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Research Insight

Putting “Tech” Back Into Biotech

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Next week, more than 16,000 business leaders, scientists, bankers and other assorted industry watchers will gather in San Diego for the Biotechnology (BIO) Conference. While the pressures on industry are significant – gaining scale, advancing early stage research, finding strategic partners, getting products through clinical development and the regulatory system, and then oftentimes defending their price – the biotech industry might be surprised to learn that trust in their industry is significantly up.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer paints a sobering picture of the state of trust around the world, demonstrating a decline in trust in the fours institutions we study (business, government NGOs and the media) as well as a gap that has widened from 12 to 15 points between the informed public and mass population. But against that backdrop, and reversing a 2-point decline seen last year across the general population, the biotech industry had a 12-point jump in trust in the U.S. this year – making it the biggest mover in trust in the U.S. healthcare industry.

What’s going on?

Keep in mind that biotech has historically had higher trust levels than pharma, which we believe has been rooted in people’s perception that biotech is more innovative and distinct from big pharma. Our hypothesis is that biotech is benefitting from an infusion of Tech, the most trusted sector in the Trust Barometer for many years. That infusion is manifesting itself in several ways – as innovation from biotech, advances in health technologies and even from tech and biotech philanthropists focused on health. For example:

  • Innovation: Consider advances in diseases like hepatitis C and cancer, in addition to the pre-existing innovation halo. Despite controversy over cost, the word “cure” is now common in discussion of Hepatitis C. The idea that a major infectious disease can be treated and cured, with no need for lifelong therapy, is a breakthrough. Advances in immuno-oncology have also been widely publicized, giving people hope that progress in being made treating cancer.
  • Health Technology: Consumer wearables and other technologies that drive diagnosis and treatment may also be contributors. While the Trust Barometer has documented that the pace of innovation can create discomfort, we believe the arrival of consumer health tools that have gained popularity may have benefitted biotech, as well as the entry of players like Google, IBM and Amazon into health.
  • Philanthropy: We also suspect that a halo has been cast over the biotechnology industry due to widely publicized initiatives that are breaking down siloes, demonstrating transparency, and largely advanced by bio/tech entrepreneurs like Sean Parker, Mark Zuckerberg/Priscilla Chan and even Vice President Biden with the Moonshot Initiative.

The healthcare industry at large needs to understand what is expected of it and work to close the gaps between consumer expectations and perceived industry performance. Industry has made progress narrowing the gap on the two biggest drivers of trust in the industry year over year – protection of consumer data and quality control.  They will be rewarded for narrowing that still sizable gap even further, as well as addressing the biggest gaps between expectations and performance: demonstrating transparency and authenticity in their actions, and showing that they are equally concerned about a wide variety of stakeholders.

The biotech industry would be smart to guard its differentiation, over-index on behaviors that demonstrate transparency and having the interests of multiple stakeholders at heart, and to continually show how it puts patients first.

Biotech is headed in the right direction, and has clearly broken away by a wide margin from the pharmaceutical industry this year, which advanced but has just broken into “neutral” territory stateside.

As pharma embraces BIOpharma, biotech would be advised to embrace bioTECH.

Kym White is global sector chair, Health.

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