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Recently, I found a published research on Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices in Pakistan. I was instantly pulled by the subject and browsed through the contents. I would like to share the key findings here. But first, let me introduce the researcher and his research.
“Dr. Rizwan Raheem Ahmed holds B.Sc. (Hons.), M.Sc. in Applied Statistics and Master of Science (MAS) in Human Resource Management from University of Karachi. He also earned MBA (Marketing) from PAF-KIET and MBA (General Management) from Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. He also holds MS (Management Sciences) from SZABIST and M.Phil. (Financial Economics) from Hamdard University, Karachi. Dr. Rizwan earned his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Marketing from Hamdard University, Karachi. Dr. Rizwan Raheem Ahmed carries more than 19 years of Professional Experience at Senior Management Positions in Sales and Marketing with prestigious National & Multinational Organizations in Pharmaceutical Industry. He has been associated with Indus University since September 2013 as Professor for Business Administration & Commerce department. He has been visiting Faculty for SZABIST for several years. More than 40 Publications (Peer reviewed research articles) are on his credit in reputed National & international Journals. He has done Post-Doctoral work at Universidad Azteca (Mexico)”. [this is somewhat old intro]
The report under discussion is his PhD dissertation titled ‘Pharmaceutical Drug Promotion in Pakistan – Issues in Ethical and Non-ethical Practices’. Being a detailed research conducted in Pakistan for local market, it stands out as a reference. The link to full report appears at the end. I sought permission from Dr. Ahmed for writing on it here. I am grateful to him and I shall refer to his work extensively. First, let me put the Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices in historical perspective.
Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices have grown and evolved over the last five decades. In fact, the marketing was initially focused on sales only. Pharma was in ‘Sellers-Market’. The market was dominated by the Multinational companies who sold only their own research products. The competition was between one therapeutic entity and the other; rarely among the same molecule. As late as 1990s, few molecules were co-launched by two MNCs, rather than as competitor. One such case was Lisinopril.
Marketing activity started truly evolving in 1980s. One trigger was the introduction of recent researches in cardiovascular, metabolism, neurology, psychiatry, infection control and so on. These were large ticket products, and these were already changing the style of treatment worldwide. It was necessary to explain and sell the concept behind these drugs and that required marketing activities in various forms. These were also expensive products and it made sense to invest on them considering the large ROI (Return on Investment) anticipated.
Marketing activities were initially focused on academics. Research articles were shared, important customers were sponsored to attend international events where these products were presented and discussed. These ‘primed’ doctors were then arranged to speak to other doctors at local conferences or specially arranged seminars. International speakers were sponsored to come to Pakistan and speak at local conferences or specially organized events. Many such luminaries visited Pakistan in those days and shared their ‘sponsored’ wisdom. There is no doubt that companies who invested hugely in these activities did help to upgrade the overall level of knowledge, while generating business for their products. In case of the first Angiotensin-Receptor-Blocker drug Losartan, MSD worked on potential customers two years prior to launch of product through a dedicated task team. It was Marketing at its strongest.
The scenario started changing with the evolution of generic industry. Being non-research companies, generic companies did not have any academic endeavor to uptake. They trailed the research company and waited for them to ‘sell the concept’ so that they could go and ‘sell the product’. This phenomenon is not limited to Pakistan; it is the same in all countries where medical treatment is not taken as a responsibility by the government. As we know, medical treatment is almost entirely dependent on private market here and generic drugs have risen to the extent where they have forced the MNCs to close the shop and go back. Many of them have done it already. It is not a great thing and not a happy thing to celebrate; it will restrict the inflow of recent research products to Pakistan. We had been struggling with the patent issues in the past which also discouraged new research introductions here. Another undesirable area is how the Local Pharma has handled licensed products from foreign companies. Most, if not all, have ended up in contractual violations, disaffection and even litigation.
Dr. Ahmed’s research was published in 2012 and may be considered recent as not much has changed since.
Let us start browsing from his research.
Dr. Ahmed has taken the premise that Pharmaceutical companies are indulged in ‘Unethical’ marketing practices. It is a given for his work, as the introduction says.
“Unethical marketing practices have become an essential part of the pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan and roots are so strong that it may not be possible to reverse the same (Parmar & Jalees, 2004). However the previous study has a limitation. It was a case study on pharmaceutically industry in Hyderabad. In view of the findings of that study there was a need to carry out the same on larger basis. Thus this research has been undertaken with this objective in mind.”
What really is an unethical practice? Isn’t Marketing about Customer Delight? If all companies are competing to get more mind space with customer, is it unethical? If the customer desires to have personal benefit to be happy, who is really unethical? The customer or the company? If the purpose of customer service is the same; to get their support in business, why one activity is ethical and the other unethical? These are the questions that we shall discuss in this series.