Lions Health: Mylan CEO talks big and small creative ideas that make a difference

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch and global corporate branding chief Debra O’Brien speak at Cannes Lions Health under the theme of life-changing creativity. (Beth Snyder Bulik)

CANNES, France—Mylan CEO Heather Bresch figures that sometimes, it’s the little things that can make a difference in healthcare and pharma. A dissolving HIV tablet for sub-Saharan Africa, rather than one swallowed with water, or the rubber grip on an auto-injector, for instance.

Bresch took the stage at Cannes Lions Health with Medulla, its ad agency in India, to talk about life-changing creativity—a big theme—but noted that smaller innovations can deliver bigger outcomes. The example of a dissolvable HIV med in Africa was one: Patients there don’t always have access to clean water.

“It starts with being authentic and what’s the problem you’re trying to solve for—whether its how we’re getting products into countries or how we’re helping people with chronic illnesses take their medicine every day,” Bresch said onstage. “Then if you’re authentic about the cause and purpose, and the real desire to do good and do well, then I believe it comes to life on its own.”

Another example she and head of global corporate branding and digital Debra O’Brien pointed to was Mylan’s generic version of the multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone. After talking to patients, the company designed its auto-injector to be slightly different from the original brand’s with a bigger viewing window, rubber grips and and hidden needle tip, all designed to help patients inject themselves more easily—even if their MS symptoms make certain movements difficult—rather than relying on help from someone else.

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This sort of innovation isn’t like typical pharma R&D and its hunt for big breakthroughs. But pharma needs to focus on other changes, even small ones, that are aimed at making patients’ lives easier and better, Bresch told FiercePharma in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. 

But big ideas are shaking up pharma, too, and as a first-time visitor to Cannes Lions Health, Bresch said she used the invitation to speak as an opportunity to see, test and absorb the ideas and inventions on display at the ad fest.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to highlight Mylan and our mission and our cause about health for a better world, but for me, it was as much to take a day to absorb what’s happening with things [from] virtual reality to what seems almost futuristic technology that’s already playing a role in healthcare,” Bresch said.

Pharma’s role in healthcare is changing as companies move away from the mass market and toward more personalized care and communications. That means companies like Mylan need to do the same, O’Brien said. Because mass marketing is essentially gone, pharma companies need to figure out how to transition from focusing on mass media and on products and instead work on “understanding the unique needs of the patient and delivering that,” she said.

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Bresch agreed, adding that the shift away from product-focused messaging means pharma’s marketing responsibility becomes more about disease awareness. Mylan—or for that matter, any other pharma company—may not be able to market individually to the 7 billion people in the world, but narrowing down to smaller and more personal categories like disease states, geographies or common concerns, can get them closer to personal connections and access.

“Conversations like the ones happening here really bring intersections together from creative to technology to health and how we can do a better job at having patients become consumers,” Bresch said. “… I continue to be an advocate that patients need to shop and be consumers. That makes for a healthy patient and a lot better outcomes the more engaged that we get patients upfront and early.”