British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline announced earlier this month that 31-year company vet Sir Andrew Witty will retire next March after eight years as CEO. That same day, Witty delivered a wide-ranging speech in front of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on how the pharma industry can adapt to the 21st century, controversial topics such as drug pricing, pharmaceutical engagement with physicians, clinical trial transparency, and IP.
While Witty addressed all of these topics at length, he homed in on the ethics and evolving nature of the relationship between pharma companies and the physicians who must ultimately prescribe their drugs.
That’s an issue which has become near and dear to Witty’s heart in the wake of Glaxo’s major doctor bribery scandal in China. The firm was fined a staggering $500 million by Chinese regulators in 2014 on allegations that GSK employees had committed graft in exchange for a boost in prescriptions.
Witty deployed radical changes to the company’s sales force incentive structure after that episode. In fact, the firm no longer provides any paid incentives to reps based on the quantity of prescriptions they generate, making it a singular outlier in the global pharmaceutical community. And in an equally controversial (from a business perspective) move, GSK has also stopped paying doctors to speak on the company’s behalf.
In his speech, Witty said that decision was spurred by both ethical considerations and practical realities of the Internet age which he believes will spur other pharmaceuticals to make similar moves.
“[W]e’re living in 2015 and the world is digital,” he said, noting that doctors would much rather get information on Glaxo drugs through an online consultation with an expert than be forced to attend an out-of-the-way conference.
Witty also addressed the red-hot issue of drug pricing and pharmaceutical patents. “IP is there to protect the innovator,” he said, “but IP does not give you, as an innovator, the right to charge any price you want.”