Purpose proves itself: permission for pharma to explore better ways to partner with customers and regulators

The pharma triumphs throughout the pandemic have been widely celebrated. The relentless passion and perseverance to develop, deliver and benefit the global population have been hailed. We have seen the glimmerings of a new pharma. A bolder, braver and more purposeful industry.

With this comes a heightened expectation that the pharma of the pandemic becomes the new operating model from now on. How pharma demonstrates its ability to be able to collaborate quickly, open up data to third parties and triage access issues will reap reward. There’s an exciting chance to condense learnings realised through the pandemic and formulate these into new models for success.

Pharma will increasingly face a huge responsibility beyond the pandemic to also be a good citizen and drive more sustainable impact in its manufacturing and supply – being scrutinised by national governments, regulators and stakeholders alike according to more stringent environmental, social and governance (ESG) targets, sustainable development goals (SDG) and a greater scrutiny on supply chains.

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are also faced with a similar expectation. As a result of the pandemic and the evolving acceptance that patients now recognise pharma companies as brands themselves, and through increased Google searches of the vaccinations and their effects, physicians now have more responsibility to educate and equip their patients and their families with knowledge to support improved decision-making. This is not without its challenges given a year out of clinic and varying health literacy levels. Being able to democratise knowledge to empower and enrich patient decisions and experiences with treatment and care will be vital.

To put it simply both pharma and healthcare professionals have renewed opportunity to redefine their role, their purpose. Healthcare professionals will need more support to fulfil some of these new needs. Pharma will need stronger customer partnership and centricity to activate and impact critical challenges within a specific disease sector. It is in this tension, where the exciting opportunity for alignment and a new contract can be redrawn for pharma and its customers.

New data shows pharma purpose can trigger decision-making

A recent global study by Porter Novelli and Hall & Partners of nearly 1,600 healthcare professionals and payers across the US, the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany, explored the concept of purpose as a decision-making lever. ‘Purpose’ was defined to respondents across many statements ranging from ‘supply chain sustainability’, ‘medicines donations’ patient-centricity across the supply chain’ and ‘the ability to form innovative new collaboration models to solve critical system challenges’. The data was collected over two waves to build an understanding of trends.

The study revealed that over 90% of HCPs say that a pharma company’s ability to demonstrate its purpose to them will affect their prescription writing in some way, and especially when drugs are at otherwise parity of price, efficacy and safety. The number that said they would strongly consider purpose grew from 37% to 50% between Wave One and Wave Two.

Over 90% also felt that regulators and payers reviewing new innovations for access and reimbursement should consider pharma purpose. This also grew over the two waves of the study from 31% to 41% in Wave Two.

Furthermore, over 80% of payers also said a company’s purpose should carry weight with health systems when considering new innovations, with 20% saying that it should carry ‘a lot’ of weight.

Physicians, the closest to direct patient care, were most likely to associate their own purpose with achieving the best individual patient outcomes. 50% of HCPs said it was critical that their own personal purpose aligns with pharma purpose.

Interestingly, over half of HCPs across all markets believed the best way healthcare companies can demonstrate purpose is through ‘partnering with healthcare systems to address challenges.’

50% of HCPs also said that they give pharma permission now to lead and trailblaze and to drive innovative partnerships to tackle challenges. From this we infer an increasing expectation of pharma to lead out.

Some interesting nuances

Broadly across the eight different specialty subsets we saw the strength of the core findings play out. However, specific disciplines which showed more affinity to pharma demonstrating their purpose through more innovative collaborations with the system were: oncologists, cardiologists and infectious disease specialists – those at the vanguard of some of the most innovative, agile and accelerated collaboration projects in pharma to date. We know oncology and cardiology are two disease spaces which have seen much competitive activity and innovation particularly over the last couple of decades – which again may explain the strong affinity to expectations of leadership through partnering.

What this shows is that these findings are not transient. This is the start of a profound shift in the pharma-HCP contract.

What message and action does pharma need to take from this?

To act. Pharma by nature has purpose. HCPs by nature have purpose. Today and henceforth, these critical players in the system will need to scrutinise their own desired behaviours and their ability to live them out, every day, with every patient outcome.

How? The 3 Purpose Paradigm – Pharma, Physician, Patient

The research shows the opening up of a new contract between pharma and customer – based on a strategic alignment of respective purpose. This is an interesting opportunity as through industry building closer and more active purpose demonstration, customers will be able to dedicate themselves more closely to the complex and unique needs of their patients. A symbiotic relationship. This then provides an opportunity to deepen and make more meaningful engagements.

Getting started

For pharma executives, the need is clear to conduct a thorough and exhaustive audit of brand, franchise, corporate life cycles to understanding the lens through which your customers see you. How do you demonstrate your ESG mandate? How do you engage with customers at all touch points? What challenges are you seeking to address beyond the innovation you are bringing to market. What are your long-term goals to impact the system in which you operate? How are you involving critical stakeholders in your partnering, licensing and clinical trial designs?

Then comes defining and refining your truth, purpose and how you wish your stakeholders to understand your commitment. Through defining this pharma can be clear on what types of systemic challenges to step in to try and solve and how to build resilient, coalitions which drive impact and success. The secret to this is longevity. The permission to try and fail to succeed is there. Conversely, failure of industry to continue to invest in something that delivers positive impact has a disproportionately negative result on overall reputation.

What are the most critical challenges?

Broadly industry has many opportunities to demonstrate purpose. The needs of cash-strapped, resource-poor systems have never needed additional help from pharma as much as they do now, post-pandemic. Access, pricing, digital patient solutions, homecare support, improving health literacy, reducing health inequities, reducing disease afflictions in cultural subsections of the population – among many areas.

Conducting a thorough purpose audit and diving deeper into the depths of your organisation and the people within it, manifests an acuity of focus. Of course then – the need to continually audit perceptions with your customers and the system stakeholders will be critical too to maintain relevancy and reputation.

The gains are vast

So, if these results aren’t compelling enough in themselves, a recent McKinsey study revealed that 83% of the Top 30 Global Companies are considering prioritising ‘bold purpose’ imperatives into their strategic planning.

Bold purpose can be realised not just with customers, an active purpose strategy can yield value across stakeholder audiences. Purpose also critically provides those working in your brand/corporate organisation with a more meaningful differentiated career too.

How are you demonstrating your purpose with your customers?

Lisa O’Sullivan is global growth lead, Health, at Porter Novelli