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R&D Leadership Summit Provides Ear-Opening Experience

  • March 14, 2016

  • Guest Post by Rob Wright from Life Science Leader


    Fred Hassan and Valerie Bowling at the 6th Annual R&D Leadership Summit

    Life Science Leader magazine and CNBC were the only two members of the media invited to attend the 6th Annual R&D Leadership (RDL) Summit (I will explain why this is significant in a moment). Produced by the Conference Forum with support from PRA Health Sciences, the event provides an extremely intimate opportunity for R&D executives to network and openly discuss some of the biopharmaceutical industry’s most controversial issues (e.g., drug pricing). And while you might be thinking that there are plenty of events that provide biopharmaceutical executives with a forum where they can feel free to share their most intimate feelings and opinions without fear of reprisal, what makes the RDL unique is its approach for doing so. While organizers of similar executive gatherings take “a closed-door approach” when it comes to dealing with members of the media , The Conference Forum’s executive director, Valerie Bowling, prefers a more sophisticated approach.

    Are You Familiar With The Chatham House Rule?

    Upon receiving my invitation to attend this year’s RDL, I couldn’t help but notice that it was accompanied by an explanation that the conference utilizes the “Chatham House Rule” and to be sure to familiarize myself with how the concept works. Now in case you aren’t familiar, the Chatham House Rule is a system for holding debates and discussion panels on controversial topics. Named after the headquarters of the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, based in Chatham House London, the rule that originated in June 1927 is designed to increase openness and discussion. Anyone who comes to a meeting held under this rule is free to use the information from the discussion, but “Neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” When asking Bowling how she determined which members of media to invite she stated, “Because of our shared values and integrity.” And while some might be wondering if there is much value to having a member of the media attend an event if they will be fairly limited in what they can write about it after, I would argue to the contrary. Relationships are built on trust. For example, I am always honored when an executive calls me to have a frank conversation about an industry topic or makes comments in confidence at a conference. In those incidences, I never violate their trust, but I always end up with better and broader insights on a topic.

    Perhaps other events could follow Bowling’s lead. If you want certain members of the media to better understand the challenges the biopharmaceutical industry is facing, consider including them in the discussion. For not doing so runs the risk of their developing and sharing uninformed opinions.

    Insights From This Year’s RDL


    Rob Wright, Dalvir Gill, and Margaret Anderson at the 2016 RDL Summit

    R&D productivity in biopharma is at an all-time high. In the past 10 years, the industry’s R&D pipeline has nearly doubled. Though the bulk of growth has been in oncology, what is very telling is that of the 45 NMEs approved in 2015, 21 were for rare diseases. In addition, of the FDA-approved drugs last year, 13 were truly novel molecules with completely new mechanisms of action (MOA). And while the U.S. continues to lead the world’s biopharmaceutical innovation engine, since 2007 China has been gaining ground and can now boast leading the globe in the number of industry patent submissions. Although Big Pharma continues to play an important role in innovation, it was noted by RDL attendees how biotechs and startups are setting the pace for industry innovation.

    One key takeaway from RDL this year was the need for biopharmas to look beyond R&D as a source of innovation. For example, the TransCelerate consortium was credited as a major source of innovation for its success in getting biopharmaceutical companies to collaborate on noncompetitive activities, reducing duplication of efforts that have resulted in significant cost savings. Yet despite this success, R&D leaders believe tremendous opportunity remains for additional consortiums to further enhance collaborations between traditional players, as well as those not typically associated with healthcare (e.g., Apple and Google). One area that remains a concern for biopharmaceutical R&D executives is the continued rise in development costs, which have increased from $200 billion in 2011 to an estimated $500 billion last year. Finally, attendees of this year’s RDL are well aware of the public’s concern over drug pricing. And while R&D executives continue to struggle with how best to communicate the cost-versus-value message, they also cognizant of the importance of not just being included in the discussion, but driving it. Perhaps the quote made by an RDL executive attendee that best demonstrated this concept was – “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you will most certainly be on the menu.”

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