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Evolutionary Change within the UK Pharmaceutical Industry: A Cladist
Aston Business School
Draft Paper to be presented at DRUID
This paper seeks to examine the effect of a decade of rapid change within the UK Healthcare environment upon Pharmaceutical Companies. Between 1990 and 1999 the UK Pharmaceutical Industry had to contend with a series of seismic shocks that radically changed the competitive landscape and introduced marked new pressures on participant companies. Prompted by the Health Service need to curb costs the UK NHS reforms were the most profound since 1948 resulting in a marked shift in industry methods of working and the relative success of their strategies. The evolution of the top 10 pharmaceutical corporations is examined using cladistics a technique from the biological school of classification. A technique based upon studying the evolutionary relationship between companies with reference to the common ancestry of the group. The concept of the corporate genome driving path dependant behaviour is introduced.
The UK Pharmaceutical industry received a series of seismic shocks during the last
decade as the government and ultimate monopoly purchaser of pharmaceutical
products sought to curb rising drug costs. Rapid dramatic change to the industrial
landscape driven via implementation of two key Government White Papers. Working
For Patients (1989) and The New NHS (1997) that emanated from successive
Conservation and Labour administrations. Changes that significantly altered the
marketing environment for Pharmaceutical companies operating within the UK.
This research adopts an evolutionary perspective examining the progress of the 10
leading Pharmaceutical Corporations that by the end of 1999 represented 46.4% of the
UK market in terms of sales. [See Table 1] Sales chosen as an objective output of the
firm avoiding the problems associated with profit or return on equity calculations. The
UK Pharmaceutical Industry was chosen for three key reasons. First a number of
previous researchers (Cool & Schendel, Bogner, Thomas & McGee) had pointed to
the differences within strategic groups found within the US Pharmaceutical Industry.
Second, the UK operating environment changed radically during the 1990’s. Third
availability of reliable sales data for the period made such a comparison feasible.
Each corporation examined both collectively and as part of its constituent companies
or divisions for as pointed out by Cool and Schendel [ref 1] rivalry between firms is
conducted at the operating level of the firm. Where the company or division known to
Porter [p129 ref 2] defines a strategic group as a group of firms in an industry
following the same or similar strategy along strategic dimensions. While Porter also
states [p132 ref 2] that individual groups are differentially affected by the five main
competitive forces. In fact according to Porter [p149 ref 2] formulating competitive
strategy in an industry can be viewed as the choice of which strategic group to
The pattern of firms evolution within the Pharmaceutical industry can thus be
illustrated by mapping visible strategic moves requiring the ability to classify
individual firms and the groupings to which they belong.
An aspect of research where biological sciences has a considerable pedigree in
providing a variety of classification methods. Of which Cladistics appears to provide
a transparent and highly visible way to illustrate the pattern of evolutionary
relationships between species or strategic group.
What is Cladistics and how is it useful
Cladistics a term coined by Mayr [ref 3], derived from the Greek word for branch is a
form of classification originally developed by Hennig a German Entomologist. A
system of portraying patterns of evolutionary relationships in branch diagrams based
on synapomorphies or sister relationships. The definition of Cladistics [ref 4] is “a
method of classification of animals and plants that aims to identify and take account
of only those shared characteristics which can be deduced to have originated
In the common ancestor of a group of species during evolution, not those arising by
A methodology that has recently enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance driven first, by
the ability of Cladistics to display numerical data where molecular DNA type analyses
provide a whole new opportunity to discover evolutionary relationships between
morphologically dissimilar organisms. Second by the advent of the computer and the
ability of programs to store, manipulate, and rework vast databases providing the
ability to explore evolutionary relationships via a host of new scenarios.
In parallel has been the recognition that species may be analogous to firms together
with use of biological metaphors to explore evolutionary relationships between firms.
Here researchers such as Nelson and Winter, Hannan and McKelvey provided much
Hennig’s phylogenetic system was based on classification to sister groups, a collateral
not solely dependant on ancestry. Species being part of a sister group if two
individuals are more related to each other than either is to a third taxonomic group.
