in the past. To be truly sustainable, we need to anticipate the huge shifts that are headed our way. That means changing demographics, future pandemics, the repercussions of global warming, and shifting client behaviours. By working with governments and public health services, we can strengthen our knowledge and our ability to anticipate trends.

3 Rules for Post-COVID Partnerships

Of course, global pharma companies don’t want to become a mere extension of any one government. Under pressure to deliver solutions for their people, many countries are implementing increasingly protectionist policies. Just think of the scramble to secure PPE – it was like hoarding toilet paper, on a global stage. Now the US has bought up the world’s supply of remdesivir. The stakes are huge, and the risks are evident. Three principles will help to navigate this shifting landscape.

1. Offer Partners More Than Just Drugs

Know your true customers and what they want. We all know it is not enough to talk to handful of academics and researchers when developing a new treatment. Work with governments, health services and patients to stop talking about “value-based healthcare” and start creating it.

This does not just mean drugs or digital solutions; it also means sharing capabilities. Pharma has immense expertise and resources. Many of us will get sweaty palms at the idea of sharing our carefully-curated supply chains, expert networks, education systems, medical affairs and marketing departments. But all of this must go on the table if we want to be full-fledged partners.

2. Go Big or Go Home

We need to get out of pilot mode when it comes to health systems partnerships. Don’t just dip a toe in – make a splash. If you want to create meaningful impact, you need to make a meaningful commitment. If we don’t make this a priority within our own business, why would a government choose to commit to a partnership? It is up to us to demonstrate that we are in it for the long haul, that we want to establish fruitful, long-term relationships.

3. Embrace Ambiguity and Imperfection

The new business models will continue to blur the lines. The product-seller relationship is coming to an end. We’re not pill factories anymore. The future is about delivering a service, not just a tablet. The old molecule-centric approach won’t cut it in the post-COVID era. That also means shaking off our perfectionism. Up until now, pharma companies would work on solutions until they were 100% ready, before handing them over to customers or physicians. This is because we are used to the old system, where regulators and payers give drugs a simple yes or no verdict. If we are to adapt and survive, we can’t hold on to those principles. A new level of co-creation of solutions with true customers is essential.

Seats at the Table Are Going Fast – Don’t Miss Yours

For pharma companies to create workable long-term strategies, we need genuine partnerships that are mutually beneficial. That is why it is critical to act quickly and secure a seat at the table. Those that fail to make partnerships that provide true value will get swallowed up by the fires of future crises. That’s why we are starting the groundwork now. Pharma companies that act as a strong, independent partner can forge relationships that will last through crises to come.