Top ten innovators in pharma: Mike Rea

Rebecca Aris

pharmaphorum

We asked you to nominate those who you considered to be a top innovator in pharma. We were delighted with your responses and have whittled it down to the top ten pharma innovators for this series.

This week we speak with Mike Rea who was nominated for making huge positive differences to the success rate of launched products.

Name: Mike Rea

Position: CEO, IDEA Pharma.

Reasons for nomination as a pharma innovator include:

• When I worked in big pharma, I hired IDEA Pharma (Mike Rea at the helm) to introduce some ‘pressure testing’ of the internal company thinking. Mike transformed the thinking of the team.

• Mike has written and presented extensively about innovation in pharma and has real practical solutions that clients are finding make huge positive differences to the success rate of launched products.

• Mike has been voted one of the top 100 influencers in pharma.

• Mike has been involved in pharmaphorum with interviews and regular articles.

• I can’t think of anyone who is looking at where the problem of pharma is (Phase II decisions) and making such a large impact on downstream success. Most of the people in pharma are too concerned with efficiencies to see the real issue… effectiveness of decisions before Phase II.

“Mike has written and presented extensively about innovation in pharma and has real practical solutions…”

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Background:

• Worked in global pharma for over twenty years.

• Recognized industry leader, named as The Change Maker in the PharmaVoice 100 Most Inspiring Individuals in Healthcare in 2011.

• Mike has led path-to-medicine strategy for over 60 pharmaceutical brands, including over half of the 50 fastest growing brands in the 2005-2010 period, as well as more than 3 in 4 of the products named as blockbuster contenders by FiercePharma in 2011.

• Mike authored Medical Marketing Manual: Branding Pharmaceuticals, and has chaired several international conferences on pharmaceutical positioning, branding, portfolio strategy and lifecycle management.

Interview summary

RA: What to you consider to be your defining character traits?

MR: Curiosity, ignorance and hunger.

Curiosity: always curious about what’s unknown about the things that are ‘known’, as well as constantly interested in new ways of thinking about strategy and design.

Ignorance: comfort with not knowing everything about anything, but knowing that I don’t know much – it helps you ask ‘stupid’ questions that often throw light into shadows that other people leave untouched.

Hunger: voracious consumer of books, magazines, new media, TV and other sources of approaches to thinking (and new music…).

RA: How would your colleagues / peers describe you?

MR: To be honest, ‘frustrating’ would be high on the list. In a couple of ways: constantly digging into ‘obvious’ truths and very distractable in meetings. Energetic. Humorous. Insightful.

RA: Who or what has inspired you to get to where you are today?

MR: Actually, the idea that I’m the innovator would be alien to our culture – it’s the team that innovates. For example, I’d be nowhere without the interaction with Alex Gray, in particular, whose medical insight and curiosity is phenomenal.

Where IDEA is today has been a journey, rather than a single inspiration… It is what we’re good at. But, essentially, passionate frustration at the sight of product after product that thought too late about its purpose.

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“This is an industry that should be proud of what it’s achieved, and needs smart, creative people in all its disciplines.”

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Over 20 years of watching decision-making in pharma get templated to the hilt by people who’ve never launched a drug, watching what the market wants be ignored while early development single-mindedly develops drugs for regulators, then hands off any survivors to ‘Marketing’ to ‘sell’.

The idea of path-to-market design is simple: it is that it is hard, and not something that can be left to first-time teams. There is a simple truth there: teams who do path-to-market design a lot, who practice it as a discipline, are better at it than teams who don’t. It is that it is a team game, not a relay where the baton gets passed.

This matters. Most drugs fail, which pharma accepts. That they fail in many cases because they were in the wrong studies is unfortunate. That the drugs that do survive, more often than not (three in four) fail to make back their own R&amp,D costs, is just as frustrating.

So, the inspiration has been a desire to get things right further upstream, not try to continue to do things the way Lamborghini did: build it, and send it down the line to be fixed with hammers, and have parts that break replaced. That’s the equivalent of asking market access and marketing to try to achieve miracles when the product could have been so much more.

RA: What advice would you give to anyone embarking on a career in pharma at the moment?

MR: Do it, but don’t do it at most big pharma… Gain experience at many different companies, and always be learning. This is an industry that should be proud of what it’s achieved, and needs smart, creative people in all its disciplines.

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“…what gets eliminated is creativity, and what gets developed is the obvious.”

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RA: What do you see to be the biggest challenge posed to pharma at the moment?

MR: There is an essential tension between the beliefs that more templates, more processes and more technology are the solution, and the alternative idea that pharma is a human business, at all its interfaces – regulatory, prescriber, patient, payer… Pharma is an industry that is built on planning, which requires design thinking (which needs humans). But a lot of big pharma is tending to replace planning with plans – processes from one or another management consultancy – and reduce the time that teams can think together.

There are a lot of NASA-pen-type issues in pharma currently, when the pencil is what’s needed. This is driven by the idea that variability can be eliminated by giving people templates and processes. Instead what gets eliminated is creativity, and what gets developed is the obvious.

RA: What key phrase best sums up your approach to work and life?

MR: Why not?

RA: What keeps you busy outside work?

MR: Besides two amazing teenage children and time with my wife? Owning an independent record label (Medical Records) takes up a good chunk of time, cycling takes up too little… Track driving when possible, constant listening to new music, and a load of reading (a couple of books per week). Truthfully, when what you do is creative strategy, all of that contributes to the work – ideas can come from anywhere, but you have to give them time to break through, and be ready when they do.

The next part in this series will be published on 7th August.

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About the nominee:

Mike has worked in global pharma for over 20 years, and is a recognized industry leader, named as The Change Maker in the PharmaVoice 100 Most Inspiring Individuals in Healthcare in 2011. Since founding path-to-market design company IDEA Pharma, Mike has led path-to-medicine strategy for over 60 pharmaceutical brands, including over half of the 50 fastest growing brands in the 2005-2010 period, as well as more than 3 in 4 of the products named as blockbuster contenders by FiercePharma in 2011.

As the first Contract Planning Organisation or Contract Product Design practice, IDEA Pharma is pioneering new approaches to path-to-market design.

Mike authored Medical Marketing Manual: Branding Pharmaceuticals, and several white papers on path-to-market design. He has chaired several international conferences on pharmaceutical positioning, development, portfolio strategy and lifecycle management.

At University, Mike played American Football, and established the UK American Football College League, now affiliated to the NFL.

How can we make a huge positive difference to the success rate of launched products?