Pharma, here I come.
June 27, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

The newspaper I work for has asked me to take over reporting about the pharma business. I...know nothing about the topic or related topics. What should I be reading / doing to become an expert as fast as possible?

Please don't snark. This wouldn't be the first time I've had to jump into the deep end and get knowledgable about a new topic fast, but this time I would like the process to be less error-prone.

What I lack is knowledge about the business to better assess the current information I get over news feeds etc.

What resources can you recommend and do you have general advice for me?
posted by Omnomnom to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is this from a business perspective or a health perspective?

Typically Pharma business is tied up in FDA regulation, so you'll want to be on top of what Drugs the FDA is in the process of evaluating. If a drug is approved, stocks may go up, etc.

Also Pharma is deep into R&D, so you want to know what each company is working on. Some of this is secret, others of it out there to generate interest in the company. But each company has it's own wheelhouse of products that they traditionally deal with.

There are synergies as well. With the obesity epidemic, the pharma companies that do diabetes (I &II), hyper-tension and statins, are all motivated by treating diseases related to obesity.

I searched Pharmaceutical Industry on Amazon and there are some neat looking books there, you might want to check some of them out.

That should be a good start, as with anything, the more you read about it, the more interesting and the more you're driven to other avenues of study.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:50 PM on June 27, 2012

For example, here is a story that's just a few hours old.

Arena Pharmaceuticals.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:53 PM on June 27, 2012

The jurisdiction you're in here matters a lot. Search on some of these issues and topics:

- Evolving role of role of pharmacist
- Pharmacist in a circle of care
- Doctor-shopping, abuse of prescription drugs
- How automation and information sharing is affecting the industry
- Drug shortages
- Natural Health Products as part of a therapy
- Adverse drug events
- Anti-biotic resistance
- remote/rural health care
- aging population and challenges for health system
- privacy and security challenges in modern health care
- obesity and nutrition
posted by Intrepid at 2:59 PM on June 27, 2012

Variations on Ruthless Bunny's question: Who is your audience? Consumers? Investors? Other pharma companies who want to keep up on what's happening in their industry? Non-pharma businesspeople who want to keep up?

Industry associations are good places to learn the major players and hot-button issues.

There's the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

The American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists

The Specialty Pharma Association

The Biotechnology Industry Association (Search for "pharma" within the site)

The watchdog group Public Citizen (Search for "pharma" here also)
posted by Longtime Listener at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2012

Whoops. That BIO link should be
posted by Longtime Listener at 3:52 PM on June 27, 2012

Call experts and ask them to explain aspects of the industry over the phone or in person.
Look at the news feed, see what doesn't make sense and get experts to fill in the gaps.

Most people are happy to talk as long as I don't quote them.
I've been working as a newspaper reporter for 17 months.

Aim for enlightened ignorance: identify gaps of knowledge and address them.
For example, I've asked pharmacists, drugs' importers, drugs' manufacturers and government officials to explain how medicines' prices are set.

Googling and reading reports are essential, however people can summarise in an hour what they've learned over years. Within a day, you could have enough background on a specific point to assess new information.
posted by mkdirusername at 4:37 PM on June 27, 2012

You might want to understand some of the conflict-of-interest issues that pharmaceutical researchers (and companies and journals) must address. This piece from Retraction Watch about a drug researcher's disclosure problems might be a good jumping off place--there are several good links in the article and comments and you could spend a few hours surfing around those to get acquainted with the state of thinking on these issues.
posted by gubenuj at 4:48 PM on June 27, 2012

When I was a junior research analyst and asked to cover Electric Utilities, I had to learn the business fast too. I went to the source. I called the person at each utility who was responsible for talking to Wall Street analysts. It was usually the Investor Relations VP. Call some of the companies up and ask to speak to Investor Relations and tell them who you are, why you are calling and ask them.

Or, call the Wall Street analysts themselves and ask for help. They will likely give it to you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:43 PM on June 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you! I should have said:
- I'm in Europe
- the focus is business, not health
posted by Omnomnom at 4:16 AM on June 28, 2012

I work in this field - mefimail me if you're interested in talking about the industry - I may be able to provide some starting points.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 6:38 AM on June 28, 2012

If it was me, I'd start with an Economist survey. (Check if there are more recent ones, and you may want to read the older ones as well.)

After that I'd scan the Economist, FT and Harvard Business Review for articles, and maybe see if I can find any business school case studies.

Also it sounds like you'd be well placed to find industry-expert academics and ask to interview them, and start building some useful relationships.
posted by philipy at 8:50 AM on June 28, 2012

Ask your local pharmacist. They are often very knowledgable and love to talk about their industry.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2012

Most of what I (think I) know about the industry I learned at Derek Lowe's blog.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:22 PM on June 28, 2012

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