We recently had the chance to talk at length with Merck VP-global public policy Ian Spatz (right, not actual size) about the challenges and opportunities facing industry amid the changes in Washington.
We've always found him to be a very thoughtful analyst of the policy climate, and a very forward thinking advocate for ways to improve that environment. (That's why, among other things, he is a regular on the program at FDC-Windhover's FDA-CMS Summit, and will be speaking there on Friday.)
Come January, Spatz will be leaving Merck after 15 years. He hasn't announced his future plans, but he expects to remain involved in health policy. We'll be publishing a full transcript of the interview in The RPM Report soon, but we wanted to share with you some of his thoughts about his time at Merck:
Q: You have been with Merck for 15 years. What are you proudest of, having been associated with Merck over that time? Is there something that stands out?
Ian Spatz: I've been very proud of all the time I've spent here. Merck's a great company, has great people, has done amazing things and will continue to do amazing things. And in terms of my own time here, I would pull out the about five years of work towards encouraging passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. It certainly was the most difficult challenge. I had enormous support from my colleagues and from everyone at Merck. It was a unique time when we had the opportunity to work with Medco and learn about pharmaceutical benefit management, and it was enormously gratifying to see legislation passed and be successful and to see so many seniors be able to get prescription drug coverage, including my own mother. So it was both professionally and personally very satisfying.
Q: You also were with Merck through the whole Vioxx period. What if any lessons are there from that experience for Merck or the industry as a whole?
Spatz: Vioxx was certainly the most difficult experience during my time at Merck. There's a little bit of distance between now and when that happened, but there's still more distance needed to fully reflect on it.
The lesson that we took away from that time was that we – at least, speaking personally – had overestimated the level of trust that existed out there in our science and in our company. The fact that people could believe the things that many of them did believe about Merck after that was very difficult for me to accept, given the people who I know at Merck who were involved in Vioxx, who made decisions related to it, knowing the kind of commitment that they've had and have to patient safety and patient care. That was the most difficult thing, to see that people could believe things about us that I know are not true.
Q: Knowing that you'll be leaving Merck in January, what things do you hope to see the company do in the future? What is your advice to your colleagues as you move on to bigger and better things?
Spatz: My area of expertise has not been science, marketing, manufacturing, or any of those areas. It's been public policy. So my advice– if it's valuable at all, it's valuable in that area. My advice is to continue to take chances, to continue to engage not only with our friends, but our critics, to continue to develop proposals and to study those proposals and to debate those proposals that are going to address the very real problems that exist out there for patients and for the pharmaceutical industry.
To the extent that there are challenges and controversies, my advice is to continue to work to address those. We've learned a long time ago, it's just not simply enough to try to explain them or tell people they're not true. When there are legitimate concerns out there, we need to do something about them, and that's been what I've tried to encourage here at Merck.
That's the advice I'll give, and I really believe that that will continue to be the company's philosophy.