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The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

August 7, 2017 0 Comments
It’s never a dull week for The Week That Was team, and this week was certainly no exception. Express Scripts added 64 drugs to its exclusion list; mid-week, CVS followed suit with 17 drugs. Bernie Sanders was the only senator to vote against the user-fee agreements, while right-to-try legislation passed unanimously in the Senate. To cap off the week on Friday afternoon, the industry’s most infamous face, Martin Shkreli, was found guilty of securities fraud.

While that seems like plenty, there is even more news to discuss. Read on for The Week That Was.

DIY HEALTHCARE, Walter White-Style?

Making medication is as easy as 1-2-3, or so that’s the theory shared by a handful of professors, scientists and providers across the country. As concerns about high drug prices intensify, this group of “pharma hackers” is exploring unconventional methods for developing everything from aspirin to EpiPens. Inspired by Ikea, ‘just-add-water’ Cup Noodles, and—believe it or not—illegal drug labs, these scientist-entrepreneurs are creating “do it yourself” chemistry kits and mini-lab to produce your own medicines at home. Obviously, the FDA is like, “umm, safety?” while other critics are challenging the claim that DIY drugs will save money, given that expensive R&D will always be required to discover new therapies.


And here we thought that tech companies moonlighting as drug makers was disruptive… With the intense focus on finding every possible way to bend the healthcare cost curve, tapping into innovations from other industries is tempting. But what DIY drug production fails to understand are the rigorous quality and safety standards that drug manufacturers must meet. When presenting the value pharmacos bring to healthcare, we tend to focus on R&D and innovations to meet unmet patient needs. However, the drug production and distribution processes for biologics can incredibly challenging. We encourage pharmacos to message the total value they bring to patients—including explanations about complex manufacturing, storage, and just-in-time shipping (sometimes made-to-order per patient). Pharma expertise in drug development and delivery extends far beyond the lab—the same can’t be said of DIY health care.


A breathtaking breakthrough, a new study in the journal Nature reported the first-ever successful gene editing in human embryos to fix a common and serious disease-causing mutation. A huge step forward in human genetic engineering, the research suggests that gene editing could someday be used to prevent severe hereditary conditions. While an incredible scientific achievement, scientists have long worried about gene editing safety and the potential long-term social implications of genetic engineering. Regardless, “It feels a bit like a ‘one small step for (hu)mans, one giant leap for (hu)mankind’ moment,” Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist involved in the research, told the New York Times.


In the era of modern biotechnology, we get so used to hearing about life-changing therapies that we take for granted the mind-blowing science that goes into these innovations. But stories like this also remind us that science is often lightyears ahead of biomedical ethics, pushing the boundary between preventing devastating diseases and eugenics. As Bruce Lee at Forbes points out, we are still a long way away from “fixing and designing babies,” and the Congressional ban on clinical trials that use gene editing on human embryos will modulate the pace of research in this field. Even so, biotech companies and payers need to start working together to plan how this technology should be used responsibly—and equitably. Questions about who can—and should—get these truly life-altering therapies will only intensify today’s current concerns about price, access, and value.


Pivoting from healthcare to hospitality, the Hotel Association of New York City is escalating its attacks on Airbnb with an ad that means to raise security concerns about the company’s practices of not sharing information with local law enforcement. The ad, which has no words and lots of ominous music, asks “Who’s in Your Building?,” references the recent Manchester, England, bombing and ends by telling consumers to “stand up for NY’s safety and security.” HANYC’s ad is apparently aligned to NYC legislation being introduced that would require ads for short-term rentals to include address details. Airbnb spokesperson Peter Schottenfels responded by saying the campaign is “an outrageous scare tactic by big hotels who themselves have a long history of lodging people who engage in acts of terror.”


This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an organization try to capitalize on current social issues to promote their own brands (remember Pepsi and its protest-stopping spokesmodel Kendall Jenner?). But these ads typically backfire, coming across as insincere and opportunistic at best. However, sociopolitical advertising can work if it aligns with the company’s mission and its actions. Take 84 Lumber’s 2016 Super Bowl ad, which tied the immigration debate to the company’s desire to recruit to fill open positions. The ad ended with a clear message directly tying to that goal: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.” Our team tries to stay apolitical, aligning only with successful strategies. So our advice would be to know what your company wants to get out of messaging around a social issue—and make sure your messages and actions reflect those goals. Otherwise, you may get attention for all the wrong reasons.

Until next week,
 The Reputation & Risk Management Practice @inVentiv Health Communications
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