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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Special Feature – Pharma Innovators: Paying attention to the innovators

Written by: | | Dated: Tuesday, August 1st, 2017


Pioneers who are steering innovations in pharma advertising, clinical trial imaging, and R&D are the focus.


Two have been around in the pharmaceutical industry for a long time, and one is a relative newcomer. In considering this year’s pharma innovators to profile, the results of their accomplishments, not how long they have been around, steered the direction of this feature. Donna Murphy, global CEO of the recently formed agency network Havas Health & You; Abraham Gutman, president and CEO of AG Mednet; and C. David Nicholson, executive VP and chief R&D officer of Allergan, are being saluted for bringing new innovations to the fields of pharmaceutical advertising, clinical trial imaging and R&D, and their accomplishments are expected to echo into the future.


Donna Murphy
Global CEO
Havas Health & You

In March 2017, Havas Group announced that it would be combining its professional agencies – Havas Life, Health4Brands, and Havas Lynx – with its consumer agencies all across the network to form Havas Health & You. According to the press release, the new group’s “broadened entity and new name reflect an amplified expression of the group’s future-forward positioning and expanded offering, building out best-in-class disciplines and integrating the many products and services the Havas agencies offer across the health and healthy lifestyle continuum.”

Donna Murphy, who has spent 30 years with Havas evolving its North American professional agencies, was named global CEO. Murphy has long critically eyed the silos that have separated professional advertising and consumer health and wellness advertising, so having that view backed up by Havas Group CEO Yannic Bollore was welcome.

“It’s actually been a passion and a vision of my team for years,” Murphy told Med Ad News. “And Yannic Bollore, our chairman and CEO, shares our passion and our vision and helped to make it happen.”

Murphy’s pedigree and experience in professional healthcare advertising cannot be disputed. She joined Euro RSCG Life Worldwide in 1987. Formerly with Goldman Sachs, Murphy became the chief financial officer of RSCG North America, focusing on Group Acquisitions and Financial Management. In 2003, she became the chief operating officer of Euro RSCG Life Worldwide. She played a key role in the growth of the global network, launching the start-up of all specialized services (public relations, medical education, interactive, managed care consulting, and sales training) as well as overseeing and integrating all of the major acquisitions.

Murphy was named worldwide managing partner in 2007 and led the network to new levels of organic growth and momentum. Along with her former partner, Doug Burcin, she had responsibility for the Havas Health Global network, which then consisted of 60 offices and 2,000 employees worldwide.

In 2008, Murphy and Burcin were awarded Med Ad News Advertising Persons of the Year.

The decision to combine the professional and consumer businesses within Havas was made after a good look at the market, Murphy says.

“We looked over the market and we looked very closely at what is happening, not only with what’s happening but what our clients need from us,” Murphy says.

“And it became very obvious that wellness and health are continuing and they’re not separating. So if you look at our competitors in their networks they have health on one side and wellness on another and the consumer, and we saw, and believe our clients do, that it’s all intricately related.”

The new Havas Health & You has 4,000 employees in 70 countries, focused on health and wellness.

It was not difficult to convince pharma clients to get on board with the concept.

“You know how pharma is always reaching out to nonpharma, to work at innovation and new strategic ways of doing business, so they’re very excited by this,” Murphy says. “Because they have diverse thinking, and not only are they excited by that – as you know, pharma is very focused on services, wrapped around their brands to bring full impact to the patients. This also has a huge impact on innovation.”

Havas Health & You already had a model for combining its professional capabilities with that of consumer agencies, through the “Together” concept pioneered by Havas, which has seen the company focus on the creation of “villages” housing all disciplines – creative, media, data, content, technology, and design – with the aim of fostering collaboration between agencies.

“This really allows us to pull talent all across all of Havas, not only within the wellness group,” Murphy says. “The DNA at Havas is extremely entrepreneurial, and we’re very flexible and unsiloed unlike our competitors, and we also don’t compete with each other, which also allows us to move very quickly.”

There are several goals for Havas Health & You in 2017, Murphy says.

“We have a very strong culture, and we want to infuse the culture all throughout Havas Health & You,” Murphy says. “The second is to have an impact on our clients’ business, which is what we are very focused on with the new organization. And the third is to direct creativity and innovation up with the diverse group of talent that we now have.”

According to Murphy, Havas Health & You has made investments, and will continue to make investments, in its capabilities. “We’ve made a huge investment into health media,” she says. “A lot of the groups are just media, we’ve made a huge investment into health media, bringing all the right health expertise within the media group; additionally within Havas, we’ve infused other capabilities, such as health analytics within the HVH [Patient Precision Analytics] startup we did. Probably some of the best analytics in health and wellness, I don’t say that shyly. We absolutely do. And we’re making huge investments into innovation and proprietary tools.”

