The Global Pharmaceutical Industry

9 September 2016

The case describes the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry and its strategic environment. Attention is drawn to environmental pressures from regulators and payers. Key forces driving the industry are discussed, including addressing unmet medical needs, the importance of innovation and time to market, and globalisation. The case illustrates how an increasingly hostile environment, combined with a decline in R&D productivity, led to waves of job losses, and sparked a fresh round of consolidation.

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On the global level, the historical supremacy of the US was challenged with the highest market growth rates recorded in the emerging markets. Q1. Identify the main environmental forces currently affecting the global pharmaceutical industry. It is expected that all aspects of the PESTEL analysis will be addressed. Illustrative points are given here, but this is by no means exhaustive. Political – Government’s focus on the industry as an easy target in the drive to reduce healthcare expenditure; public outcry over safely alerts and international price comparisons; and public pressure to fund cancer medicines.

Economic – Pharmaceutical sales correlate closely with GDP – flattening in established markets and growth in emerging markets; the rise in the power of payers as decision-makers; in some countries patients are paying a greater proportion of drug costs themselves leading to increased linkage of sales and income levels; availability of venture and depth finance to support biotech innovation.

Social – Aging population drive not only increases in healthcare costs but also increases in demand for medicines; pressure to act ethically rather than purely following profit; the number of better-informed patients with rising expectations; continued global convergence in medical practice and public acceptance of new technologies such as stem cells and genetic testing. Technological – Scientific and medical innovation; impact of information technology such as more well-informed patients and e-prescribing; shift towards more personalised healthcare. Environmental – Emphasis on sustainability by investors and employees.

Legal – Increased regulatory focus on drug safety, industry sales and marketing practices; growth in liability claims particularly in the US. A key trend that students should highlight is the increased emphasis on cost-containment and value-for-money. Q2. Apply the Five-Forces framework and identify the importance of different environments forces affecting the global pharmaceutical industry. Students are expected to address all aspects of a five forces analysis, and discuss how these forces have changed over time. Illustrative points are given here, but this is by no means exhaustive.

Threat of new entrants – The industry has historically had high barriers to entry, but these are dramatically lowered at patent expiry with generic entrants. Generic companies such as Teva and Dr Reddy’s are emerging as major global players with ambitions in the innovative sector. A greater focus on premium priced niche products for high unmet disease could facilitate entry by biotech companies. Power of buyers – Historically, buyers were highly fragmented medical practitioners, but now buying power is increasingly concentrated in a small number of payers with a major impact on market dynamics.

Power of substitutes – Increased emphasis on generics being ‘good enough’ for common conditions and shrinking use of branded innovative drugs. Bio-similars will substitute for high priced biologics. Power of suppliers – Historically low, but declining R&D productivity has increased the price tag on truly breakthrough licensing and acquisition opportunities. Competitive rivalry – Revelry within specific product classes has always been intense, and can be leveraged by payers to force competition on price; and increasing industry consolidation.

It is important to acknowledge that the generic, OTC and vaccine sector are relatively mature, and the ethical pharmaceutical sector is arguably heading from growth towards shake-out, while the biotech sector is still under developed. Q3. Try to identify the strategic groups within the global ethical pharmaceutical industry? Describe the strategic choices made by Pfizer from 2008 onwards and comment on what may have been the drivers behind these choices. Based on the case, five broad types of industry players can be identified: ethical, generic, biotech, OTC and vaccine companies.

Each requires very different strategic capabilities. Producers of branded prescription drugs require strong R&D and global sales and marketing infrastructure. Generics companies focus on speed to market and manufacturing cost leadership. Biotech companies must create and defend intellectual property in specialised research fields, attract funding and make successful deals. Branded OTC drugs demand direct-to-consumer marketing capability. Many manufacturing companies operate in more than one of these sectors, and a strategic grouping can also be made on the basis of diversification versus focus.

Highly diversified companies such as Johnson&Johnson or Abbott also encompass completely different sectors such as consumer brands, medical devices or vetinerary products. Other leading companies are more narrowly diversified across conventional medicines, biologicals, vaccines and in some cases generics. The example of Pfizer illustrates the shift from a focus purely on conventional medicines to a wider strategy with the acquisition on Wyeth bringing a presence in biologics, vaccines and consumer health. A key driver here has been to reduce the reliance on a single blockbuster and establish a more stable, broad-based business.

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