You don't need to tell Anne Bailey about the changes in public perception the pharma industry has seen in recent years. She recalls when things were quite different.
Having worked across a range of disciplines within the industry over the past 25 years, Bailey is uniquely positioned to say just how much things have shifted. As head of corporate communications for Novartis AG, she also has a pretty good view of the road ahead. She's confident the public will come around again.
"The perception of the industry has changed tremendously," says Bailey. "When I started in [healthcare PR], it was great to tell people what you did because they all thought healthcare was a fantastic place to work, very caring. Somehow, over the past several years, that has changed. The industry [now] does have a very negative reputation. That's a challenge for any company in the business."
Bailey's role is among the most high-profile in the industry. Novartis is the world's fourth-largest pharmaceutical company, complete with a vaccine division, genetics business, and a consumer-health division. Running corporate communications for any company of this size, let alone in the pharmaceutical industry, can be a daunting task.
Fortunately for Bailey, there is good news. Unlike recent reports coming out of Pfizer, Novartis is in a growth phase. Profits climbed yet again during the fourth quarter, pushed in part by the strength of heart drug Diovan and cancer drug Gleevec. Novartis also sees strength in the pipeline. There are at least three drugs waiting in the wings that could help raise profits: Galvus for diabetes, blood pressure treatment Tekturna, and Tasigna for cancer.
That doesn't mean things have been quiet for Bailey - quite the contrary. The company is currently involved in a suit in India over the patent for Gleevec. The decision to file the lawsuit has been criticized by AIDS activists who claim that if the drug company is successful, it could set a precedent for other pharmaceutical companies looking for patent protection for essential medicines being made cheaply in places like India. And while the company has insisted it would continue to provide the treatment to those who can't afford it, it has not been easy to articulate Novartis' thought process.
"We want to make sure we get clarity on the patent situation in India, so it's not necessarily about winning or losing," Bailey says.
"The other piece of the puzzle is to make sure that innovation is protected," she adds. "The messaging will take time for people to understand because it's a complex situation when you're talking about patents."
She points out that Novartis spent $755 million in access programs for its medicines last year alone, an effort that helped reach nearly 34 million patients. She also notes that Novartis, unlike some other drug giants, has the second-strongest genetics business in the world and that the company is committed to keeping the cost of healthcare from continuing to skyrocket.
Bailey's background is unusual for someone in her position. She has experience in both the science and the business of her current employer, serving as the head of pharmaceutical operations in France before making the jump into communications.
"This is really the first time in my career that I'm able to combine all of those elements," says Bailey. "There's the business element, the scientific background, which you need in our business, and, in communications, a lot of the creative work. Bringing all of that together is a perfect position for me to have."
Corporate comms head, Novartis International AG
March 2004-April 2005
Head of the Global IQP Program Office, Novartis Pharma AG
Nov. 2000-March 2004
Head of pharma operations, France, Novartis Pharma SAS