Some of that investment comes from acquisitions by Havas Group. There have been three so far in 2017, including the June acquisition of Sorento, the largest health and wellness agency in India; and in July, the acquisition of the healthcare communications agency SO What Global in the United Kingdom.

According to Bollore, “Bringing SO What Global into Havas Health & You is a strong strategic move to expand our healthcare and wellness capabilities. Their entrepreneurial mindset within the Havas Village will work to stimulate even more business growth and drive.”

Murphy says agency acquisitions are not done just to make the network larger.

“The acquisitions, we do it for a strategic reason, not to add an agency,” she says. “So yes, we’re making huge investments in acquisitions that are strategically appropriate, we’re also making huge investments in talent and innovation, and in our proprietary tools.

When it comes to Havas Health & You’s positioning – “the corner of healthy and living” – Murphy says other agency networks may have a claim on health, or wellness, not both.

“Health is about getting better; healthy is staying better,” Murphy says. “We need to start with staying well and pulling it all the way through the continuum. One is about staying well, and one is about getting well.”

The launch of Havas Health & You has been smooth, Murphy claims.

“We haven’t really had any major hurdles or any major challenges so far,” she told me. “It’s been a lot of work, with pulling coaches together from consumer and wellness, with traditional pharma communications people. I think that was the biggest job. But it’s so interested, and people are so excited, and the consumer folks are so excited to be part of the wellness. Because people know the passion. At the end of the day, when they go to sleep, they feel that they have had an impact on people’s lives. And you know, with the Millennials, that is extremely important.”

When talking with agency employees, Murphy likes to inspire them by reminding them of their focus. “I think the thing that is really important to us is that we have an impact on people’s lives,” she says. “At the end of the day, we’re not working on a car or a phone … but we’re having an impact on people. And that’s why we do what we do. People work in health and wellness because we have a passion.”

It will be interesting times ahead for Murphy and Havas Health & You as parent Havas Group has been acquired by global media group Vivendi.

Vivendi, the owner of Universal Music Group, Canal+, and videogame developer Gameloft, brings enormous capabilities not only to Havas Group but Havas Health & You.

How enormous? According to Murphy, the acquisition makes Havas Group “larger than WPP,” and is “extremely exciting, because it’s not a merger of two agency holding companies, which no one needs, it’s about content and content projection, which is where it is going.”

The extended capabilities from Vivendi came into play for Havas Health & You when trying to meeting the challenges from a client in Brazil. The client, Reckitt Benckiser, had partnered with Brazilian public health agencies to raise awareness of what people needed to do to prevent infections – use mosquito repellent and get rid of standing water – in the rise of the Zika epidemic. Reckitt Benckiser makes several mosquito repellent products.

“In a matter of two weeks, we got the number one star in Brazil, who is similar to Lady Gaga in the United States, an original song was written, we had a commercial on the air, ‘Clap for Brazil,’ an original song and dance movement that would pull through the whole country, in reference to using appropriate insect repellents for Zika, as well as moving standing water and the things you need to do,” Murphy says.

“Clap for Brazil” or “Palmas Pelo Brazil” features Grammy-winning artist Ivete Sangalo, and was created by Havas Brazil with Havas New York, BETC Brazil, and Havas Media UK, with Sangalo courtesy of Universal Music Group. As of May 23, the campaign garnered more than 11.2 million social engagements and 9 million music video views.

“That’s the power of Havas and Vivendi, and that’s extremely important,” Murphy says.

Vivendi’s Gameloft will also be part of a joint venture that will produce health and wellness apps for Havas Health & You clients, Murphy says. “It will be a venture that focuses on gaming apps to promote healthy living,” she says.

Usually a major acquisition such as that by Vivendi has repercussions down the line, especially with personnel shakeups among subsidiaries, but Murphy plans on sticking around for the long term.

“I’m really happy, and I’m happy to do whatever the Havas Group thinks I can have an impact on,” Murphy says. “I’m young, I’m just in my mid-50s, I’ve got time. What would I do, play golf every day?”


Abraham Gutman
President and CEO
AG Mednet

How does one go from being CIO of a global conglomerate with verticals in fresh cut flowers, salmon farming, and cable telecommunications, to the head of a company that is the premier transporter of digital images in global clinical trials?

According to Abraham Gutman, the president and CEO of AG Mednet, it started as a question raised at a barbecue. But first there was a previous company.

