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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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February 20, 2014

Pfizer Seeks Respect

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Posted by Derek

Here's Ian Read of Pfizer, on that company's reputation (and that of pharma in general):

. . .many people — including not only regulators but also legislators and their constituents — have a say in how we can conduct our business. At the same time, many have a great and sometimes emotionally charged interest in what our business produces, what we charge for our products and how we sell them, among other topics. And all of this together shines a brighter light on our business than most others, which makes our reputation all the more important to us. In fact, everything from government reimbursement for our medicines to protection of our intellectual property to our ability to continue innovating in our labs depends on our reputation. Indeed, our virtual license to operate depends on this. It depends on earning the respect of our regulators, legislators, healthcare professionals, patients, R&D partners and of our employees, current and future.

This is why we made “earning greater respect from society” one of our four business imperatives not long after I was named CEO of Pfizer in late 2010.

Without this respect and the consideration that comes with it we could not sustain our business, with its innumerable collaborative dependencies and its central place in an area of life so important to us all, our health. Making reputation and respect all the more important to us is knowing that we gain it in drops, but lose it in gallons.

True enough. Has Pfizer lost a gallon or two? He doesn't really say. His piece also does not say if there are any specific actions that Pfizer (or other companies) have taken that might have caused some of this respect leakage. Nor does it go into any detail about what steps might be taken to get any of it back, other than boardroom-speak like "connect better with our stakeholders". But it's a start, I suppose.

Comments (43) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Why Everyone Loves Us


1. Anonymous on February 20, 2014 9:58 AM writes...

If he wants to gain respect he can fire his lobbyists in Washington and hire some R and D people.

Nah. That's not the way big Pharma works.

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2. Patrick on February 20, 2014 10:00 AM writes...

Derek - Chrome just told me the tab containing In the Pipeline was responsible for a loud, auto-playing "Muscle Big Cup" add. Not your fault, but major yuck.

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3. bigredbruce on February 20, 2014 10:07 AM writes...

Next Ian will be seeking more innovation....just CEO speak without specifics

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4. good point on February 20, 2014 10:16 AM writes...

that is long time due.

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5. good point on February 20, 2014 10:16 AM writes...

that is long time due.

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6. synorgchem on February 20, 2014 10:28 AM writes...

Please my sides are hurting from laughing so hard.
As for any pharma/biotech, big or small, the day they start spending the bulk of their assets on R+D is the day they will have respect. That doesnt mean working on ridiculous me to versions of existing drugs in an effort to gain market share in areas already well served.

Take a look at any pharma/biotech web page, big or small and the VP's chem or bio are always last on the list.

When we see companies with millions, execs in glass offices, putting out ads for interns, or hiring only through temp agencies, abusing H1B, offshoring,.....we know they are nothing but modern day snake oil salesman.

Please pharma CEO, stop insulting our intelligence.

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7. MTK on February 20, 2014 10:33 AM writes...

At one time pharma was perceived by the public as an industry serving society well. Now it's seen as one of the worst industries. Lumped in with Tobacco and Oil.

While correlation does not equal causation I'm definitely of the opinion that direct-to-consumer marketing has contributed mightily to this fall from grace.

This realization came to me once when my mom said "The drug companies must make lots and lots of money." When I asked why she thought that she replied "Because every other commercial on TV is for a drug."

The industry was once seen as lifesavers, an industry that helped sick people get well. Now it's seen as a moneygrabber exploiting sick people.

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8. Cellbio on February 20, 2014 10:34 AM writes...

Not buying it. It sounds good on the surface, but is exactly the kind of stuff that I have seen drive excellent organizations into the ground. The misstep in my opinion is to have such a strong and broad focus on reputation. In some areas, stock market and to some degree regulatory arenas, reputation matters. In others, reputation, or what others think of you, is a very poor driver of directing strategy and content. Will the way others think of you deeply affect your ability to innovate? I think not and can rattle off examples, including 4 blockbusters, where the innovator was not thought of highly within his own organization, his reputation poor, for failing to be aligned with the prevailing thoughts in the company. I can think of other blockbuster opportunities that were missed because everyone got in line, concerned more about their internal reputations than adhering to their convictions.

Reputations matters, but quality molecules delivering solutions for medical needs don't give a damn about the collective human emotions associated with reputation. Donate to a Sochi dog rescue and you can gain societal respect without changing any other aspect of your business like seeing your research staff as costs rather than opportunity.

Socially driven assessment of organizations and associated influence on stock price and CEO compensation has been a major destructive force in our industry and this statement is largely just a repackaging of the same old stuff.

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9. pgwu on February 20, 2014 10:43 AM writes...

Kind of like an alcoholic saying he or she is having a drinking problem and then going back to drinking.

