Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Post: Advice for the New PhRMA President

Ian Spatz, the former VP-global health policy at Merck, is a contributing editor to The RPM Report. Ian is the founder of the Rock Creek Policy Group and a senior advisor to Mannatt Health Solutions. Interested in guest blogging for In Vivo? Drop us a line here.

The announcement that John Castellani, current head of the Business Roundtable, will succeed Billy Tauzin as the head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) on September 1 ends the speculation on who will lead one of D.C.’s most influential and most talked about trade associations.

As a small gift to the new PhRMA chief, here is a modest to do list to get things started:


There is absolutely no other goal as important for Castellani than addressing industry reputation. Everything flows from success in improving the industry’s low standing among policy makers and the public.

To his credit, Tauzin understood this and took some positive steps on reputation including substantially improving member companies’ joint efforts to provide free medicines to those who can’t afford them. Castellani needs to encourage his Board to consider more and do more.

Medical and Scientific Relations:

The foundation of member company success is access to the hearts and minds of scientists and physicians.

Companies need scientists to be willing to work for them – directly and indirectly through clinical trial participation. Companies need clinicians to accept them into their offices and to respect their information.

PhRMA has lagged in attention to this area but can’t any longer. Castellani is not from this community so will need to quickly identify leadership within PhRMA and from its member companies to make this a priority.

Congressional Relations:

It’s a dicey time in PhRMA’s relations with the Hill. Republicans are still smarting over the industry’s correct decision to do business with President Obama and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) on health reform.

Democrats still don’t like PhRMA and many only held off on doing a job on it because the industry was playing ball on health reform.

However, that train has left the station. Castellani brings a record of Congressional work but needs to invest the time in developing or expanding relationships with key health committee members of Congress by honestly asking for ideas and help and then listening carefully to the answers.


What people can’t see, they can’t trust.

Obviously, Castellani is not going to open up PhRMA Board meetings to the public. However, he can try to invite more key stakeholders to participate in such meeting and other PhRMA forums. He can also create a PhRMA annual meeting, unlike the current one, that attracts many others from outside the industry. BIO has already pointed the way with its annual meeting that is a meeting place for public officials, the media, and the industry.

Media Relations:

The media love PhRMA but for the wrong reason.

When they need an easy quote to make the industry look bad or convince an editor that they sought balance, they can count on PhRMA to deliver. Other than that, most reporters find PhRMA difficult to deal with and hardly forthcoming.

Castellani must, as with Congress, get out there and get to know the folks who cover the industry in the main stream media and trade press. A little time and care will go a long way to improving the coverage of the industry and its companies.

Drug Safety:

Castellani was named on the same day that an FDA advisory committee is meeting to consider the future of Avandia, GSK’s controversial diabetes drug that faces serious safety challenges.

Drug safety is the most important policy issue facing Castellani as he enters the building. With the Prescription Drug User Fee (PDUFA) program up for renewal, Congress will have an opportunity to weigh in on FDA’s safety efforts including how it is organized to address safety issues. Castellani and PhRMA should seize the opportunity to avoid playing defense and come up with some ideas on their own that will give concerned members of Congress something to support.

Drug Marketing and Promotion:

Under Tauzin’s leadership, PhRMA took major positive steps to improve its internal codes on drug marketing and DTC advertising. Despite these efforts, physicians and medical centers are still not happy and are designing tough new rules that are limiting access to physicians. Castellani can and should continue Tauzin’s efforts to get the industry to better police itself and support the efforts of others.

That’s just a start. My best to Mr. Castellani. The nation’s pharmaceutical companies need some extraordinary leadership right now.--Ian Spatz

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