March made quite the entrance this year. The Week That Was team is relieved to be back online after that wicked nor’easter gusted through town, taking out power, crippling train lines and most certainly mussing our hair. While we brace for even more bad weather this week, here are a few healthcare news highlights:
Read on for more The Week That Was …
Some of us are old enough to remember that iconic question: “Where’s the beef?” Well, fast food customers in the UK were left asking, “Where’s the bird?” as KFC was forced to close hundreds of restaurants after running out of chicken. Yeah, that’s right—no chicken! The chain immediately issued an apology letter by taking out a full page ad in British newspapers saying: "A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It's not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who traveled out of their way to find we were closed." This bright red ad was printed alongside a picture of an empty bucket with the chain's initials scrambled to say "FCK.”
As a rule, we don’t advise clients to use profanity in corporate communications; however, we have to give major kudos to KFC for addressing this issue quickly and with humor. Apparently, the shortage was due to a change in delivery logistics that delayed the poultry shipments. Instead of pointing the finger at the shipping company, KFC owned up to the problem and thanked their customers for “bearing with us.” The ad showed the company’s authenticity and was well received. Contrast that to some non-apology apologies (cough *United Airlines*) and see difference in customer reaction. When companies are concerned that their stakeholders may have reason to lose faith in their business or services, we advise issuing corporate communications that balance humility, transparency, and confidence—and certainly a little humor helps, too. Well done, Colonel Sanders.
►PTO: ACRONYM OF THE WEEK
News in pharma this week speculated on the power and priorities of the PTO. What’s that, you ask? If you guessed “parent-teacher organization” or “personal time off,” you’re wrong. We’re talking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which recently installed a new director who can potentially have a more direct impact the number of generics on the market than the FDA. As Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, Andrei Iancu has the power to influence how easily generics companies can challenge weak or non-innovative patents and weigh in on the types of patents that get approved in the first place.
A former IP litigator, Iancu has said very little since being confirmed; however, many are speculating on his approach to pharma IP based on the PTO’s recent ruling against Allergan. Last week, a PTO board ruled that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe couldn’t claim sovereign immunity to avoid patent challenges, thwarting Allergan’s attempt to avoid inter partes review of dry eye drug Restasis by transferring patent rights to the tribe. (Mylan, Akron and Teva have requested the patent review as they prepare to launch generic competitors to Restasis.) Long-time critics of the U.S. IP system praised the decision and hope it’s a sign of things to come under Iancu, arguing that drug makers have been allowed to extend exclusivity using legal but questionable tactics.
With the FDA consistently vocal about fostering and expediting generic competition, a PTO that supports patent challenges and a potentially narrower interpretation of law could really put the squeeze on branded manufacturers. At the same time, media scrutiny on pharmaceutical lifecycle management and the introduction of authorized generics is increasing. As the public becomes more concerned that pharmacos are looking to charge as much as the market will bear, manufacturers must discuss the value of medicines over time—not just at approval. Now more than ever, companies need to evolve product value narratives to include additional research, label changes, and other investments that may result in new patents or extended exclusivity. Moreover, pharmacos must develop solid communications plans around LOE, similar to any other major product milestone. How a company messages business decisions around patent expiration/LOE is essential for maintaining stakeholder relationships and corporate reputation.
That’s it for us. The Oscars are on and, in a very rare feat, TWTW team has somehow managed to see *most* of the nominated films. So we’re off to root for our faves (and probably doze off on the sofa).
Until next week,
- The Reputation & Risk Management Practice @ Syneos Health Communications