Industry Insight

10 steps closer to the patient – The pharma industry post-COVID-19

Emma Banks, CEO, Ramarketing, delves into the connection between patients and the companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and shares how this relationship was strengthened by the pandemic
Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, the list goes on – we’re now as familiar with these brand names as we are with Apple, Coca Cola, and Nike. This has completely changed the playing field for pharmaceutical companies when it comes to growth.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the general public was never so acutely aware of which organisations created their medicines or vaccines. National vaccination programmes are not new. The population receives routine vaccines from a few weeks old and, with the flu injection, into their later life. We’re used to vaccines. We’re used to getting them. And several times over. What we were until very recently not used to, is knowing so much about who is making them, what is in them, where they are manufactured, and how those responsible are making vaccines as safe as possible, and as quickly as possible, to serve a global population.
Because of the unparalleled need to make COVID-19 vaccines and get them into the arms of people as rapidly as humanly possible, people are so much more aware now of the pharma industry – and the pharma supply chain that has been instrumental in achieving this. And, while the patient population might not know too much more about the supply chain, the pharmaceutical supply chain is a lot more aware of their direct impact on their end-user – people.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, although all the companies involved in the pharma supply chain understood the purpose of the medicines or vaccines they were helping develop, that immediate impact on the population was never seen.
COVID-19 generated constant media coverage of vaccines going into arms, demonstrated how being vaccinated unlocked freedom for many populations, and how the injection has directly saved lives. The speed that the entire pharma supply chain worked at to enable the delivery of a global vaccination programme is phenomenal – and has changed the sector forever.
This complete shift to being closer to the patient has been transformational.
Elements of the pharma supply chain that didn’t traditionally engage with patients are now doing so and, from a patient point of view, expected to. And it’s not just COVID-19 that’s changed the game. As technology advances, more pioneering medicines are being made. Medicines that are highly precise and personalised to treat very bespoke conditions that patients suffer from, make the difference between life and death.
Suddenly, people care who the therapy manufacturer is, where it comes from, how medicines or vaccines are stored, and what the side effects are. And this provides an immediate and huge opportunity for pharma companies to proactively market themselves, enabling continued growth.
The pharma industry is built around human life – the quality of life and saving lives. Now it can actively humanise, moving away from the stereotypical pharma perception of a sea of blue medicinal packets stacked high in a storage facility, to the development of a more mainstream, accessible image.
So, how can the sector capitalise on this opportunity?

Reputation – raising their profile

The current landscape enables pharma companies to raise their profile and develop their reputation, by being transparent in how they work and why they deliver the work they do.
We’re now in a position, as a sector, to lay bare our personalities, and show people what’s behind the business and what drives us. To deliver the COVID-19 vaccines at scale took real passion. For many pharmaceutical firms, the amount of investment and risks taken to get the COVID-19 vaccines to market was astronomical. If something had gone wrong, it would have been the end for many businesses. That’s what people don’t see, and that’s where the opportunity is.
Science is not black and white, regardless of how it is perceived. It’s a nebulous pursuit, in that you could go down one path, and find that it’s not right, so you have to modify something, and try again. It’s time for pharmaceutical companies to embrace being closer to the population it serves, utilise the greater societal contact the industry has, and be open about challenges, successes, and failures.
Pharma companies should highlight specific activities around good governance – or robust sustainability practices and strong ethics, connecting profits to purpose and, in turn, drive a stronger public image.

Scaled capabilities

COVID-19 has shown all organisations, big and small, involved in the pharma supply chain, what they’re truly capable of. Never before has a vaccine been developed, tested, approved and rolled out on a global scale in such a short, recordbreaking timeframe. From the manufacturers, to the regulators and logistics transportation companies, to those storing the vaccines, and the licensing bodies responsible for ensuring vaccines meet the regulations of each sovereign country, it is truly a phenomenal achievement, and one that creates a huge opportunity moving forwards for growth.
The industry has shown what it can do against the odds. Now is the time to take these capabilities forward, learn from what went well and what didn’t, and apply it to other therapeutic processes and developments to drive and scale business growth.

Investment interest

Although we don’t generally hear about pharmaceutical companies boasting about the incredible work they’ve done, or the vital role they have played in monumental milestones in public health, their efforts have not gone unnoticed by investors. The speed to market, the unwavering pursuit of several vaccines which were safe and effective to use in a hugely diverse global population, is extraordinary.
Consequently, this has created interest from investors and, most recently, revitalised mergers and acquisitions activity. This is because pharma companies have shown their worth and, with an unexpected catastrophe like the COVID-19 pandemic, they have demonstrated their resilience, reliability, and innovation to deliver against the grain. The pharma industry has always been high risk from an investment perspective, given its pioneering and experimental nature, but the space has more than illustrated what it’s capable of doing which, in turn, has increased investor confidence. Whether this proves to be short lived or not, only time will tell – but the industry has certainly raised awareness, cemented its credibility, and attracted interest.
Overall, the industry is in a position to be brave, truly brave, about its brand.
Pharmaceutical companies now have the opportunity to make their brand more accessible, and more mindful of the patient while streamlining efficiencies, costs, and processes, to enable the next stage of growth.
The future for pharma looks inspiring.

Emma Banks is CEO of ramarketing.