Andrew Witty of GSK has a one-page essay in The Economist on the problems of the drug industry. None of the background he gives will be news to anyone who reads this site, as you'd imagine - lower rates of success in discovery, higher costs, patent expirations, etc.
Here's his take on research and development:
. . .it is clear that the size of the industry will continue to contract in the drive for efficiency. For some players, more mergers and acquisitions are likely, but others will plan to shrink, and all parts of the value chain from R&D through to production and sales and marketing will be affected. . .
. . .In the past the problem of R&D in big pharmaceutical companies has been “fixed” by spending more and by using scale to “industrialise” the research process. These are no longer solutions: shareholders are not prepared to see more money invested in R&D without tangible success. If anything, based on a rational allocation of capital, R&D should now be consuming less resource.
Yikes. I'm not sure where that last sentence comes from, to be honest with you. Does Witty think that we now know so much about what we're doing that it shouldn't cost so much for us to do it? Or that it shouldn't cost so much to comply with the regulatory authorities, for some reason? I'm a bit baffled, and if someone can explain that "rational allocation" that he speaks of, I'd be grateful.
And I'd like to say that the rest of the piece advances some useful ideas, but I can't do that with a straight face. (To be fair, if Andrew Witty has some great ideas for making GSK more productive, he's most certainly not going to lay them out for everyone in The Economist). So it's all innovative business models, dynamic partnerships, recapturing creative talent in the drug labs, and so on. That last line will no doubt inspire a lot of bitter comment, considering what things have been like at GSK in the last few years.
His main pitch seems to be that drug companies need a "fair reward for innovation", and that's one of those things that's hard to disagree with on the surface. But unpacking it, that's the tough part, because everyone involved will start disagreeing on what's innovative, what might constitute a reward, and (especially) what's fair. Witty has been giving speeches on this for a while now, and I'd say that this latest article is just the condensed version.