Friday, May 20, 2011

Market Access: Pharma's Hot Potato?

Strangely enough, given that market access is nowadays probably the single most important determinant of near-term (and indeed any-term) commercial success for pharma, there weren't that many companies attending a recent event dedicated to this topic. Instead, it was mostly consultants -- gearing up one supposes to later suck hefty fees out of said absentee firms by relaying information on how to convince payers to reimburse their drugs. (Which is what market access is, in case you'd also missed it).

Then again, maybe it was understandable that many pharma stayed away: the messages aren't happy ones. The various overhauls of Europe's market access systems (that's to say, health technology assessment methods and processes) have already had "major consequences" on drug pricing, said Pierre-Phillippe Sagnier, VP Global Market Access at Bayer Schering Pharma.

Yet it remains unclear precisely what criterial those overhauling systems use to judge the value of new drugs. Thus, in Germany, Europe's largest and arguably most influential market, all new products are now subject to a compulsory cost-effectiveness exam after just six months on the market. Moreover, while this exam determines a drug's pricing fate, the marking system remains opaque.

That matters because many European countries look to Germany when making their own pricing decisions and drug-value judgments. Thus, a bad mark in Berlin could spell disaster for a product in Europe as a whole. (Tip: Germany's hot on relative cost-effectiveness, so you can mostly forget placebo-controlled trials.)

On the other hand, most European countries do nevertheless now have their own HTA systems, with their own particular methods and biases. That means each requires a bottom-up information feed from local execs and a degree of regional tailoring. Pharmas still aren't that comfy with the trend towards regional empowerment even at the marketing level; now it has to consider regional input during development to make sure it generates appropriate data.

Partly because of the complexities required to account for these regional difference and partly because big drug makers are resistant to change, pharma apparently have little idea how to fit the market access function into their traditional basket of activities. "Market access works across all functions; it's essentially an integrating function," commented Janice Haigh, Senior Director, Pricing & Market Access for Astellas Pharma Europe. She's trying to figure out market access for the Japanese firm, which has shifted from part of Operations to Marketing. She and other executives suggest that, at the moment, no-one's really managed to position market access right. Bayer has moved it about from development to commercial and is now trying to integrate the two. "It will take some time," says Sagnier.

There are some ideas trickling through, including better mechanisms to address the global vs. local disconnect that can arise in market access. Astellas, for instance, groups payers into five or six types, according to Haigh, which share similar priorities.

But there are also signs of a wait-and-see attitude that most pharma can ill afford. Regarding the the German system, for instance, where the first outcomes are expected in August 2011, "we're quite glad we are not launching anything in 2011/2012; we're happy to see how other drugs get on, " admitted Bayer's senior market access manager, Jens Lipinski.

Top management at several Big Pharma are talking big talk about market access. It's unclear, from this blogger's lunch chats during the above-mentioned meeting, that this world view has trickled down through the ranks.

In reality shifting the commercial mentality away from pushing drugs at doctors and towards building relationships with national and regional payers requires new skills. So too, does dreaming up risk-sharing deals and embracing integrated care contracts. It's tough stuff that will remain a hot potato no one department wants to own -- let alone a subject that can attract conference attendees.

image by flickrer Jess Gambacurta used under creative commons

No comments: