A new drug awareness campaign in South Dakota raised eyebrows this week, due to its tagline “Meth. We’re on it.” The phrase is obviously a double entendre – interpreted as either South Dakota is on top of its methamphetamine problem, or the people featured in the ad, are in fact, on the illegal, addictive stimulant. As you can imagine, it’s sparked a lot of jokes on Twitter. The governor said getting attention was the point of the project (there’s no such thing as bad publicity)?

Once you get past the name, the campaign website drives to resources for addiction treatment – a worthy cause in a state where the vast majority of drug cases are meth-related.

We have some sobering news for you below with a dive into investigations on the connection between drug prices and executive bonuses, and an update on the International Price Index.

*Scheduling note: We will be off next week for the Thanksgiving holiday and back in your inbox December 7. 



While the federal right-to-try (RTT) law is not creating the broad path to investigational medicines that some advocates promised, Bloomberg reports there are signs requests are increasing. Companies with investigational candidates for serious diseases, should ensure Expanded Access policies and messaging are prepared to address for RTT, even if they are not (yet) able to offer early access.


You may think the flu shot is free, but the truth is another story. A recent investigation by Kaiser Health News found major discrepancies in costs of the flu shot -- sometimes under the same pharmacy and insurer – in the same region. The out-of-pocket cost of the flu shot is typically covered by insurance, but health experts say it is passed back to consumers through higher insurance premiums. Because people do not see the costs upfront, they are not motivated to "shop" for lower prices and could be racking up charges up to $85 for the health system. There really is no such thing as a free lunch!


In chilling news, a trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is testing the use of suspended animation on trauma patients. Technically called emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR), it involves cooling the body to 10°C, ceasing brain activity and giving surgeons two hours to mend the patients’ wounds. The trial is only being used for acute trauma victims who have a less than 5% chance of surviving. Another interesting tidbit: patients don’t have to give their consent to be a part of the trial because they’re not physically able to and their injuries are likely fatal. 


New Englanders who had outdoor activities cancelled at dusk can certainly attest, mosquito-borne eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) was a serious issue this year. Although EEE has existed for centuries, according to the New England Journal, 2019 was a particularly deadly year with 36 confirmed cases in eight states and 13 deaths in the U.S. Most people (96%) infected with EEE, do not develop symptoms. Of those who do, 1/3 or more die, or suffer permanent and severe neurologic damage. Time to get out that bug spray!  


Federal officials are barring the use of taxpayer dollars for opioid addiction treatment from going to medical marijuana. There is minimal research that marijuana can help those with addiction disorder, but that hasn’t stopped states where medical marijuana is legal (under state -- not federal law) from adding the condition to their lists of what can be treated with it. The rule will also apply to those being treated for mental health.

Blast on Bonuses 

By Eric Laub

A consortium of 300 organizations that include pension funds, unions, and faith groups have filed resolutions with 5 major pharmaceutical manufacturers demanding they research the feasibility of tying drug pricing to senior executive incentive pay.

The group includes organizations that invest with major institutional investors. They were previously successful in demanding executive pay transparency. Should they be successful again, it may create consequences for a broader set of drug manufacturers and developers, especially small-mid-sized biotechs.

As our readers well know, drug pricing is a very real risk for developers, and this effort adds additional attention to an already heightened story. Now, the life science industry needs to be particularly attentive to any significant changes in perception between the institutional investors and their investments. Signals that this effort is gaining momentum include:

  • Annual letters to shareholders (i.e. Blackrock)  highlighting changes in executive pay considerations in their investment criteria.
  • Conversations, proxies and questions focused on executive pay and pricing
  • Suggestions or mandates for investment consideration

Our Take
We’ll be watching to see if this consortium is successful in pushing to change the way institutional investors approach investments. We recommend the following strategies in case they are:

  • Drafting a statement to address the questions an institutional investor might ask
  • Proactively engaging with shareholders regarding your company’s current executive pay policy
  • Using annual reports to amplify your policy with broader audiences

Our Reputation and Risk Management team has helped companies draft these policies, communicate them with the investment community, and establish triage programs to appropriately respond to inquiries. If you have questions about best practices around financial and investor communications, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Price on Pulsing: An IPI Update

By Paul Tyahla

The Trump Administration’s proposed International Pricing Index could be released very, very soon. As you may remember from last week’s The Week That Was, HHS Secretary Azar previewed a more aggressive IPI– perhaps tying U.S. prices to the lowest price paid by other advanced economies. This week, the federal rulemaking guidance indicated the IPI would be formally introduced in November (so…sometime next week). Regardless of the exact date of a rule introduction, the IPI is likely to be the most hotly-discussed pricing issue over the next few months. We’re keeping our eye out for it!

Who wrote this? The managing editor of TWTW is Randi Kahn, who wants to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving. Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.

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Image credits:medicines by leo-graph. com from the Noun Project, injection by Jordan Alfarishy from the Noun Project, blood by Beny Eka Saputra from the Noun Project, Marijuana by ProSymbols from the Noun Project, Mosquito by Yugudesign from the Noun Project, dollar sign by AlfredoCreates @ flaticondesign. com from the NounProject, dollar sign by Marek Polakovic from the Noun Project
And now please enjoy this disclaimer that prevents our team from getting in a heap of trouble: This report may contain links to external or third party websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and Syneos Health accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. Syneos Health makes no warranties or representations, express or implied about such linked websites, the third parties they are owned and operated by, the information contained on them or the suitability or quality of any of their products or services. Syneos Health does not authorize the infringement of any intellectual property rights contained in material offered through these linked sites. Please refer to the use agreement and/or copyright statements of any external site you visit, or the terms and conditions of any externally provided web site for instructions, restrictions, and guidelines. If you have a question, please contact the webmaster of the external site.

About the Author:

Randi Kahn is a Senior Media & Content Director in our Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps clients build and protect their brand reputations through executive thought leadership, public affairs, and issues preparation and response. She has worked for clients throughout the healthcare ecosystem including payers, providers, patient groups and pharma.