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10. Anonymous on February 20, 2014 10:59 AM writes...

From my perspective inside the pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer seems to have about the worst reputation among its peers no matter what aspect of the business you look at. Even though improving this has been one of Pfizer's "four business imperatives" since 2010, I don't see any sign that they have made any progress.

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11. David L on February 20, 2014 11:02 AM writes...

It's a great goal to try and increase respect for Pfizer and the rest of Pharma, but how do you measure this and how do you force people to like you? I don't think either are possible.

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12. Anon on February 20, 2014 11:06 AM writes...

I have what could be an extremely unconventional idea for how Pfizer might become respectable: They could - wait for it - actually spend their money on drug research (I know!!).

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13. Magrinho on February 20, 2014 11:10 AM writes...

Wait, let me rub down the goosebumps. What a gas bag!

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14. Hap on February 20, 2014 11:11 AM writes...

It's hard to have a good reputation when your business model has become a combination of "The Living Dead" (kill productive startups and big companies for their IP and then fire all the people who made it) and a low-budget used car dealership (sell what you have, hard, no matter how well or badly it works). Add the perception that "money talks, and everything else walks" that their development choices and management have made and it's hard not to think that they have the reputation they deserve.

Of course, if they had good enough products, none of this griping would be relevant; if they had cancer drugs that were significantly better than those of others (for example), then patients and insurance companies wouldn't care who made them - they'd be buying them all the same, and probably even providing potential reputational help for Pfizer in the process. That would also be another facet of the "chickens come home to roost" problem that Read is decrying.

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15. David L on February 20, 2014 11:16 AM writes...

@7 MTK...I couldn't agree more! I'm in Big Pharma and I can't stand our commercials. I have to switch the station. I agree it's not helping with the image-thing.

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16. dlib on February 20, 2014 11:34 AM writes...

#7 MTK is right on

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17. QOTL on February 20, 2014 11:53 AM writes...

"It depends on earning the respect of our regulators, legislators, healthcare professionals, patients, R&D partners and of our employees, current and future."

I guess I'm glad employees made the list, but I can't help but notice it's dead last.

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18. anonymous on February 20, 2014 12:12 PM writes...

@17: Also I notice that they value the respect of current & future employees, but apparently not the legions they've fired.

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19. Anonymous on February 20, 2014 12:15 PM writes...

Maybe stop lying to employees would be step?

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20. Anonymous on February 20, 2014 1:10 PM writes...

Blah blah blah. Ian Read, you build your reputation by what you do, and destroy it by what you say. So shut the fup and *do* stuff instead of blabbing on about what others should do! Lead by example, and stop the blah blah!

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21. Anonzy on February 20, 2014 1:11 PM writes...

"It depends on earning the respect of our regulators, legislators, healthcare professionals, patients, R&D partners and of our employees, current and future."

So, in order of priority: Pfizer wants to suck up to the FDA, funnel more lobbyists into Washington and keep doctors fat and well-fed. Only if these conditions are satisfied would they consider thinking of patients, R&D partners and employees.

Got it.

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22. Lu on February 20, 2014 1:50 PM writes...

Pfizer has become the poster child for evil many years ago and they only started to worry about the reputation in 2014?
Even at my lowest point of post-graduation job search I wouldn't go anywhere near this company.

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23. texmex on February 20, 2014 1:58 PM writes...

The same thing happened to doctors and lawyers when they starting advertising too much. Before that they had a lot of respect from the public, now nobody can stand them- especially lawyers.

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24. Doug Steinman on February 20, 2014 2:06 PM writes...

Maybe this can be summed up by saying that when the chickens come home to roost one has to deal with the poop. Notice that he is not apologizing for any of the past atrocities that Pfizer has committed.

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25. Crocodile Chuck on February 20, 2014 3:00 PM writes...

When I was a kid ('60's), Pharma co's were headed up by PhD's who had come out of R&D.

In the '80's, the CEO's were marketers.

Today? Lawyers.

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26. SteveM on February 20, 2014 3:57 PM writes...

Lechleiter at Eli Lilly can't even fake the integrity schtick...

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27. paperclip on February 20, 2014 4:12 PM writes...

@7 et al. My sentiments exactly on the "ask your doctor" commercials. Seriously, I dislike them all.

Special dishonorable mention goes to the Cialis commercials (the sleaze of porn without the actual sex) and the ones with some dude rubbing something on his armpit (Weren't such depictions also once banned on TV?) for his "low T".

The public actually isn't stupid. It recognizes the commercials for what they are, which I don't think I have to spell out.

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28. Whitaker Chambers on February 20, 2014 10:41 PM writes...

Call your doctor for an erection lasting longer than 4 hours.

