Well last week was dull.


Here’s a sampling of the high-brow and low-brow in headlines last week.

  • Right-to-Try is more like Right-to-Ask? The House shot down a bill attempting to enact “right-to-try” legislation last week. The proposed legislation would have removed the FDA’s oversight in the process of assessing safety on investigational drugs. But, the agency already approves 99% of compassionate use requests, leaving industry – and its lobbyists – to question the need for new legislation.  Even if it passed, the bill would not mandate biopharmas to provide investigational drugs to patients, leaving us to wonder why it’s not actually called “right-to-ask.” 
  • Ri-Ri Rains Down on Snapchat: Pop star Rihanna took to Instagram to publicly shame Snapchat, driving shares of the stock down 4% last week, after the social media company ran a distasteful ad making light of domestic violence. The ad asked, “Would you rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown?” Snapchat sheepishly apologized, calling it a “terrible mistake.” News to Snapchat: Joking about domestic violence is not funny and will not disappear in 10 seconds. 
  • Are you paying more than your payer? A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found patient copayments for generic drugs exceed the actual costs paid by insurance companie, by nearly 30%. And it’s trending for more than one out of four drugs. With payers taking a number of reputational lumps lately, do you think we’ll see more transparency pledges coming soon? We’d bet on it.

We know its Monday and the weather on the east coast is still hovering around 30º, but hang in there, fasten your seat belts, put up your tray tables and read on for The Week That Was...


Rule number one in the risk mitigation rule book: Don’t commit investor fraud!  This seems fairly obvious, but it apparently was not to founder and former CEO of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes.  Readers may recall, between 2013 and 2015, Holmes was a media darling. Referred to as the “female Steve Jobs of healthcare” for her black turtlenecks, and the “blood unicorn” for her blood testing company’s remarkable $9 BILLION valuation, Holmes seemed ascendant.  The only issue – she “lacked candor” as the saying goes. In a groundbreaking investigative report in the Wall Street Journal, Theranos quickly unraveled into TheraNOT. Fast forward three years later,  and the Securities and Exchange Committee alleged Holmes falsely claimed Theranos’  technology worked, and she went so far as the demonstrate the efficacy of her blood tests using third-party technology, which was unbeknownst to investors. But Holmes is not going to jail. She settled for a $500,000 fine and is barred from serving as a public company director or officer for 10 years.


As we know in the life-science industry, success is hard, and there are more failures than successes, but like Icarus, Holmes’ quest to fly too close to the sun was her undoing. While it’s often forgotten, Holmes’ troubles began with her company’s defensive response to John Carreyrou at the WSJ. Big mistake.  Carreyrou kept digging, eventually finding countless whistleblowers that eventually led to Theranos’ fall from the top. Word to C-suite execs: media matters. End up on the front page of the Times or Journal as the subject of an investigative feature, don’t be surprised if you receive a front-row seat in Congress, or a letter from an ambitious attorney general.


At last weekend’s Coachella of cardiology, otherwise known as the ACC Annual Meeting, Regeneron and Sanofi did something surprising. They reduced the price of their $14,000 cholesterol-lowering drug, Praluent by 60% off its current list price. Since it was approved, payers have been reluctant to cover Praluent and its competitor, Amgen’s Repatha. The drugs, once expected to be “blockbusters,” experienced an initial “failure to launch,” because payers feared many high-risk cholesterol patients would seek the drugs over much lower-cost generic statins, so obstacles to coverage were put in place. Regeneron said a major factor in their decision to discount the price was a recent report from the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (aka ICER), which concluded the product should be priced between $4,500 and $8,000. Regeneron has a history of working with industry critics including pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scrips, to validate the price of their medicines.


Is this the validation of ICER? Not necessarily. Sure, getting your report cited is a “win” for ICER, but let’s look at the facts. Amgen’s Repatha has captured ~50% more of the market than Praluent. Regeneron’s move to reduce the price and cite the ICER review is a PR fait accompli. Praluent had limited uptake, was trailing its competitor, so setting a pricing war was one if it’s last best options.  But wrapping a move out of need, as a gesture to address populist pricing concerns, was PR genius.  

Oh, and if you’re interested in ICER, check out our own Leslie Isenegger giving you the low-down on ICER 101 on the Syneos Health Podcast with Jeff Stewart by clicking here: ICER: Friend or Foe?


Orson Welles said, “There are only two emotions in a plane:  boredom and terror.” But after last week, it seems “outrage” is appropriate to add to the list. Where to begin…

United, the airline with the tagline, ‘Flying the Friendly Skies’ has been a lightning rod for controversy. When Kokito, a 10-month old puppy died on a United flight last week after being inappropriately stored in a luggage bin, the airline responded by taking immediate and full responsibility for the deadly accident. They are also rolling out a new policy to prevent another such tragedy by using brightly colored bag tags for pet carriers. But, the airline also mistakenly flew a Kansas family's dog to Japan last week, so perhaps some more apologies are in order.

Southwest faced social media backlash after removing a father and child from a flight from Chicago to Atlanta because of the child’s upset behavior.  Passengers onboard filmed the child behaving well. Southwest responded quickly with a statement:

"Our initial reports indicate a conversation escalated onboard between the Crew and a Customer traveling with a small child. We always aim for a welcoming and hospitable experience and regret the inconvenience to all involved. The traveling party was booked on the next flight to Atlanta after the original flight continued as planned. We will reach out to the Customer to listen to any concerns they have about their experience and look forward to welcoming them onboard again soon."


It’s better to not have a customer service crisis, but both airlines get a half point for improvement. Do you recall last year when United CEO Oscar Munoz defended his employees and delayed an apology, after a senior citizen was forcibly removed from a flight?  The immediate aftermath was plummeting stock. This time, both United and Southwest apologized and took action – swiftly! In a 24/7 world where such incidents are caught on video, a quick, accountable response is key.

Until next week,

-  The Reputation & Risk Management Practice @ Syneos Health Communications

About the Author:

We are a team of healthcare communicators, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. Drawing upon professional experiences from Congress, CMS, HHS, hospitals, and health technology—and our collective work in rare disease, oncology, diabetes, gene therapy, pain management and infectious disease—we provide unique solutions to the evolving messaging challenges in today’s healthcare industry. We support our clients with evidence-based approaches to preventing pricing pushback, protecting brands from modern activism, establishing and communicating clear policies surrounding expanded access to medicines, and a proactive approach to value frameworks. Our offerings also include product safety, litigation, regulatory risks, ex-U.S. considerations and policymaker investigations.