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20 June 2017Americas

BIO 2017: Biopharma industry must target unpopularity, says Allergan CEO

The biopharma industry must do its part in changing the public's view of the sector, because the political reality is that it is unpopular, according to Brent Saunders, chairman, president and CEO of Allergan.

Speaking at a Fireside Chat yesterday, June 19, at the 2017 BIO International Convention, Saunders explained: “We need to do something that shows who we really are, because we are really good people, trying to do really good things.

“It just gets lost. People who are in the news cycle are not part of the mainstream industry, but that doesn’t matter to the person standing in line who can’t get their medicine.”

As a result of pricing scandals, the biopharma industry is unpopular with the general public.

“[Members of] Congress, who understand the role of innovation and the role bio plays, are receiving 20,000 calls from constituents that are negative about the industry,” he explained.

He added: “Even people who have the greatest respect for what we do are having a harder and harder time being our champions.”

But Saunders has always believed that the industry is comprised of "people trying to do really good things and trying to make people’s lives better”.

In September 2015, Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, received major criticism when Turing obtained the manufacturing licence for the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim (pyrimethamine) and raised its price more than fifty-fold to $750 a pill.

Saunders' reaction was that it was “egregious” conduct and in clear violation of the social contract to price medicines in a way that makes them affordable and accessible, but to still have returns to invest in innovation.

Allergan made its own definition of the social contract, looking at where the point of equilibrium should be set between making good on the promise of medicines being affordable and accessible but there still being returns for investment and innovation.

“I would argue that [the equilibrium] is not stopping in one spot, it needs to move depending on the circumstances. A lot of companies in this industry, while trying to do good things, sometimes put the point of equilibrium in the wrong spot,” he added.

“Are we perfect? No. Is this the be all and end all? No. But it is a starting point,” claimed Saunders.

Allergan’s research and development (R&D) operation is “very robust”, according to Saunders, who explained that he and a colleague had spent many years discussing how to optimise R&D.

“Any successful company that has succeeded over time, with a few exceptions, has used open source innovation. No company can monopolise all the great thinking,” he said.

Saunders added that Allergan has created a very open environment where the “best science wins”.

Looking to the company’s future, Saunders hopes that it still focuses on the same areas, but more in terms of cures, rather than treatments.

“In 20 years I’m hoping that’s where the entire industry will be,” he said, adding that the incentive should be more for those to cure disease than to make a movie, for example.

“Where do we want people to be most rewarded?” he questioned, adding that “the magnitude of someone who cures a disease can be ... truly remarkable.”

The 2017 BIO International Convention is taking place in San Diego from June 19 to 22.

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