“My first company was a telecommunications company doing something very arcane, in the area of optical network provisioning,” Gutman told Med Ad News. “I won’t even try to explain it, I tried to explain it to my parents for years and many of my friends, and actually nobody got it.”

That company, Emperative Inc., was sold to AT&T in 2003. “And that’s when this whole thing about medicine took place,” Gutman says. “I had a thought about a problem I had heard about at a barbecue, quite literally, about medical imaging and how difficult it was to move these images around, across hospital firewalls and be able to move them without compression, because compression creates lossiness and there wasn’t really a good way to do that.”

As Gutman describes it, think of compression and expanding compressed files in light of the flat, dried sponges you can get, a piece of what seems to be cardboard that expands into a full-size sponge when water is poured on it.

“Now in the sponge, it doesn’t create any kind of lossiness, but when you do certain types of jpeg compression you lose resolution,” Gutman says.

Not being able to view all the tiny details in an MRI or CAT scan or sonogram would obviously be problematic. Gutman set his mind to the challenge.

“I thought at that point that the solution ran through telecommunications, and it fact it did,” he says. “We were the first ones to build a network that would allow us, with some intellectual property that we had, to move these images fast, reliably, predictably, across hospital firewalls, with all the requirements of HIPAA, so on and so forth.”

What he thought he was building at the time and what became AG Mednet are two different things, he admits.

“At the time when I started it, which was early ’05, there was a shortage of radiologists in the United States, or so people believed,” he says. “In fact, the problem was not a shortage of radiologists but it was the places that had scanners – CAT scans, MRI machines, ultrasound machines – the places where those scanners were, were not exactly the same places where those radiologists were. The places where those scanners were.”

At the time, Gutman thought he would be creating “a kind of eBay of radiology.”

“I was going to essentially say to hospitals that didn’t have radiologists or didn’t have enough radiologists, ‘You can put your scans on my network,’ and I was going to go to some radiologists that had some time to read extra scans a day, to put themselves on the network, and I would match radiologists to scans, and arbitrage, get a cut from both.

“It was a fantastic idea, except for a very small detail, which was that is not how medicine works. Minor detail, right?”

Then, as luck would have it – “and I think I have had a lot of that in the last 10-plus years” – Gutman was contacted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The hospital wanted to use his network to move emergency radiology images to its affiliates in Massachusetts.

“So they put 14 or 15 hospitals on our network and we began moving images,” Gutman says.

The next customer was Johns Hopkins. And then around 2007, a doctor at Brigham called Gutman again. “He said, ‘I understand you move images for our teleradiology operations, can you move images for clinical trials? To which I said, ‘What’s a clinical trial?’

“I had no clue,” he admits.

The doctor explained clinical trials in a general way, adding, “Don’t worry about understand what it is, we just need to collect these images from about 20 hospitals across the United States as part of an investigator initiated study,” Gutman says. “I said yes, and that completely changed the arc of our company as a result of that conversation.”

Within three months, Gutman’s system was deployed at the top 20 hospitals conducting clinical trials in the United States, including the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, NYU, Mount Sinai New York, Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, and MD Anderson.

“The price points were very different, and that was very gratifying,” Gutman says. “And we said, ‘Oh, this clinical trial thing seems to be interesting. Let’s see what else we can do there.’”

The company developed a new front end to the network and released it in October 2008. In November, Gutman got another call, this time from someone at GlaxoSmithKline, who wanted to use AG Mednet to collect images from a 5,000 patient clinical trial taking place at about 300 sites around the world.

“Long story short, they became our first customer in clinical trials and are still a customer,” Gutman says.

With GSK as a customer, AG Mednet got out of radiology and dedicated itself to clinical trials.

Along the way, AG Mednet learned why its services were so in demand. “We learned that while we thought the main thing we were providing was easy transport, our clients pointed out that the data that was coming through our network was significantly higher in quality than the CDs or via the FTP transfers that were the alternative,” Gutman says. “And they explained to us why, and it has something to do with the way that we manage work flow inside the operation to the senders.”

In short, AG Mednet had created its systems originally for physicians and had dedicated a lot of time to understanding how hospitals send data. The goal of the workflow was to allow the senders of images – primarily physicians – to do the right thing the first time and prevent queries, which can delay clinical trials, from being sent back to them.

“Our customers were reporting that their data caused significantly less queries than the data that was coming in in any other manner,” Gutman says.

“Remember that more than 95 percent of all drugs that go to trial fail, and the act of running a trial all the way through to FDA approval or disapproval can run upwards of a billion dollars. Any time you can cut the time or make it more predictable, and significantly reduce or eliminate delays, you are in fact helping everybody all around.”

