[[wysiwyg_imageupload:108:]]As patent cliffs continue to crack and crumble into the sea and send shock waves through big pharma around the world, global healthcare PR strategists continue to train their skilled teams’ eyes and ears on the future trends of big pharma, urgently trying to discern the shape of the new emerging landmass to keep ahead of the game.

Over the next three years, six Big Pharma companies have more than half of their portfolio at risk due to patent expirations.  I’d imagine that this creates anxiety among communications agencies around the world asking what this all means for them and future revenue streams. Should we start prophesying that the end is nigh for “big pharma”? Long-term, can viable business models continue to be sustained around portfolios of products that have such short patent shelf lives?

Before you think this is all too farfetched – last Autumn we saw the CEO of a prominent pharma company boldly lay out his company’s new long term objectives for the investor community by promising that their patent cliff was now almost behind them. While media reported even more heads rolling as part of cost control and restructuring, as a communicator I took away something else that I found quite interesting.  Was that CEO hinting that as his company diversifies, it no longer wants to describe itself as a pharmaceutical company?

Just like the world’s bankers and insurance brokers of the 70s & 80s who had worked loyally and thought that they had chosen professions which promised jobs for life, pharma execs of well-oiled medical and marketing teams are seeing their working world evaporate in front of their eyes, whilst simultaneously new pharma frontiers and opportunities spring up in different regions of the world. 

For us in the PR world, it’s proving challenging to predict just how these ongoing (and seemingly endless) changes will impact our current business and our staffing of major accounts. We are certainly seeing the need for our teams to be far more flexible as confident, annual programs stutter and project-based work either shrinks or grows exponentially at little or no notice, giving us little chance to staff effectively.

No suppliers of the pharma industry can effectively survive these aftershocks without radically changing the strategies they offer, all at the same time as bringing, creative and fresh offerings to the table.  We need to understand just how patent cliffs are being used and recognize the immense pressure for our clients as communication roles, team structures and locations change. Some are calling upon us to help mitigate the impact of the patent cliff and fight loss of exclusivity, de-momenting the moment, while others need help to fight off acquisitions.

While some pharma companies navigate communications around extending their products’ exclusivity, others steer away from high-margin products acquiring generics and generic manufacturers at a time of global recession where governments are rapidly tightening purse strings.  At the same time, the pharma industry is also calling upon communications to help highlight any inappropriate and aggressive generic sales prior to loss of exclusivity.

Some smaller brands that once were left on the carpet following previous mergers are being re-examined and gold dust is being found. New marketing monies are being injected back into communications to ensure that their success story becomes part of new, now broader, portfolio strategies.

Also significant marketing funds are being ploughed back into R&D teams in an attempt to fan the flames of innovation, and fresh communication efforts are needed to show all these new plans of action.

Clearly new communications strategies are needed to support all these promises of geographic expansion, diversification outside large branded Rx drugs, increased business development and new approaches to R&D. Interestingly, animal health portfolios are proving an area of revival where human pharmaceutical communications style strategies and funds are rapidly being deployed with animal health brands proving to be more patent proof options and areas for rapid growth as emerging markets prosper.

Some pharma are sending their finest marketers off to emerging markets as they redirect finances toward investments in developing and marketing pesticides and genetically modified seeds.

With further potential global recession looming over us as we begin 2012, huge savings are being demanded by world governments and health insurance schemes, and billions of dollars are being stripped from companies. This means that not only do we, the communications industry, need to identify and respond to new opportunities, but simultaneously we need to tackle the growing economic pressures faced by pharma companies, who are understandably seeking to maximise return on investment from their agency partners now more than ever before.