Top of the morning to you! And to enthusiasts, Happy (early) St. Patrick’s Day.

While it’s true that our The Week That Was team often points out examples of what not to do, we felt it would be a good change of pace to give kudos to a company that handled crisis well in truly terrible circumstances.

After numerous countries grounded Boeing 737 Max jets, and the United States was considering the same, following tragic crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, the airline manufacturer issued a well-balanced (albeit slightly delayed) statement. The company expressed sensitivity and compassion for the families of the victims, highlighted the company’s commitment to safety, and made the business decision to temporarily recommend that the Federal Aviation Administration halt use of the planes in the abundance of caution and to reassure the flying public. It is supporting investigations. Read the full statement here.

Back to healthcare. It was a busy week -- so on to the news!



Show me the money - President Trump released his 2020 budget proposal. The healthcare highlights? Under the proposal, FDA and domestic HIV programs would gain money, while the NIH would lose money. Also included is a proposed penalty for drug companies who enter “pay for delay” settlements.


Retirees ramp up – AARP launched a new ad campaign, “Stop Rx Greed.” The campaign advocates for state and federal policies that allow Medicare and state Medicaid to negotiate prices, giving state attorneys general the authority to crack down on drug price increases and cap consumer out-of-pockets. Separately, the new acting FDA Commissioner was announced Tuesday, but more on that later.


Take 3 – It’s official. PBM leaders will be the next members of the healthcare supply chain to face a grilling from the Senate Finance Committee. Cigna, CVS, Humana, OptumRx and Prime Therapeutics have been called to testify on April 3. We’ll be watching!


Designer babies? Nearly five months after the Chinese CRISPR baby drama, 18 scientists (including one of the co-inventors of CRISPR) have published a letter in Nature calling for a moratorium on editing DNA in human sperm, eggs and embryos. While many countries already have policies in place to prevent germline editing, some say surveillance and penalties need improvement.


Tear Jerker Alert – NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel recounted on the Today Show how he felt when his son said “DaDa” for the first time. The three-and-a-half-year-old has a rare disease called Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that leads to severe physical and cognitive impairments. At the end of a long week, this story serves as another good reminder for why we do what we do, and why we love it. 

Well that's a relief! 

We didn’t have to wait long for the Trump Administration to let us know who would be taking Scott Gottlieb’s place at the helm of the FDA. Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and chief of the aging biology and cancer section in the National Institute on Aging’s (NIA) Laboratory of Genetics and Genomics, will serve as Acting Commissioner.

The response?

Pharma companies and investors heaved a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the news and the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index (NBI) rebounded. It had fallen four points upon the news of Gottlieb’s departure (As a reminder, the NBI is a tracking index made up of NASDAQ-listed companies classified as either biotechnology or pharmaceuticals and is used as a measure of performance).

Beyond NCI and NIA, Dr. Sharpless also co-founded two pharma companies - G1 Therapeutics and Sapere Bio – and previously served as the director of the UNC Cancer Center. Only time will tell what changes, if any, Dr. Sharpless may make as Acting Director, but thus far, investors don’t suspect significant changes in current policy or direction…yet. And HHS Secretary Dr. Alex Azar, said “There will be no let up in the agency’s focus, from ongoing efforts on drug approvals and combating the opioid crisis to modernizing food safety and addressing the rapid rise in youth use of e-cigarettes.” With experience working from academic, business, and regulatory perspectives, our financial comms guru Eric Laub predicts he’ll be another industry-friendly head.


Rebates in Review

A few weeks ago, we reported on  the administration’s proposal for eliminating safe harbor protections for Medicare Part D drug rebates that manufacturers pay to PBMs and insurers. This week, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) joined the conversation, publishing a white paper entitled “Value, Access, and Incentives for Innovation: Policy Perspectives on Alternative Models for Pharmaceutical Rebates.”

What's in it? 

The paper was developed based on interviews with participants in the rebate process including plan sponsors, insurers, PBMs and drug makers. It discusses pros and cons of three leading proposed options to revising the  existing rebate models:

1. 100% pass-through (all rebates and manufacturer fees flow to employers)

2.  Point of sale (POS) rebates for patients

3.  Eliminate rebates and move to upfront discounts, which could vary based on factors like cost effectiveness or expected volume

ICER doesn’t make a specific recommendation about the viability of any of these options. However, it signals that a combination of 100% pass-through rebates and POS rebates would provide more transparency.

Our Take:

As organizations throughout the entire drug supply chain navigate this volatile environment, companies should be scenario-planning for potentially disruptive commercial changes. From a communications standpoint, the escalating debate on rebates means companies may need to better prepare to articulate what changes could mean for contracting, plan design, pricing and access and for patients.

A full overhaul of alternative payment models would take many years to implement. With a divided Congress, and the 2020 Presidential race well underway, we don’t expect to see legislation on this becoming law anytime soon. But we also never say never.


Syneos Spotlight

Pharma (and healthcare at large) remains largely absent from the cross-industry move towards corporate action on social issues. But a recent Axios/Harris Poll reinforces the risk of ignoring this nationwide movement. Data show that the public’s perception of companies is deeply impacted by how much those companies can promise and seek to serve a better future for society.

Axios and Harris asked 6,118 U.S. adults, to identify the two companies they believe have the best (Wegman’s) and worst (Phillip Morris) reputations. Then, a larger group of participants ranked100 “most visible companies” across key measures of corporate reputation. The only healthcare companies that made the cut were Johnson & Johnson (ranked #33) and CVS (ranked #48).

Wondering how healthcare can catch up and hopefully land on the list next year? TWTW’s very own Dana Davis share some tips in PM 360. Check it out!blank


Who wrote this? The managing editors of TWTW are Randi Kahn, who is planning to stick to the subway this weekend, and Dana Davis, who has just returned from San Francisco. 

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.
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About the Author:

Randi Kahn is a Senior Media & Content Director in our Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps clients build and protect their brand reputations through executive thought leadership, public affairs, and issues preparation and response. She has worked for clients throughout the healthcare ecosystem including payers, providers, patient groups and pharma.