Big Pharma has offered many explanations for its anemic pipelines. All of the easy drugs have been discovered. Patent law (or another particular form of regulation) stifles innovation. The economy is forcing us to retrench. Although these explanations may be plausible, they all lay the blame elsewhere. Could Big Pharma’s own actions be discouraging research and development (R&D)?
Definitely, says the Hay Group, a management-consulting firm. Big Pharma’s executive-compensation plans reward compliance and short-term financial gains when they should be encouraging risk-taking, according to the firm’s research. About 80% of criteria that determine incentives are financial, and only 12% relate to drug development and commercialization. Although short-term incentives are common, they’re inappropriate for the pharmaceutical industry because of its long product-development processes, according to Hay Group.
In light of Hay Group’s research, the compensation package for former Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler makes no sense at all. The company was facing distinct problems when its board gave Kindler the boot in December 2010. Not only had Pfizer’s share prices languished for four years, several promising drugs had failed in late testing, including a potential replacement for Lipitor. Despite these problems, Kindler got a 60% raise over his 2009 compensation. A performance-related bonus brought his compensation to $4.9 million. Kindler seems to have been rewarded for failure, which, to my mind, is even worse than being rewarded for short-term gains.
To overcome its current challenges, Big Pharma will have to change how it defines, measures, and rewards performance, according to Hay Group’s research. Fortunately, Big Pharma can use mid-sized drugmakers and biopharmaceutical firms as models. These companies “have been much more creative in weaving pipeline and R&D measurements into their incentive strategies,” said Hay Group in a press release. By learning from these firms’ compensation strategies, Big Pharma might match their level of innovation.
It’s easy to blame circumstances for our failings, and harder to admit our own missteps. If it took Hay Group’s recommendations seriously, Big Pharma might reclaim its reputation for innovation. And achieving this goal naturally would be good for the world’s patients as well as for industry.