That is the last person I am going to contact with this news.

Begs the this really an adverse event?

BRILLIANT!! Thanks again all you clever marketeers!!! And we wonder why we are compared to tobacco pushers.

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29. donna on February 20, 2014 11:52 PM writes...

They could've stopped buying up small pharma companies and destroying them if they wanted respect.

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30. donna on February 20, 2014 11:53 PM writes...

They could've stopped buying up small pharma companies and destroying them if they wanted respect.

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31. Nick K on February 21, 2014 5:31 AM writes...

Ian Read: It's a bit late to start worrying about the respect of your employees. You and your cronies in the C-suites lost that years ago, and it will never come back.

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32. Esrat235 on February 21, 2014 7:48 AM writes...

Good start but:
Have 30 plus b parked overseas to not pay fair share of US taxes. Instead lobby for repatriation tax holiday

Pay 200 mil in pension to Mckinnel and promote Kindler and helicopter Mary while laying off 30K employees

Corp integrity agreements for Bextra and Neurontin

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33. Son O' Gashira on February 21, 2014 7:57 AM writes...

If you want to make yourself sick go read all the fawning sycophants lined up underneath to praise this guy's brilliant article. I don't think there's a single scientist among them.

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34. navarro on February 21, 2014 8:21 AM writes...


an erection lasting longer than 4 hours can cause severe constriction of the blood flow to the penis which can cause gangrene and the loss of the appendage. someone having an erection lasting that length of time should get to an emergency room immediatesly.

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35. London Chemist on February 21, 2014 10:20 AM writes...

The respect Pfize has lost in the last few years has been more of a tidal wave than a few "gallons"......

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36. Bruce Grant on February 21, 2014 10:49 AM writes...

Want to regain the reputation and respect that pharma once enjoyed?

Step One: Decouple CEO and other top-executive compensation from the company's stock price and peg it instead to long-term growth.

Step Two: Have the CEO announce, on the next earnings call, that the company is investing its cash reserves, not in share buybacks or sweetened dividends, but in rebuilding the function within the company that actually delivers value to society, i.e., R&D, and that if analysts and institutional investors don't like that, they're welcome to sell their shares.

Step Three: Burn your current sales model -- the people, the culture, and the incentives it's built on -- to to the ground, and salt the earth, so it can never regrow again. Replace it with a smaller group of science-trained professionals, trained to serve the real needs of both individual prescribers and the institutions (group practices, IDNs, and plans) that are increasingly the real decision-makers today. Compensate them strictly on their scientific knowledge, customer satisfaction, and the overall performance of the company.

That's for starters...

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37. Anon on February 21, 2014 1:15 PM writes...

You're almost describing a startup!
Funny how those are only innovators these days. Must just be a coincidence.

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38. Anonymous on February 21, 2014 2:27 PM writes...

I realize that as an executive Mr. Read is perhaps unaccustomed to this approach, but perhaps he could try earning it?

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39. hn on February 21, 2014 8:06 PM writes...

Hint to Read: It should be about patients, first and foremost. Try again.

"It depends on earning the respect of our regulators, legislators, healthcare professionals, patients, R&D partners and of our employees, current and future."

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40. Lloyd T J Evans on February 22, 2014 7:16 AM writes...

If Pfizer really want respect, simply begging for it while promising to behave in future (which is essentially all this is) will not really help.

To begin with, Pfizer central management need to face up to and admit the past atrocities and other bad behaviour of the company. Admitting it to themselves would be a good start - admitting it to the outside world would be even better.

They also need to explicitly explain (without using woolly euphemisms) precisely what they did wrong and why it was wrong.

Then, simply apologising for what they have done wrong is not enough. They have to make amends for it. Which means going out of their way to offer compensation to ALL injured parties.

Finally, they need to recall all their lobbyists from Washington and fire them all, publically.
Perhaps most importantly, they need to stop the insidious and anti-democratic process of "tort-reform". Pfizer is notorious for this, particularly using underhand tactics to alter the law to protect themselves against lawsuits, especially when said lawsuits were provoked in the first place by their own unethical or illegal behaviour.

This goes for every other pharmaceutical company too. On a related note, another important action they could all take would be to immediately release ALL clinical trial data for EVERY approved drug into the public domain. Including all historical data on previous trials. This would help give the impression that they are at least trying to be honest.

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41. Sili on February 22, 2014 4:31 PM writes...

He could start here

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42. cliffintokyo on February 24, 2014 9:42 PM writes...

About time - now walk the talk! Hint: Just shuffling large amounts of money does not cut it.

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43. Lighter Fluid on February 25, 2014 11:46 PM writes...

I believe others are, or have tried to do the same - Witty at GSK seems to have been the most prominent example in recent years:

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