Hennig proposed two rules. First that all included in higher taxa must be descended
from a single ancestral species. Second that all species descended from this ancestor
must be included in a single higher taxon. Both conditions must be met. Mayr a
contemporary of Hennig agreed with only the first of these principles coining the term
Cladistics from Hennig’s single-minded attention to the order in which species branch
With regard to evidence Hennig proposed that synapomorphies i.e. the presence of
characters that the first two taxa possess but the third lacks should be subject to
“reciprocal illumination” i.e. a relationship hypothesised from one source of
information should be tested by bringing another source of evidence to bear upon it. If
both sources support the hypothesis he viewed it as confirmed.
Views formed in part through agreement with some observations of the ideal
morphologists a group contemporary with Hennig in Germany. Alternatively termed
typologists the morphological viewpoint stated that classification should be theory
neutral and based upon a compendium of observations. That discrete patterns exist in
nature awaiting discovery, that we do not need to know the origin of to discover. A
view that has merit with the mapping of strategic groups where strategies remain
unknown until after the event to an external observer.
Hull’s [ref 5] reviews the place of Cladistics within modern evolutionary theory
before discussing the important influences that the advent of computers and the
growth in the science of molecular biology had upon the recent revival in the use of
Cladistics. Starting from the work of Sneath (1957) who wanted to devise taxonomic
methods usable by computers a key point of relevance is the statement by Hull that
Sneath regarded weightings used by taxonomists as largely intuitive and therefore
devised classifications based upon numerous equally weighted unit characters
clustered via a mathematical algorithm. Sneath believed classification should reflect
the scientific method by becoming empirical and repeatable. Work paralleled by
Sokal whose chief objection to traditional taxonomy was the use of unequally
In conclusion Hull makes a key point reporting the views of Platnick, that Hennig’s
phylogenetic systems strength is its method. Method that has remained unaltered since
its inception; only interpretation and data selection has changed. A point that augurs
well for the use of Cladistics in a study of industry strategic groups as the method
despite being tempered in the fire of strong debate remains unchanged.
McCarthy and his colleagues [ref 6] describe a methodological assessment of the
construction of a formal classification of manufacturing systems using Cladistics.
Previous research, according to McCarthy fails to incorporate the benefits of the
science of taxonomy an omission that he describes as reducing the usefulness,
stability and accuracy of the classification. According to McCarthy lessons should be
drawn from biological taxonomy based upon the discipline and rules regularly applied
Addressing the question of why choose Cladistics? McCarthy gives three clear
reasons. First, the authors regard Cladistics as theoretically superior with a deep
philosophical underpinning that phenetic and other evolutionary based systems lack.
Second, Cladistics produces classifications based upon the natural order of characters
as distinct from artificially constructed more subjective systems. Third, by
representing relationships in a cladogram the data employed is clearly illustrated
along with all decisions and assumptions thus making the classification process
transparent. Of these the final argument appears the most compelling and is the key
McCarthy assumed first, that manufacturing systems evolve and have ancestors, a
point clearly paralled by the Pharmaceutical Industry where although companies are
broken up or merged yet constituent products or genes can be traced. Second, systems
speciate. Third, manufacturing systems like companies are subject to natural selection
so only those most fitted to their purpose survive.
McCarthy proposed a mechanism for natural selection based on four key principles.
One, there is natural and randomly occurring variation within a population. In critique
of which the concept of random occurrence within a system designed for a specific
purpose to a specification would appear unlikely. Two, heredity exists between
systems i.e. offspring or subsequent systems resemble their parents and systems
within the industry are more similar than external systems. “Genetic material” being
passed on by people, communication, industry norms and standard operating
procedures. Somewhat analogous to the proposal here that products represent
company genes passed on complete with accumulated knowledge, history and tacit
actions. Three, systems with clear advantages become more frequent within a
population as industry adopts “best practice”. A point perhaps parallel to the follow
my leader approach adopted by some companies with regard to mergers. See for
example McGahan’s interpretation of Merck’s acquisition of Medco in the US a move
followed rapidly by SKB and Lilly.[ref 7] Four, variation provides advantage and
systems adapt to conditions or change over time to survive.
