In FiercePharma’s top headlines of 2018, you’ll see not only which stories hit a nerve with the most readers—including a few eyebrow-raisers—but several themes that either dominated the news all year or simply return again and again in the tune biopharma writes for itself over the decades.
First, however, a trifecta of scandals.
We don’t have to remind anyone about the news that afflicted Novartis beginning in May, when a now-disgraced lawyer for a former porn star released information showing the Swiss drugmaker had hired the now-criminally-sentenced former lawyer for President Trump. In the aftermath, the company’s new CEO, Vas Narasimhan, backed as far away from the consulting contract as possible, apologized internally and externally, tried to rally the troops, and replaced the general counsel who’d signed off on the deal. One piece of that scandal coverage came in second on our most-read list.
Then there were the “sartan” drug recalls, which began with valsartan and spread to two similar drugs. Our manufacturing editor, Eric Palmer, details the lessons learned here—namely, that we all have to constantly learn our lessons—but it was this story that ranked third among readers for 2018.
Third in our trio of scandals, an alleged trade secrets theft met an actual double murder in one pharma story—our ninth most popular of the year—centered on Canadian generics maker Apotex. We’ll let you check out that confluence of events yourself.
And for the more representative news, here's Theme One: high-profile management changes. The most-read story of 2018 covered GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley’s ongoing work to reshape the company she took over in 2017. GSK had already announced a rejig of the executive ranks, and here we found out that her revamp extended far more broadly across the organizational chart. A full 40% of top management had either been replaced or moved to another role as Walmsley aimed to re-energize the pharma giant. Her executive revamp was far from the only one. Witness CEO, R&D, CFO and commercial changes at Pfizer, Gilead Sciences, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and many more—including an unusual executive swap at Sanofi and Bayer.
Theme Two: Payer power. It wasn’t all that many years ago that pharmacy benefits managers weren’t the headline-makers they are today. But once again, a PBM’s decision to exclude drugs from its formulary commanded the attention of many thousands of FiercePharma’s readers and took sixth place. Hint: Express Scripts, AbbVie and Gilead. Take a guess and then refresh your memory.
Theme Three: Real estate. With so many drugmakers to cover, it’s inevitable that building projects and facility moves crop up again and again. This year, we had several high-profile relocations—with Sanofi’s plan to unite its Massachusetts workforce in Cambridge the most recent, and Pfizer’s choice to move downtown to a far more up-to-date building the 10th most popular of our stories this year.
And then we have the year-in, year-out news. Job cuts, sadly, are always with us. Among several announcements this year was Novartis’ move to shrink its workforce by 19% over the next two years, partly through a spinoff of Alcon, partly through cuts to its manufacturing and business services payrolls. That story was our eighth most read in 2018. Novartis wasn’t alone; Novo Nordisk and Sanofi are among the others that rolled out job-cutting news this year, and Genentech delivered a shocker with its own announcement: It would let go of employees at its South San Francisco headquarters, a rare if not unprecedented event.
Meanwhile, in the M&A category, Takeda finally persuaded Shire to accept a buyout offer, and as the year wound down, finally won shareholder approval for the deal; that story clocked in at fourth place on our site. In patent news, Eli Lilly managed to gain a reprieve from generic copies of its erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, at least for a while, with a patent settlement that came in seventh. And in the unfortunate category of manufacturing shortfalls, a troubled Mylan plant got a lashing from the FDA in a long, long Form 483, capturing fifth place.
That’s the year in pharma, as seen by you, our readers. And as a bonus, we've included the year's most-read special report, one of our annual lists that typically captures the top spot: Top 15 pharma companies as ranked by 2017 revenue.
We’ll be back for another round Jan. 2, after a week of hiatus in daily newsletters. Check in over the holidays, though, to see what’s breaking. We’ll make sure you have the biggest news of the day. News tips? Thoughts to share? Feel free to reach out, now and in 2019.