New Direction Urged for Pharma Industry

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The pharmaceuticals industry?s future success will require a new generation of executives who can find a fresh way to look at the world?s health challenges and its neediest countries, said Tachi Yamada, global health chief of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Pharma was an industry in which it was almost too easy to be successful. It was a licence to print money. In a way, that is how it lost its way.

“It lost contact with the people it was supposed to serve,” Dr Yamada told the FT in an interview at the Clinton Global Initiative.

“I think the new generation of pharma executives has to look at the world differently,” he said.

Dr Yamada said the “best signal” that new approaches were needed was the recent spate of “compulsory licensing” ? the backlash in poor countries against pharmaceutical companies? pricing for crucial drugs, such as HIV/Aids medicines, by breaking patents.

Dr Yamada is in a unique position to know. He has completed his first year as global health chief of the world?s largest philanthropic organisation, after leaving his job last year as research and development director of GlaxoSmithKline, the world?s second-largest drugmaker.

“For me it was a no-brainer. I knew it would be deeply fulfilling and require the command of everything I learned in science, medicine and business,” he said.

His range of experience, from academia to big pharma, also could be valuable as the nature of world health philanthropy is undergoing a fundamental shift.

The money, power and size of big growing health philanthropies such as the Gates Foundation need someone to prevent bureaucratic inefficiency from slowing the development of medicines and improvement of health for the world?s poor, Dr Yamada said.

This is a familiar struggle to a head of research for a big drug company.

“My challenge is to make sure we have flexibility. We?re still growing so we don?t have a lot of bureaucracy. But I have to fight it every day,” he said.

The emergence and size of organisations such as the Gates Foundation also signal an important convergence, Dr Yamada said.

His view is that private money, science and government are being harnessed together to help take on problems once viewed as insurmountable.

For example, public-private partnerships are working to develop inexpensive drugs to combat malaria and tuberculosis for poor ?countries. The potential for results are good, he said, because a generational shift is occurring in America.

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Source: Financial Times (link opens in a new window)