Biopharma’s Existential Struggle – It’s Not Abstract, It’s Expressed Through Purpose
November 30, 2020
“If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.”
Though Soren Kierkegaard wasn’t writing about the biopharma industry when he crafted these words, they can readily be applied to an industry that constitutes one of the world’s largest innovation engines. According to Tufts Center for Drug Development, the biopharma industry is a high-risk, high-reward business with a 90% failure rate.
Why would anyone ever stake their careers in an industry with such a low rate of success? Fortunately, so many good people do, despite facing failure every day.
As I sat in my home office watching the STAT Summit, I heard a familiar, self-directed question from Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on his decision to pursue development of a COVID-19 vaccine: “If not us, then who?”
I have heard these exact, contemplative words numerous times from clients such as Justin Klee, co-Founder and co-CEO, Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, about why he and partner Josh Cohen launched Amylyx to tackle perplexing neurodegenerative diseases.
“If not us, then who?”
These five words convey the purpose that people in the biopharma industry share: the belief that making people healthy is not someone else’s responsibility; it is the opportunity for everyone with the knowledge, talent and energy to recognize they can make a difference in people’s lives — and their survival. That handful of words reflects the importance of a purpose-driven organization. They speak to why we do what we do.
Every company has goals. Most have missions. Yet purpose is a higher calling that pulls together diverse people and ideas toward a common outcome. Purpose makes it possible for us to keep moving forward, despite setbacks. Purpose enables business communities to persevere during difficult times and to learn from failures.
While every biopharma company and their agencies have a nuanced definition of purpose, the universality of purpose is shown in the commitment to the responsibility to innovate for people’s health and wellbeing. As communicators, we must do a better job of stripping away artifice and getting straight to that purpose.
While we may think about this in terms of employee communications, it’s equally important in all external expressions. From data communications to thought leadership and product campaigns that connect the health ecosystem toward appropriate care, distilling and instilling a company’s purpose into our work is essential to building effective, focused action. If not us, then who?