Not playing by your own rules

The well-known oncology researcher José Baselga has resigned his position as Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering after an NYT/ProPublica investigation showed he failed to disclose millions in payments from pharma and healthcare companies in dozens of his research articles. The payments themselves aren’t at issue, it’s the fact that he didn’t make his ties explicitly known. Which is kinda funny since those financial reporting rules were set by the American Association for Cancer Research while he was president of the group. Critics say Baselga’s fall illustrates the bigger problem of the revolving door between academic research and industry, as well as a general laziness towards enforcing ethical standards from the academic community. Expect a rush of researchers who ‘forgot’ to include their financial ties in previous papers to quietly go add those in.

Sell shovels or mine for gold?

It’s the age-old question that gets at your risk profile. Drug Channels has provided a wonderful analysis of Fortune 500 companies that are involved in the drug channel business (McKesson, CVS, Express Scripts) and pharma companies (Pfizer, Amgen, Biogen). Highlight #1 – The average revenue for the 7 drug channel companies ($131B) is 4x greater than the 11 pharma companies ($29B). Highlight #2 – Profit, as a percent of revenue, is ~7x greater for the pharma companies (14.6%) than for the drug channel companies (2.2%). Highlight #3 – The return to investors was dramatically higher for pharma (14.9%) than for drug channel companies (-9.3%). Can anyone say Amazon? Can anyone say Trump? It looks like either selling shovels or mining for gold seems like a pretty good proposition, but remember we are looking at the best of the best in this analysis.

Important imports?

The Department of Health and Human Services has directed the FDA to consider the importation of foreign drugs to address price spikes. The proposed policy would only apply to drugs unaffected by patent or exclusivity, in an effort to avoid intellectual property issues. However, pharma companies may still have something to say through their lawyers if such a policy were to be implemented, especially as an act of a federal agency instead of legislation. If it were implemented though, it would avoid patient access issues in situations like when an HIV medication jumped in price from $13.50 to $750, which had the incredibly unfortunate side effect of catapulting Martin Shkreli’s infinitely punchable face into the limelight. That drug still costs $750 by the way. Or just 5-10 cents in India.

There’s an app for that

Novartis recently launched an app that enables patients taking part in ophthalmic clinical trials to self-report data, which could potentially speed the development of new therapies. Here’s lookin’ at you kid. According to a wonderful report from Deloitte, “the number of apps produced by pharma more than tripled from 2013 to 2016, but the year-over-year growth rate of downloads slowed from 197% between 2013 and 2014 to just 5% between 2015 and 2016.” Maybe pharma lies outside the circle of trust? The Deloitte report also states, “pharma apps are trusted by 32% of consumers, compared to 76% for apps developed by patient communities.” Look for more pharma-association collaborations like the Quitter’s Circle from Pfizer and the American Lung Association. Is it better that the Novartis app is for clinical trials? Hear InsightCity’s take on this article with this short podcast. (It’s our first one. We’re not pros. Don’t be mean.)

Trade wars don’t include cancer drugs

US stock markets have been roiling over a possible trade war between the world’s largest economies, the US and China. American President Donald Trump proposed nearly $50B in tariffs on Chinese goods, leading Chinese leaders to propose some of their own, but one product they’re not interested in taxing is foreign cancer drugs. China does have the world’s largest population of cancer patients after all. Drugmakers like Roche, Novartis and AZ should be pretty happy with the zero-tariff arrangement, while Chinese leadership hopes the move will push local pharma to improve their technological capabilities. Why can’t we go back to the good ol’ days when both the Chinese and Americans could ask “War, HUH, yeah, what is it good for?”

Apple and Amazon are all over healthcare

CNBC noticed Amazon quietly launched a partnership in August with OTC manufacturer Perrigo to create their Basic Care line of products. While Amazon may not be the ideal fix for when you need that bottle of cold medicine ASAP, the company could be in a good position to corner the market on products that are bought in bulk like nicotine gum. Apple’s healthcare foray is more tech-focused: they’re developing the next attempt at personal, electronic health records. The idea is to use patients’ smartphones as the unified repository for health records that could otherwise be scattered across healthcare providers. More complete records and data could drive recommendations for care, and could even translate into partnerships with pharma companies to pitch their products directly to consumers fitting a certain profile.

These aren’t the RFPs you’re looking for

Oklahoma recently became the fourth US state to file a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, and they won’t be the last. States like Delaware have even begun asking for RFPs from private law firms. The uptick in lawsuits against opioid producers has many drawing comparisons to lawsuits against Big Tobacco in the 90s. Those ended up costing the involved companies over $200 billion. If there’s something similar coming down the road for “Big Pharma” (which is not only a conspiracy theory, but also apparently a game?) then it won’t be a mere drop in the bucket. The entire pharma industry made $778 billion in prescription sales last year, so a similar fine against a small group of companies could leave them hurting.