Since the release during 2008, AG Mednet has been awarded more than 850 clinical trials, and the system has over 45,000 registered users in more than 80 countries.

Then AG Mednet decided to look at a different area of clinical trials – the area of adjudication, in which events in trials are examined and determined if the event that occurred was due to the drug being tested or other outside factors.

“Adjudication may be the thing that allows ultimately a drug to go to market or that causes a drug to be taken off market,” Gutman says. “So it’s a very important process. It’s incredibly complicated. So what we did is we built a product, Judy, that would manage the process from the moment that an event takes place, all the way through the time when the adjudicators come to a determination of what caused the particular event that took place.”

Just like in the hospital-based clinical trials, AG Mednet took a look at the users of the adjudication system – which would be physicians working with CROs.

“The adjudicator side of things, you in effect, and almost by default, are also significantly improving the process of the CRO and reducing costs for the sponsor, and reducing costs for the drug, which ultimately reduces cost all around and will eventually have an impact of what the cost of these drugs are ultimately going to be,” Gutman says.

Since the launch of Judy, there are 14 different sponsors running 38 different protocols on the platform, according to Gutman.

“And it is a very interesting technology,” he says. “It is obviously for event adjudication. But it also has a fair amount of what I would call foundational technology in it, which means the technology that we developed as part of Judy is going to permeate not only our imaging side of the world, creating an even more robust offering in imaging, but it’s going to allow us to develop additional products in the future. What those are to be very honest I am not sure yet, but they smell like things in the safety side of things. It could be pharmacovigilance, but we’re not there yet. But the feel that I get is that we’ll be able to get additional offerings in that general area, where explicit workflow is so important.”

Another area that the company could possibly get into is digital pathology, which is important when trying to conduct global clinical trials involving China, as that country does not allow the importation of human body parts and blocks pathology slides from entering the country.

One thing is for sure, AG Mednet has not made any acquisitions. “The interesting thing about AG Mednet is that we have never taken any outside money, it’s been myself and a private investor from the start,” Gutman told Med Ad News, “And we’ve never taken any money from venture capital or private equity or anything of the sort. We haven’t done any acquisitions so far, nothing has turned our attention that we should acquire. Who knows what will happen in the future in that regard?”

When not pondering system problems or company challenges, Gutman, who was born and raised in Colombia, says he likes to listen to classical music, cook and bake (especially recipes learned from his mother and grandmother), and read about American history.

“John Adams is my favorite U.S. president,” Gutman says. “When I was reading 1776, halfway through the book I thought we were not going to make it – other than the fact that we’re here and we did make it. It was amazing that this country happened.”

AG Mednet’s office in Boston is on the Freedom Trail, two blocks from Paul Revere’s house. “And where I live, which is just a few blocks down, I go through the back of my building and I am where the Tea Party took place,” he says.


C. David Nicholson
Executive VP and Chief R&D Officer

C. David Nicholson, Ph.D., has been in pharma a long time. But when it comes to drug development, he is championing new thinking, not old tricks.

Dr. Nicholson is a vocal proponent of Allergan’s Open Science initiative. In this system, Allergan looks at what’s going on in R&D outside of its walls, pulling in projects to develop and commercialize.

And when it comes to appraising development possibilities, Dr. Nicholson has a lot of expertise.

Trained as a pharmacologist, he served as chief technology officer and executive VP, R&D for Bayer CropScience from March 2012 to August 2014; senior VP of Licensing and Knowledge Management at Merck from 2009 to December 2011; and senior VP, responsible for Global Project Management and Drug Safety at Schering-Plough from 2007 to 2009. From 1988 to 2007, Dr. Nicholson held various leadership positions at Organon, where he most recently served as executive VP, R&D and was a member of the company’s executive management committee.

Dr. Nicholson says he knew Brent Saunders, CEO of Allergan, from the Schering-Plough days. Saunders was the one to recruit him to Allergan, at the time when the company was Actavis Plc. (Actavis acquired Allergan and changed its name to Allergan.)

Although Open Science was initiated when Actavis acquired Forest, it was brought up to scale in the wake of the Actavis-Allergan merger.

According to Dr. Nicholson, “It was a very conscious decision to use Open Science to build what we feel is an incredible development pipeline.”

The strategy behind Open Science “is there is so much more innovation going on in the external world, outside the four walls of any one company, that could possibly go on within the four walls of any one company, no matter how big that company is,” he says. “So what we wanted to do was fish in the large external ocean, and to collaborate very openly with the external world, be it academia, be it biotech, be it small or large companies in the therapeutic areas that we’re interested in to build development pipelines.”

