The members of the online Pharma Marketing Discussion Board, which I moderate, had a lively exchange on the subject of Pfizer, torcetrapib, and drug costs over the past several days. I’d like to summarize that discussion here. Keep in mind that all these people are professionals working within the pharmaceutical industry either employed at major pharmaceutical companies or with outside agencies or vendors providing services to the industry. I include only their first name and initials here to protect their identity, although they had no qualms about that amongst their colleagues on the discussion board.

Pfizer: “Arrogant and Superior”?
One repercussion of the torcetrapib failure is the negative publicity Pfizer is receiving and criticisms from Wall Street analysts (see for example “torcetrapib: $800 Million Failure but Kindler Safe“). Some of the latter may be driven by short-sellers, but some people in the industry seem to have pent-up feelings, such as the following:

While I agree that jumping all over Pfizer is not in the best interest of learning from this situation, I can tell you that as a former vendor, they do hold a reputation as arrogant and superior to everyone else, and this may be a way for many to retaliate.

Concerning the mea culpa within 5 hours – that will be a question many will ask: “What did they know and when did they know it?”

Could things have been done better? Perhaps. A more extensive safety trial prior to phase-3? Less of a focus on developing drugs to protect a market niche held by a product with only a few years left on its patent?

The pharmaceutical industry is fully aware and accepts the fact that many of the drug compounds in development will not reach it to market. It becomes major news when so much money is invested and people die. Just the realities of life.

Mike A.

John M. (another John M., not me!) disagreed with Mike’s suggestion that Pfizer has an “arrogant and superior” reputation and offered offered his personal experience as an example:

Probably different groups, but my Pfizer clients have always been among the best.

to which Mike responded:

Not my personal experience either, but this is what I have heard from many companies who have dealt with them. The most common comment, paraphrased, is “We just want you to execute our strategies and tactics – don’t think. We wouldn’t be as big as we are if we didn’t know what we were doing.”

You can’t argue with success (to date)! Luis Q. put it this way:

a lots of times, if a person show skills for think in a laboral interview, he/she is “overqualify”.

We’ve all been there!

My own viewpoint is this: Most of the people I have dealt with at pharmaceutical companies — including people at Pfizer — have been very competent, knowledgeable and great to work for. For the record, I am currently doing some consulting work for Pfizer, so I may be biased.

So many times I have heard from pharmaceutical people at conferences how much they enjoy my blog or participating in the online discussion board — at least listening in. The most common remark is something like this: “What you said about X was right on. I wish I could say that!” There are some things that pharmaceutical companies do based on strategies developed at the highest levels that do not sit well with the rank and file. Same as with other industries. But if we all just say “Yes sir, great strategy” are we doing the industry a favor?

Anyway, I digress. Adam B. adamantly defended Pfizer’s handling of the torcetrapib debacle:

Woo-hoo! A lot of people are really stepping out on the ledge this week and criticizing Pfizer. Do you also like cute puppies and dislike Osama bin Laden?

* How about some solutions for how Pfizer can best respond now?
* How can other companies avoid this sort of crisis?
* Is M&A to create mega-pharmas a failed strategy?
* Why hasn’t Pfizer gotten any positive coverage for so quickly yanking the clinical trial? (The last time you made a major mistake, did you publish a mea culpa within five hours?)

I wish Adam hadn’t mentioned the “O” word and brought politics into the picture! I don’t want the Negroponte and other folks at NSA snooping through my email and the email of the other members of the discussion board who received Adam’s message.

Mike A.’s comment, which I quoted at the beginning of this post, was actually a response to Adam. For the record, I gave Pfizer a “B” for pulling the plug on torcetrapib (see “Pfizer’s torcetrapib: Who Knew What, When?“). That’s pretty good coming from me, but remember, I may be biased!

As always, the discussion veered at this point to other matters, which I may cover in a future post.

I’d like to end this with a poll of readers asking you whether or not you agree that Pfizer is “arrogant and superior.” You can vote below and add comments to this post by clicking on “Comments” at the end. It’s all anonymous, so don’t worry about losing your job.

Is Pfizer Arrogant and Superior?
No (emphatic)
Yes (sigh)
Yes and rightly so!
No, it’s a cute puppy! (sarcastic)
Superior yes, Arrogant no!
How the hell should I know?