Tuesday, February 07, 2012

GSK's DPU Scoreboard: Three Fewer, Four More -- But That Misses The Point

It wasn't a bad pass rate for GSK's biotech-like discovery performance units: 35 out of 38 survived their three-year investment review cycle, completed before Christmas last year. Of those, six got increased funding (20%), and five got less -- they must be on a watch-list.

But overall this process wasn't, apparently, about culling DPUs. Sure, three may have fallen by the wayside, but four new ones were born. And yet all the cost and efficiency goals for R&D are nevertheless being met, claimed CEO Andrew Witty on a webcast annoucing full-year 2011 results. The overall discovery budget is unchanged. The company's cost-per-asset is falling, its R&D rate of return is expected to reach 12%, up from 11% in 2010, and, yes, you guessed it, the pipeline is 'unrivalled'.

Indeed, Witty was keen to draw attention away from the DPU scoreboard ("it's not the story," he told us) and instead onto something far less satisfyingly quantitative: culture. "The story is a new culture created within GSK." All about individual accountability, greater capacity for scientists to communicate with each other, including across disciplines (so increasing the chance of that 'eureka' moment) and more opportunities for researchers to fulfil their potential.

So came the oh-so-human story of Andrew Benowitz, promoted from bench chemist to DPU chief within four months. He was one of those who pitched an idea to the DPU investment board (referred to internally as the Dragon's Den) and not only got it funded, but also got to lead the new DPU that now houses it. (No, we don't know what the idea is, yet: there's a DPU deep-dive for analysts on March 29.)

Good for him. And good for GSK, frankly, which, alongside its major efforts to diversify away from selling branded pharmaceuticals to western payers, reminded us today that R&D is the "core value-creator of the company", one it's aiming to "bring back to life".

The resurrection won't, it seems, benefit Europe. Pricing pressures and access delays mean UK-headquartered GSK won't be designing new drugs specifically for Europe "in the way we used to do," said Witty during Q&A. "We’ll still register drugs for Europe," conceded Witty (who is also president of EFPIA, the European industry association). But GSK's decisions on which comparator to use and where to do trials "will be driven more by those markets that appear to want the product," Witty declared.

Are you listening, European policymakers? Or do you just want another Sandwich?

image courtesy of flickrer's Jinx!

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