Our Inboxes spilled over last Friday thanks to many of you. No, Martin Shkreli is not back… in fact, he’s uncharacteristically hunkering down. Apparently, the reason for the influx was that many of you could not wait to share the travails of our poor pals at Pfizer. For the 2.5 of you who did not see the story circulate, we’ll catch you up. A hoaxter thought it would be amusing to send the Washington Post a fake press release claiming the world’s largest drug company would stop raising the price of its medicines to make them more accessible to patients. Some joke! The paper ran an article on the story claiming the press release appeared genuine and came from an email address known to Pfizer. Once Pfizer confirmed the release was fake, the Post removed the article, but the damage was done. Pfizer, which was reported to have increased the price on 100 medicines earlier this year, has come under fire for the price of its drugs and this April Fools’ prank didn’t help.
Our Take: This is not the first time Pfizer’s faced an unfortunate identity theft crisis. Several years ago the hactivist group Script Kiddies hacked into the company’s Facebook page. Now with this latest attack, Pfizer responded quickly saying it will evaluate legal actions if the imposter is identified. This may be a good reminder that every challenge can be an opportunity. Perhaps Pfizer might remind the public that it recently expanded its patient access Pathways program to be one of the most generous and sweeping programs in the country.
MESS WITH THE BEYHIVE, GET SWARMED
Imitation is supposedly the greatest form of flattery, but pointing it out might not be the best idea — especially if you are accusing a beloved artist of being a copycat. Athletic apparel maker Lululemon learned that lesson this week when it crossed Beyonce, and the foreseeable result quickly took hold. Reacting to the launch of “Bey’s” new athletic fashion line, Lululemon tweeted at a customer that “imitation is the best form of flattery” and the icon must be “Crazy in Love” with their brand. The #BeyHive swarm assembled, stung the Lululemon brand on social media and forced it to delete its original joke and apologize – repeatedly.
Our Take: For months, PBMs have had a free pass in attacking pharmaceutical companies, even taking on the populist role. While Anthem’s suit may highlight the impact PBMs have on patient out-of-pocket costs, that is likely the limit of this lawsuit’s impact on the harsh pricing environment.
GSK TO ABANDON PATENT RIGHTS IN POOR NATIONS
Glaxo Smith Kline took a step forward in the global debate about access to medicines this week by announcing that it would “tier” its patent protection efforts based on a country’s economic maturity and income level. The move clears the way for generics to be made available quickly in emerging markets and at lower prices offered to individuals who lack access to medications. In the poorest countries, GSK plans to completely abandon its patent rights. The move was announced ahead of a UN Panel on Access to Medicines.
Our Take: Tiered pricing has long been a strategy of the largest pharma companies, but the sharing of intellectual property and voluntary surrender of defending patent rights breaks new ground. The move is not anticipated to significantly impact GSK’s total sales, given the low prices it can demand in these markets. Therefore, GSK has an opportunity to live up to its corporate narrative without harming shareholders. The move will likely play well with global third-parties and NGOs, but may fall flat among American consumers – who mostly care about the cost of medicines as it impacts their personal finances. Still, in this climate, anything a company can do to insulate itself in the pricing debate will pay dividends.
LEAKS WORSEN THERANOS WOES
On Thursday, the federal government released findings from a redacted investigation of quality assurance and control of Theranos’s laboratory. It seems somewhat fishy that the audit was released minutes before a Wall Street Journal published a report using the full – unredacted version. Among the many criticisms, the report found personnel were inadequately trained for their tasks, and QC for an important blood-clotting test was not assured before reports were given to patients. Earlier in the week, a peer-reviewed study determined results from Theranos had more abnormalities than those run by conventional competitors LabCorp and Quest.
Our Take: The sourcing of the WSJ report indicates there is a likely a leak within Theranos, CMS, or both. For there to be continuing leaks after one round of controversy means there is still some animosity within one of the entities, which poses a challenge to crisis managers. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, but a leaky office usually means employees feel they lack an outlet to voice their concerns, or that genuine issues are being ignored once made public.