Media perspectives: William Looney

Rebecca Aris interviews William Looney

Pharmaceutical Executive

Our Media Perspectives series gives us an insight into the lives of those working within both the media and pharma industries, sharing their thoughts on some of the most popular news stories of the year and also revealing some of their plans for the future.

This month’s interview is with William Looney, who has over 30 years experience working at The Economist and big pharma company Pfizer, among other places. William is currently Editor-in-Chief of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine so we caught up with him to find out a little bit more about the magazine’s audience, top stories and what the future holds for him and Pharmaceutical Executive magazine.

To listen to the full interview, please click on the play button below, with a shortened transcript of some edited highlights shown in print below.



00:15 – William talks about his background and his current role

01:32 – PharmExec’s audience and popularity

02:41 – Discussion around some of the biggest pharma stories from the past year

05:18 – The type of stories William is most interested reporting about

06:39 – Some of PharmExec’s craziest stories

07:59 – A look towards the future of the magazine

Interview summary

RA: Hi William, it’s great speaking with you today. Could you start by telling me about your background and how you became to be Editor-in-Chief of Pharmaceutical Executive?

WL: I started my career in the early 1980s as a journalist for the Economist’s intelligence unit. I wrote reports on different topics relating to multinational companies, and from there I went into the pharma industry. I worked for a number years at a major drug company, Warner-Lambert, before going back into consulting, where I spent a lot of time developing health policy proposals. Finally from there I went to Pfizer where I was head of international policy for about 10 years. I recently retired from Pfizer and am now serving in this role as Editor-in-Chief of Pharma Executive Magazine.

RA: Tell us about your audience. Why do you think that PharmExec is so popular?

WL: Thank you for saying that it’s popular. We don’t have a lot of specific metrics that would absolutely demonstrate that. It is read relatively widely, we have a circulation of about 20,000 in print and over 70,000 online. I think it’s popular in the sense that it occupies an interesting niche in the industry, and that it covers both business issues but also personality, so there’s a human touch to what we write about. It’s broad, it’s globally oriented, it’s looking at issues from strategy to execution – we do a lot of work in identifying future trends and issues. So in those four different areas I think we’re well known. As you can tell as well it’s not peer reviewed, but it’s a mixture of fact and flavoured opinion.


“Personally I’m very interested in the relationship between business and policy, so that’s the model I’ve put on the magazine since I took over as Editor-in-Chief.”


RA: What do you think have been the biggest stories over the past year for the pharma industry?

WL: The biggest, well most important I think, is the debate over the structure and future of R&amp,D – whether the substantial investment in in-house discovery and development is worth the funds expended, or whether the alternative approach of contracting out research and developing partnership with academic institutions is a more appropriate way to go. That debate still hasn’t been resolved, but it’s really a driving issue in the pharmaceutical industry today.

The second big issue for the industry is the debate about market access and how to facilitate appropriate reimbursement for pharmaceutical products. Governments and payers in general, have become more aggressive and demanding value from their investments in drugs. The payer base is consolidated so they have more clout in evaluating the merits of different product entries. So the industry has to respond with a stronger set of tools and metrics to show that what it’s offering to patients and payers is useful.

RA: What type of stories do you find the most interesting to report on?

WL: Personally I’m very interested in the relationship between business and policy, so that’s the model I’ve put on the magazine since I took over as Editor-in-Chief. There’s a perception that business is not about the relationship with other stakeholders beyond the investment community or your customer base, but the drug industry is a major asset to the world, producing lifesaving drugs. Around 90% of the drugs in use today are produced by the private sector, so there’s a huge policy element to what the industry does. I find it very interesting to develop and cover that particular aspect of the industry. So what I do as a journalist is to try and identify flaws in the industry case, but also identify what the industry is doing well.


“I think some of the issues relating to US health reform could be called crazy, because they’re so confusing.”


RA: What’s the craziest story that you’ve ever reported on?

WL: I think some of the issues relating to US health reform could be called crazy, because they’re so confusing. There’s so much technical complexity, coupled with political posturing by the different parties. Only in the US could you have thousands of pages of legislation which are now being reviewed by the Supreme Court with an eye to throwing the whole case out. The legislation centres on a debate around a pretty obscure constitutional issue about the commerce clause in the constitution and the role of states in the federal government. That seems to be a pretty crazy debate if you look at the standard benchmark in other industrialised countries where that issue was resolved generations ago.

RA: What does the future hold for Pharmaceutical Executive?

WL: In terms of the future we’re definitely expanding our role on the online community. We’re developing a lot more blogging activity, we have a lot of guest bloggers as well, so we’re building up our online franchise extensively. The other thing we’re doing is using the brand to work into other sources of providing information, such as reports, studies and e-books for example.

RA: William it’s been great to hear your thoughts today, thank you very much.

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About the interviewee:

William Looney is the Editor-in-Chief of Pharmaceutical Executive magazine.

What has been your pharma news highlight this year?