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The Week That Was: Crisis in Communications

The Week That Was: Crisis in Communications

May 22, 2017 0 Comments

Hello Readers,

This week we profile how:

  • Divine intervention has shone a spotlight on the unmet need of those living with Huntington’s Disease
  • You could buy your prescription on Amazon Prime in the not-so-distant future and doctors can rate drugs on SERMO similar to a “Yelp” ratings
  • And just when you think nothing crazier can occur in Washington, read up on the countless drug pricing proposals that are up for review

Hang on a few more days… a three day weekend is in sight (and so is our Memorial Day hiatus)! We look forward to seeing you again on June 4.

Until then, please enjoy The Week That Was.


Advocates for Huntington’s disease received a small miracle last week from an unexpected source, Pope Francis. The Pope hosted a crowd of 1,700, including 150 people living with Huntington’s at the Vatican. In his audience, the Pope offered messages of support and reassurance to those affected by the disease, saying “You are a gift… You are never a burden…” The event marked the launch of the HDENNOMORE (HDHidden No More) campaign to end the stigma associated with the disease and promote further research for new therapies. Huntington’s disease is a rare, inherited neurodegenerative condition that impacts movement, mood and ability to speak. Many in the crowd hailed from Latin America where the genetic disease is 1,000 times more prevalent than other regions of the world. Members of the Latin church who helped organize the event have said that in some regions of Colombia and Venezuela with high rates of the disease, many patients live in extreme poverty — with some living in communities without running water or sanitation – worsening the plight of patients.


It may be a sign when it takes divine intervention to raise awareness about the dire need of patients with Huntington’s disease. In countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina, Huntington’s is not only more prevalent, but some patients live without the most basic healthcare standards as compared to counterparts in the U.S. and Europe. The Huntington’s gene was first discovered in Colombia, yet many high prevalence communities still live without access to genetic tests, let alone modern healthcare. Unlike the U.S., many Latin American patients do not have the availability of support resources from government or not-for-profit patient assistance grants, which is why the Catholic Church is engaging to help some communities. Prophecy or not, our editorial believes there’s an underlying message for life-sciences companies: seize the opportunity to improve the care of in-need Huntington’s patients in Latin America.


Amazon Prime lovers get excited. The word on the Street (aka CNBC) is that e-commerce site Amazon is exploring the possibility of breaking into the pharmacy market. The company is reportedly bringing on a business lead to develop the company’s pharmacy strategy and it is hiring employees from the industry. Shares of Walgreens and CVS stocks dipped on the news of Amazon’s potential entry into the space, yet some analysts don’t believe that Amazon will significantly disrupt the market. But before you get too excited about ordering that embarrassing toe-nail fungus prescription online (we don’t judge), analysts say “don’t hold your breath.” They argue a lack of connections to insurers and providers as well as potential difficulty with securing higher discounts on products are just a handful of major factors that could impede Amazon’s ability to gain traction in the space.

Not to be outdone, the physician online network SERMO just launched a new “Drug Ratings” tool. The tool, which has been dubbed “Yelp for drugs,” includes more than 1,000 drugs and 250,000 ratings. It claims to be the first tool to allow “peer-to-peer” review of prescriptions drugs among licensed physicians. Key topics factoring into the physician ratings include: efficacy, accessibility, adherence, and safety. Manufacturers can’t buy ad space on the rating, but will be allowed to access aggregate data from the system.


Some people have bet against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, but we’re not among them. But Bezos has a real uphill climb. If Amazon enters the pharmacy business, it must find ways to match or improve upon drug price discounts currently offered by PBMs – without the same buying power or plan lives represented. As for SERMO’s new “Drug Ratings” tool, pharmacos now have yet another source of aggregate data, requiring them to track and address potential issues related to product safety, effectiveness and access. For those who fail to do so, beware of the lowly “one-star” rating!


Investigations dominated the headlines in Washington this week, but even that could not stop all of the discussion about drug pricing legislation. In the House, dozens of Members of Congress urged the President to force price reform measures via user fee bills that must pass this year. On the other side of Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of Senators are calling on the President to allow for drugs to be imported from Canada. Several Senators also introduced a revised version of the Fair Drug Pricing Act, which would mandate that companies detail the rationale behind any prices that increase by either 10 percent in one year or 25 percent in three years.


Will all the drug price reforms in Washington prevail? Probably not. But, advocates of reform are targeting “must pass bills,” like the User Fee Acts that allow the FDA, to operate as an opportunity to attach their favorite prescription drug-related initiative. For medicine makers, that means continued, careful analysis of risk relative to your pricing strategies, anticipating the impact on government payers, and beefing up your value messaging while you can.

Until next time,

– The Reputation & Risk Management Practice @ inVentiv Health Communications

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