McCarthy suggests selection of the best cladogram should be the result of statistical
methods applied to the pair wise data and methods of parsimony. Where the simple
rule - the longer the tree the poorer the fit. The shortest tree that requires the smallest
number of evolutionary changes is adopted.
McCarthy suggests two applications for Cladistics and several benefits from use of
cladistic method. First through systematic and comparative method Cladistics permit
the comparison of general attributes of complex systems. Second, these analyses may
provide a comparative index of assistance in elucidating organisational process.
McCarthy regards functional studies and Cladistics as complementary. Combination
of environmental forecasts with the Cladistics could in McCarthy’s opinion provide a
blueprint of which organisational species will dominate or languish. “Regardless of
industrial sector organisations could use cladistics as an evolutionary analysis
technique to determine their origins and current position relative to their peers.”
Barthelme et al discuss the difference between phenetic and phylogenetic evolution
before proposing that since technological concepts are subject to evolution a parallel
between knowledge classification and species classification seems valid and
appropriate. A point directly relevant to the accumulation and development of
knowledge so critical to successful pharmaceutical research Cladistics is chosen to
model the evolutionary memory. First, because phylogenetic theory traces the
evolution tree by applying rigorous criteria, which in the author’s opinion fit with the
technological concepts, proposed. Second, in their opinion Cladistics describes the
rationale, argument and chronological progress of the knowledge based system
through time giving cognitive meaning to evolution. Third, Cladistics allows
organisational system species to be clearly grouped according to their evolution,
directly in support of what is proposed here.
Radical Change Within the UK Market
Prior to 1990 the UK market could have been described by the following key
1. GP led but heavily influenced by hospital opinion through the vehicle
of referral and local opinion leader meetings.
2. Non-price sensitive with little awareness of the cost of individual
3. Lower than average access to customers with larger companies
dominating customer contact through muscle marketing via large
4. Each GP operating as an individual practitioner with sales calls
targeted on the individual doctor, generally a 1 to 1 discussion of
product features and benefits of 8 to 10 minutes duration. (Individual
field force observation supported by numerous GP discussions)
5. Little or no Health Authority influence upon how practice is run.
A situation that had changed little since the establishment of the National Health
Service (NHS) by Bevan in 1948 with the tenet the provision of a comprehensive
health service delivered free at the point of need and funded out of taxation. [ref 8]
But times had changed and the UK Government were facing increasing problems of
1. As the demographic makeup of the population changed with an
increasing elderly population, a lower proportion of working
population and less recruitment to the working community as people
2. People’s expectations of healthcare provision increased with wider
access to education, the growing consumer movement and influence of
3. As productivity of pharmaceutical research and development declined
with less attractive targets of high population with high-unmet medical
need and increased competition the cost of new products and new
4. The growth in age related diseases such as Alzheimers.
Thus the gap between demand and planned funding began to widen and the Thatcher
Government in 1989 became the first administration willing to tackle this thorny and
Working for Patients published in 1989 completely changed the rules of engagement
for the Pharmaceutical Industry within less than two years rendering ineffective the
adaptive evolutionary processes adopted by a rather traditional industry up to this
point. In dramatic moves these reforms decided to manage cost by a multi pronged
1. Bringing strategic control for both GP (Community) and Hospital spending
2. Introducing the concept of competitive tendering for healthcare through an
internal market consisting of purchasers (Health Authorities and Fund holding
GPs) and Providers (Hospitals and GPs).[ref 9].
3. Simultaneous introduction of measurement of pharmaceutical costs together
with targets and incentives to reinforce desired behaviour. For example PACT
(Prescribing Analysis and Cost) developed in Lothian was introduced to the
NHS as part of the Thatcher reforms. PACT also provided a benchmark to
compare Health Authorities or practices with UK norms.
4. Increased funding for computerisation of general practice.
5. The appointment of third party influencers to drive desired changes at a local
level. Several hundred Pharmaceutical and Medical Advisers were employed
to change GP prescribing behaviour as part of the Thatcher reforms.
These changes announced with the publication of Working for Patients were
implemented in April 1991 and marked a rapid and profound change in the UK
The following table illustrates the radical nature of this change.
