By Sean Callahan, News Editor
On Oct. 24, Saint Vincent College business students and professors welcomed back alumnus Terrance Tomey for dinner and a lecture on his time spent in the pharmaceutical industry and employment opportunities students may consider. Tomey is an alumnus of the class of 1976 and a retired pharmaceutical executive.
Throughout the lecture, Tomey outlined the impact of the U.S pharmaceutical industry on the nation, addressed public perception of the industry, and explained cost factors and planning behind the drug implementation and marketing. He then ended the lecture with in-depth descriptions of employment opportunities.
Tomey presented many statistics and facts pertaining to the industry’s impact. He said that 900 new medicines had been launched since 2000, and that 7,000 more are in development now.
He also presented examples of current medical developments in the industry, including the use of ultrasound waves in patches to open pores for insulin, and the gradual introduction of peanut enzymes to young children until they become immune to them, to avoid future allergies.
“When they brush their teeth, we ensure a small amount of the peanut enzyme is present. For six weeks, the enzyme amount is kept the same,” Tomey said. “The next six weeks, we increase the amount. The process continues until the child reaches full immunity.”
However, Tomey explained that there are issues to address in the business sector of the pharmaceutical industry. “The whole industry is under siege, starting with cost. There’s a lot of people involved with the handling of the drugs,” Tomey said. “There are insurance companies, pharmacy benefit management companies, and government programs.”
Tomey said that drugs, after being created, are transferred to wholesalers, distributors, or pharmacies, all of which are involved in price negotiation. He explained that while drugs are expensive, so is the system that handles them. 3.3 trillion dollars went towards the U.S. healthcare system in 2016. This is 17.8% of the 2016 U.S. GDP.
He also touched on public misconceptions of the pharmaceutical industry. For example, most people tend to believe prescription drugs take up a large portion of healthcare costs. In reality, they make up 7-10% of these costs each year.
Tomey admitted that, in part due to misconceptions, public image is a struggle. The pharmaceutical industry holds the highest level of industry distrust among the public. 46% of people on average express they don’t trust this industry the most.
“We were worse than the Tobacco Industry in terms of distrust. We have been accused of withholding a cure for cancer and making vaccines that cause Autism,” Tomey said. “It’s frustrating, because we are saving lives in this industry.”
However, he was also forward about what he considered industry mistakes. He referenced the ‘Pharma Boy’ scandal, in which a former CEO of two pharmaceutical firms raised the price of the antiparasitic drug, Daraprim, from $13 to $750 per pill after gaining its manufacturing license.
In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tomey felt that its handling was difficult for the pharmaceutical industry due to public misinformation. He described some of the rhetoric surrounding COVID as “a political football game rather than a science-based decision,” and felt the firing of nurses who refused to get the vaccine during the pandemic was wrong.
Still, Tomey is confident in the opportunities the pharmaceutical industry can provide to students as a part of its mission to improve people’s lives and wellbeing.
Tomey explained that there are three phases in a clinical study involving drugs. Phase one proves that the product’s ingredients are safe. Phase two consists of testing the drug on multiple healthy and consenting volunteers to help identify side effects that will then be reported to the FDA. Phase three involves marketing the drug honestly by reporting to the public the side effects gathered in phase two. According to Tomey, there is also a technical phase four, in which doctors observe patients who use the drug. They then record and report additional side effects experienced by patients to the FDA as necessary.
Using these phases, Tomey explained that the need for business fields within the pharmaceutical industry has increased in the past decade. Pharmaceutical employers have realized the science can be taught to incoming business employees, although some science knowledge is still recommended. Sales, sales reach, marketing, Pharmacoeconomics, cybersecurity, and IT are among a number of fields Tomey listed opportunities for.
For example, he explained that marketing and sales employees were needed to create honest and effective commercials about a physician’s drug. Additionally, business employees can market to physicians using medical journals and industry trade shows. The trade shows advertise potential drugs that may help physicians treat their patients effectively.
Tomey concluded the lecture with an optimistic outlook on the industry and all it has to offer, including future developments to look forward to. There are multiple new projects in development, including ways to kill cancer cells and a possible cure for HIV.
“It’s a rewarding occupation. I smile every time I go into work, because I know the work I do is changing and saving the lives of people,” Tomey said.