At a recent industry event, I was asked by a senior executive at a leading pharma discovery company whether I thought science should take care of selling itself. His implication was that if a new chemical entity (NCE) is compelling enough, companies will soon discover the science behind it and take the necessary steps to bring the product to market. The executive explained that he was considering this point because scientists often spend some of their time in the field visiting companies to promote their research.
He explained that his company “believes in open collaboration with universities, public research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and venture businesses,” and ended our conversation by observing that because scientists sometimes don’t completely believe in the science they promote, they may not be the best people to promote it.
The speaker, a country manager of an American biopharma company, had a different perspective. When the company looked to enter the Japanese market in the mid-2000s, they were advised by various parties that the easiest way to do so would be to partner with a company experienced in the country, such as Novartis. The logic was that Novartis was already successful in Japan and had established relationships with key cancer doctors and inflammatory disorder doctors, which the company’s key product lines addressed.
Not everyone agreed with this approach. Reed Maurer, among others, advised that if they wanted to sell their products in Japan, they needed to go there and do so themselves.
One of the common myths of business is that entrepreneurs and companies that are successful in entering new markets typically take more risks and are made of sterner stuff than mere mortals. They are portrayed as big thinkers who bet the farm and won. In reality, these businesses are successful not because of the risks they take, but because they have a deeper understanding and fear of the downsides.
The company was successful not because of the risks they took, but because they believed in their products and knew that no one could communicate and promote their products to doctors and the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) better than they could. In fact, the company could be seen as risk-adverse, as it could have been far riskier for them to leave their products and reputation in the hands of another company. Who could do the job better than the company who owned the products? Whose reputation was on the line? Who had the most skin in the game?
The company had to speak to one key opinion leader (KOL) at a time, explaining their company and products with passion, enthusiasm, and the strong belief that the patients of Japan needed them. The results were some of the quickest new drug applications in PMDA’s history.
Businesses are successful not because they take risks but because they understand the downsides and excel at minimizing risk. They understand the worst-case scenario and do everything in their power to prevent it from happening. Great businesses love to bet on sure things. Warren Buffet is famous for saying that “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” The company knew what they were doing.
As it says in the Bible, “faith [or in this case, science] without works is dead.”