Opinion

‘No clarity on pricing, patents’

P. T. Jyothi Datta | Updated on December 10, 2013

Aijaz Tobaccowalla, Managing Director, Pfizer Ltd and Wyeth Ltd, India. Photo: Paul Noronha

Interview with Pfizer India chief, Aijaz Tobaccowalla, on prospects and pitfalls of doing business in India.

Aijaz Tobaccowalla has a pet phrase: “Thank god it’s Monday!” In a country where pricing and patent battles are the norm, Jazz, as he is popularly known, was appointed Managing Director, Pfizer Ltd and Wyeth Ltd, India, in June 2012.



It’s a dynamic market, he says, that makes you “get up every morning with a desire to go to work”. Speaking to Business Line, he explains why unpredictability is never good for the marketplace, and calls for greater clarity in rules. Edited excerpts from the interview:



Pfizer’s $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth (2009) came with pain and job losses. The legal merger was recently initiated in India. Did it involve difficult decisions?



I don’t think so. Even in the US, the reality was that portfolios of the two companies were very complementary. So it’s not like we have a huge overlap in portfolio.



In India, even today, Wyeth has a portfolio primarily made up of women’s healthcare and vaccines, and Pfizer doesn’t have much in that space. So the rationalisation over the last four years prior to the (merger) announcement was around back-end services.



In India, this allowed for investment in the right parts. So as Wyeth’s Prevenar infant (vaccines) or as women’s health segments grew, there was an investment there. Equally, with Pfizer, as certain therapeutic areas took over, we made our investments accordingly.



We made adjustments only as necessitated by the business requirements. As we refocused our structure, we made some adjustments.



Aligning to the global structure of five verticals — where local counterparts talk directly to the parent company — isn’t that complicated?



Not really. It’s an important question. If we step back and look at that structure — there are three business units and five core structures.



There’s established products business (which are generics or products going off-patent in future), there’s vaccines, oncology, consumer and innovative products portfolios.



The way you sell particular verticals is very different in the market.



Consumer products have a very different ‘go to’ market model, oncology is specialised and has a strong hospital and institutional focus, vaccines in many markets are about a national immunisation programme, not in India. And then, innovative products — heavily dependent on branding.



From a global standpoint it maximises value in each vertical, unhampered by the other’s way of selling. So fundamentally it makes sense.



Add to that, we are not messing with the field force. So the company is absolutely allowing, if it makes sense at the market level, to have a shared field force that crosses over these portfolios.



As an Indian head of a US multinational, does it get difficult to hard-sell India to the parent, given the attention here on drug prices and patents?



Let me put it this way, one of the reasons I was selected to come to India was to (be a) bridge (between) India and the US, having grown up here and spent 27 years in the US.



It has been necessary to try to make sure the local market is understood, and there are challenges in the local market. There’s no question about it. But I think having worked in the US it allows me to have a frank conversation on how things are going.



Drug pricing and patents are key concerns here.



Are these transition pains, as India implements the product patent regime? Or is the debate inhibiting the country’s pace of growth?



Our concern is that anytime you have an unpredictable marketplace, it’s never good — whether the unpredictability is on pricing or on patents.



Our concern is lack of clarity — everybody gets nervous. What we hope to do is continue to dialogue with government to really get to be a predictable marketplace.



A predictable marketplace also leads to better access to innovative products for patients. You have to keep in mind that all stakeholders’ needs are met — you draw that balance.



Would you differentially price medicines for India, as some multinationals are doing?



It’s way too early at this stage to even comment on where we will be on differential pricing. At the moment, I don’t think we are looking at it. I think on a global basis, there is a lot of conversation ongoing, across multiple models.



Oncology is important for Pfizer, but cancer drugs are highly priced, be it from multinationals or domestic companies. How would you get your medicines to patients?



We have tried to adjust for that with patient access programmes. It’s our way of trying to ensure access to our products.



The other side of it is that the debate always seems to come around to price.



While price is a factor, it’s not all the conversation needs to be about.



The issue is really around access: how do you provide access, address prevention, and take care of the basics early.



Clinical trials attract sharp views, for and against drug trials on humans. Your suggestion to resolve this — with some confidence for the patient?



The intent of making sure patients, those who participate in clinical trials, are taken care of should be front and centre. It’s a no-brainer.



We don’t conduct clinical trials in any country any differently than we do in any other country.



Look at it from a large corporation point of view — you are not going to jeopardise your product because of an issue or a shortcut in any one country. You are running these on global standards.



What we have got to look for is that standards being established are in line with global standards, to make it consistent in terms of how clinical trials will run.



We have to adjust for nuances in markets like, for example — Pfizer does this speaking book model — because we understand in certain markets people will not be able to read. So you do a talking book in terms of explaining it.



You have to adjust to it, but you want to make sure it is done on a global basis. If any one market deviates completely, then it becomes difficult.



Some efforts under way right now are heading in that direction, there are still ongoing conversations — but at the end of it, on your question on predictability, I think what we always look for is whatever is adopted as law, is it clear?



If it is clear, you know whether you are adhering to it or not. But if it is ambiguous — that’s where unpredictability comes in and that creates a concern.



With so many concerns, are you the regional head with the most problems? Do you lose sleep over this?



I am sure my peers would tell you, they are just as stressed. (With a laugh) I couldn’t answer that one any other way without getting into trouble!

Published on December 10, 2013

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