Dr. Nicholson points to the metrics that back up Open Science: 72 percent of the world’s top 50 selling drugs are marketed by companies where they didn’t do the original invention. “We’ve just shown that open science is one very effective model for R&D,” he says.

As Allergan’s chief of R&D, Dr. Nicholson works closely with Saunders, as well as Bill Meury – the head of Allergan’s commercial division – and others “to play our role in acquiring the molecules and building the pipeline,” he says.

“Open science is more than just licensing, it’s being a good partner, it’s outreach to the companies that we’re collaborating with, building good relationships, as well as ensuring the work that we’re working on is good quality science and likely to make a difference in the lives of patients,” Dr. Nicholson told Med Ad News. “My role is to help build and create relationships with our partners, help to motivate the fabulous people that we have within Allergan, to make certain that we have great leaders, great team leaders, and make sure that open science is embraced within the organization, which it absolutely is.”

According to Dr, Nicholson, 50 percent of his job is leading science and 50 percent “is leading the people and building great teams and making them feel motivated and focused and understand the priorities.”

Allergan has six “star” products in development derived from its Open Science program. These are Esmya, abicipar, relamorelin, ubrogepant/atogepant, cenicriviroc, and rapastinel.

Esmya is a progestin receptor agonist for the treatment of uterine fibroids. “If and when approved, it will be the first oral therapy in the United States for the treatment of uterine fibroids,” Dr. Nicholson says.

Abicipar is a long-acting VEG-F that has completed Phase III for age-related macular degeneration, one of the leading forms of blindness. Dr. Nicholson says it differentiates itself from related agents because of its duration of effect. “People will have to be injected in the eye much less often with it than the present available therapy, which will be important for patient compliance and effectiveness of treatment,” he says.

Relamorelin is being developed for the treatment of diabetic gastroparesis. “There hasn’t been an agent approved in this therapeutic area for 30 years,” he says.

“Relamorelin looks effective in Phase II and we’re starting in Phase III later on this year.”

Ubrogepant is in Phase III clinical trials and atogepant is in Phase II for the treatment of migraine. “It’s a real innovation and an area of unmet need,” Dr. Nicholson notes.

Phase III trials have just begun for cenicriviroc, which is an agent for NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis).

Rapastinel is a rapid acting antidepressant. “Most antidepressants, it takes four to six weeks to show efficacy,” Dr. Nicholson says. “Rapastinel in Phase II studies worked within hours, and in patients who hadn’t responded to previous therapy. It could be a huge breakthrough in the treatment of depression.” The drug is now in Phase III clinical trials.

According to Dr. Nicholson, he sees Open Science as the future of pharmaceutical R&D, due to a number of factors.

“There’s always challenges,” he says. “R&D is difficult. R&D is nutty, that’s why the industry spends so much money. Clearly as I described my career, I’ve been in the industry for a long time, I’ve run discovery operations as well as development organizations, as well as the whole of R&D. And for me, given the present ecosystem within the industry, with a blossoming venture capital startup environment, open science is the next evolution in the way we do run R&D in healthcare.”

Some companies may struggle to institute an Open Science model, due to the attitude of “not invented here.” But that was never the case at Allergan.

“One of the advantages that we have here at Allergan is that we have a very small research organization and a large development organization, and the development organization is dependent on open science to build the development pipeline,” Dr. Nicholson says. “So if anything we have the reverse of the “not invented here” syndrome. The balance of scientists here want to pull in innovation from the outside world.”

For Open Science to work best, however, “you have to make sure you have scientific expertise within the company to recognize, to identify the best opportunities in the external world,” Dr. Nicholson says. “You do need to make sure you have high-quality M.D., Ph.D. scientists who are capable of doing that  within our therapeutic areas. That’s what we have, and we have spent time and effort ensuring that we have that.”

As a head of R&D, Dr. Nicholson believes in the power of teamwork.

“You need people who enjoy teamwork, who truly recognize that R&D in the pharmaceutical industry – I call it a team sport,” he says. “You need so many disciplines, you need to be able to collaborate internally, work collaboratively externally, so you need great scientists who love working as team members. And to be honest, that’s always been one of the things that’s attracted me to the industry and why I’ve enjoyed it so much, the opportunity to work with great people from different scientific disciplines.”

As for anyone getting their master’s or Ph.D. who wants to work in pharma, Dr. Nicholson has a few words of advice:

“If they’re any good, come work at Allergan.”

On a more serious note, he adds, “As I’ve said, I joined the pharmaceutical industry and I haven’t regretted it for a minute. And there are people of course who have had fabulous careers in academia and in small and large companies. Follow your heart.”

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