Pharma Environnent pre 1990
Pharma Environment post 1991
GP prescriptions almost always written as Computerised practices generate
Hospital consultant exerts influence upon
Move towards practice decision therefore
Each GP follows own treatment regimens Introduction of practice and health
In 1997 following the defeat of the Conservative Government Labour introduced their
White Paper – The New NHS. Reform that abolished the division of General Practice
into Fund holding and Non-Fund holding in its place introducing the concept of GPs
working co-operatively within Primary Care Groups which bore more than superficial
similarity to the Health Maintenance Organisations that operate throughout the US.
The focus of these new groups who work “seamlessly” with local hospitals, Health
Authority and Social Services remained on extraction of value for money from NHS
suppliers. Primary changes still more severe with peer pressure supplementing
prescribing advisers, local retail pharmacist involvement in Primary Care Groups to
carry out drug utilisation review and construct local formularies and further
concentration of buying power into the hands of less than 500 Primary Care Groups.
Thus in less than a decade the Pharmaceutical Industries primary customer had been
reduced from 36,000 independent practitioners to collective decision making and in
many cases purchasing via under 500 Primary Care Groups.
The pharmaceutical environment changed markedly as a result of these reforms that
introduced structural, functional and cultural change to the National Health Service.
1. The Pharmaceutical Industries access to key customers.
2. The customers “independent” decision making process
3. The relative importance of the respective customer groups
4. Increased barriers to new product entry
5. The average length of the product life cycle with GP brand loyalty being
replaced almost overnight by a switch to computer generated generically
Corporations were split into their constituent companies or operating divisions. First,
because pharmaceutical firms ultimately compete at the level of the individual
physician seeking to displace current choices with their products. It is at this level that
reputations are built. Second due to the Pharmaceutical Industry being subject to a
number of mergers and acquisition ownership of the firm may change during the
period and acquisition is clearly a strategic option for Pharmaceutical Corporations.
Each company was examined in terms of their product portfolio at sub-therapeutic
class level not therapeutic class, an approach that differs from previous researchers
(Bogner, Thomas & McGee, Cool & Schendel) The rationale that companies compete
via substitutable products thus R3A inhaled bronchodilators are not substitutable by
R3D inhaled corticosteroids. The first is for acute relief, the second for chronic
control, often used in concert but not generally as substitutes for one another.
Relationships between companies were traced through using strict cladistic principles
with product “genes” being mapped from company to corporation, where a therapy
sub-class is solely served from two merging companies this node is coded a 1.1 as
against 0.1 when emanating solely from one parent. The approach here differs from
that adopted by McCarthy in relying almost solely upon proven evolutionary “product
gene” relationships rather than phenotypic observed characters, which were applied
later to confirm group selections as per Hennig.
Age of the portfolio was also taken into account first because new products may be
expected to receive a greater degree of promotional time, second in order to examine
the relative number of new product introductions. New market introductions chosen
as the measure for refreshment of the corporate portfolio rather than patents first
because this removes the confusion over which patent is relevant as when different
isomers were patented as with Zantac, [see Lynn p 165] or the plethora of process
patents that can surround some NCE’s. Second, patent expiry is taken into account
here due to focussing on sales as the ultimate measure of corporate success. An
approach that also removes the need to consider market discounts, such as those given
by some companies to Dispensing Doctors, as IMS audits report gross sales into
Finally companies were placed into strategic groups based on observable patterns of
behaviour their market phenotype. Where phenotype is defined as the set of
observable characteristic of an organisation resulting from the interaction of its
On average 80% of the UK’s top 10 Corporations Sales come from products over 7
years on the market. Sixty percent from products over 10 years old. [See Table 2]
Given the relative importance of these older products to corporate success it seems
inconceivable that they do not drive the majority of corporate priorities. An
investment path that leads back approximately twelve years before launch in many
cases. [Ref 10] These facts together with the risk of research support the hypothesis
that market conditions are not planned for a significant period pre launch but product
market decisions are driven by the product therapy area, the nature of the product and
the companies accumulated knowledge within that therapy area.
