From Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin to the teams of dedicated scientists working around the clock to help set the world back on its feet in the face of COVID-19, few industries impact humanity as profoundly as the pharmaceutical industry.
For all its challenges, setbacks and high standards of excellence, the pharmaceutical industry conducts itself in such a way that ensures its employees are never kept far from a sense of purpose.
Purpose can be a complex idea that is sometimes hard to internalize. A sense of purpose tends to loom in the background of the day-to-day. For some, they have a clear sense of purpose—and for others, purpose sometimes remains unclear.
The faces of purpose
For all the definitions out there, for me, purposeful work comes from service to others; and there are few industries that aim to ease suffering and improve the human condition more than the pursuit of a new medicine.
The longer I work in the pharmaceutical industry, the more time I take to pause and reflect on the purpose that comes from working within a patient-focused industry.
Most importantly, to see the purpose embedded in the faces of our patients and the hearts of our care communities. This is what continues to drive me as the CEO of a pharmaceutical company. I have seen the continued dedication of my colleagues within this pursuit of developing new medicines and the fulfillment it can bring. That pursuit, like all other meaningful things, can also come at a cost.
The cost of new medicine
There is a significant cost of both time and money when developing a new medicine. To give some perspective, when the first iPhone was brought to the market in 2007, it had taken approximately 2.5 years¹ and $150 million² to develop. A report from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America organization (PhRMA), states that it takes at least ten years, with clinical trials alone taking six to seven years, and an average cost estimated at $2.6 billion for a new medicine to be available on the market³.
To simply illustrate the challenges that scientists and researchers face, for every 100 medicines discovered today, approximately 12 will become available to patients³. This is because of the high level of rigor and standard that the industry applies and adheres to when it comes to safety and efficacy expectations for these medicines.
Additionally, according to research conducted by the Congressional Budget Office⁴, pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest spenders on research and development, spending on average 25 percent of their total revenue (and often much more) in the development of new drugs. This by far exceeds most of other industries when it comes to investment in their research and development area.
While, developing drug therapies is an incredibly expensive, time-consuming and high-risk endeavor, there is one element that is often overlooked, the human talent behind it all. No discovery can be made without the brilliant, curious minds of those scientists, researchers and clinicians who have a passion to explore and discover new, innovative therapies for the patients that need them. Without these exceptional people, who sacrifice much in time away from family and loved ones to use their talents to find treatments and cures, our world would look a lot different today. I want to thank these people for all that they do for humanity each and every day to better the lives of those around the world.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to work in an industry that is committed to easing human suffering and I feel fortunate to spend my career in a field where my purpose is so clear and fulfilling.
Professional fulfillment is that quiet, profound recognition that those things you dedicate your life to, that require effort, time, personal sacrifices and perseverance, ultimately contribute to a body of work that pursues innovation and improves lives of patients and caregivers. It’s an unspoken satisfaction that comes from being a part, no matter how small or large, of making the world a better place for others.
Over the years, I’ve learned to make it a point to reflect on our common purpose and shared mission within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and to take pride in these advancements and their impact on humanity.
As new generations of pharmaceutical professionals join this great mission and engage in this noble pursuit, I hope that they are also able to take the time to reflect on the purpose of their work and the impact they have on the patients they serve.
About the author
Wa’el Hashad, President and Chief Executive Officer of Avanir Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is a passionate leader with more than 25 years of experience in pharmaceutical management, sales, and marketing both in the U.S. and international markets. He develops and inspires high-performing teams and has built a global reputation for his transformational leadership style by creating cultures that focus on dedication, transparency and innovation. An accomplished executive, Wa’el has a strong history of formulating and executing strategies for brand development —from phase one, to global launch and post life-cycle management. Wa’el earned a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences from the College of Pharmacy, Cairo University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Akron in Ohio.
¹ Business Insider, Apple Spent Over $150 Million to Create the Original iPhone.
² History.com, Steve Jobs Originally Envisioned the iPhone as Mostly a Phone.
³ PhRMA, Biopharmaceutical Research & Development: The Process Behind New Medicines, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America organization (PhRMA).
⁴ Congressional Budget Office. Research and Development in the Pharmaceutical Industry.