The Scientist has a very interesting article in the latest issue, titled "Why Pharma Must Go Hollywood". The author, an executive in the industry, makes some good points. After pointing out the low-lying-fruit component to everyone's recent productivity problems, out comes this:
"The second critical and fundamental cause of pharma's productivity problem, which fortunately is potentially remediable, is what former R&D director for Burroughs Welcome, Glaxo, and Warner Lambert, Pedro Cuatrecasas, has referred to as the "pervasive mismanagement" of the R&D process. Cuatrecasas noted in a recent article in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that the rot started in the early 1970s when managers with business school or legal backgrounds, but no significant foundation in science or medicine, began to invade the upper echelons of pharma and introduce structures and practices such as "management by objectives" from industries lacking any significant R&D enterprises. This invasion was motivated by a desire to increase the efficiency of R&D and to prioritize maximizing the return on investment.
An even more stifling trend has been the recent importation of the "six sigma" business improvement methodology into aspects of pharma R&D. Six sigma was designed to improve manufacturing processes, but has been well documented to quench innovation. The intellectual bankruptcy typical of many current pharma leaders is well illustrated by the typical pharma response to faltering productivity and the resultant fall in earnings. Take, for example, Pfizer's acquisitions since 2000 of Warner-Lambert and Pharmacia. Rather than investigating and addressing the fundamental etiologies of the problem and contrary to the readily available data in the business literature, the leadership plunges into the short-term fix and ego-satisfying drama of a merger, which is almost guaranteed to stifle innovation even further."
As you can imagine, my response to this is to stomp my feet and throw roses, because it's exactly the sort of thing I've been saying around here for a long time. (I'm not alone, either). It's bizarrely refreshing to hear the phrase "pervasive mismanagement" used to describe the drug industry. I find myself sitting around repeating it in my idle moments, with mental illustrations from my own experience.
The "Hollywood" part of the article is the author's prescription for the industry. Noting the similarities between drug launches and movie launches (an idea that's been floating around for a few years now), he (or she) advocates learning from the studios that have been best at developing and managing creativity. We may, the article claims, have learned about all we can from benchmarking each other - we need to look outside the list of other pharma companies.
Why do I say "he (or she)"? Because, most unusually, the article is written anonymously. I'm quite curious about where it came from, but in the end it doesn't really matter. Anyone who works for a big company will recognize what's being talked about - the fixation on short-term results, the we're-sticking-with-this-decision-no-matter-what mentality, the command-and-control leadership style. No, William Goldman was right when he said about the movie business that "no one knows anything". And the same thing applies to the drug industry, too, but no one in the executive offices wants to admit it.