Therapy area at sub-therapy class level determines the competitive arena into which
the product is launched. The number and nature of competitors. The relative
weighting between hospital and community influence, balance between acute and
chronic therapy, key customer groups, their priority and a number of related critical
decisions. Such decisions are therefore from this point on at least in part path
dependant Decisions build upon one another as pointed out by Carroll and Hannan
The company’s current priorities are therefore significantly affected by the mix of
product sub-therapy areas, the number of products within each one and their relative
weighting as regards sales both actual and potential. The hypothesis presented here is
that this set of sub-therapy classes within the company is analogous to a corporate
genome that sets priorities as to product mix and a myriad of product related
decisions. The number of products that the company has within that sub class
determines the number of times that the gene is expressed and relative importance in
terms of sales determines the dominance of the gene.
In evolutionary terms company research could be serendipity or due in part to random
chance or guided towards a set objective. As Barthelme et al [ref 12] point out such
selection processes could be explained by two conflicting models used to explain the
process of evolution. Darwin proposed variation based on pure random chance with
fitness to the environment via a natural selection process, whilst Lamarck believed
variations to be of a directed intentional nature.
Either, evolution is gradual, incremental guided by chance and affected by natural
selection. The survival of the fittest concept. Alternatively evolution may be either
continuous or occur in a series of jumps or saltations, a process guided by
intelligence. A Lamarckian viewpoint that genetically transmitted traits originate by
adaptation, such inheritance the result of goal directed behaviour.
Barthelme proposes that a corporate knowledge system in many ways analogous to
the corpus of research knowledge, where objectives are clearly defined fits a
Lamarckian approach better as development of a goal directed system does not result
from a random process. Similarly accumulation of knowledge is based on relevance.
The principle of acquired characteristics.
Once a product enters development however, the accumulated cost of bringing it to
market some $700m dollars according to latest McKinsey estimates [ref 13] ensure
that decisions to refresh the product portfolio are not taken lightly and the cost of
The corporate genome also affects the fit that the company has with its environment
first and foremost as customers attached reputations to products and companies that
promote them. Second as companies build strength in specific areas they develop both
research and market franchises. Market franchises because success in an area must
increase the companies willingness to complement its portfolio by licensing in related
products, secondly companies wishing to licence products or co-market their product
would be expected to find related market success attractive. Thus companies are
driven by their focus upon specific therapeutic areas that can either be the reward of a
long-term research commitment or an opportunist action to in licence a specific
product. Allen & Hanbury present a classic example of this with a long-term
commitment to respiratory medicine as illustrated by examining their corporate
Similarly companies do not compete at the corporate level or even at the individual
company level but at sub-therapeutic area level where one product must displace
another in the mind of the physician. A point brought out in stark relief through the
use of the corporate genome analogy, where the intense rivalry between Astra and
Glaxo first drawn attention to by Lynn [ref 14 p 165 & 229] who states that before
launch Astra rattled Glaxo with Losec a head on challenge to the company’s most
successful product and that “with its control of the ulcer market to protect, Glaxo set
about systematically rubbishing the new product”. A situation very clearly illustrated
by examination of the relevant sections of the two companies genomes at a specific
The examination of such genetic relations can also be used to track the evolution of
corporations through a series of mergers, disposals and acquisitions. In table 5 part of
the base data for a cladogram illustrating the Astra Zeneca merger clearly shows the
combination of the two entities and a genetic audit trail that can be used to distinguish
between genes in the new entity that build on existing strength that may be called
complementors, genes that remain isolated from the main backbone of the
organisations activities and that may be sold off to complement other organisations
and products that were important to the organisation many years ago but now are
vestigial characteristics of the previous organisation.
With the use of a cladistic approach based upon the companies genetic make up a
number of different strategic groups are discernable.
1. Consolidators – these companies illustrated within this sample by Novartis and
Sanofi Winthrop exhibit the following phenotypic characteristics. First over
the last decade they have acquired several companies with different modes of
operation. Novartis for example was formed through the merging of Ciba and
Geigy two operating companies of Ciba Geigy strong in sales of
gynaecological and rheumatological products respectively and focused on the
GP or Community market. These two being merged with Sandoz a company
with a strong hospital orientation. Through examining the respective corporate
genomes there appears to be little overlap or immediate complement between
the three. Sanofi was the combination of Sanofi and Lorex Synthelabo GP
oriented companies. Second, on merging the companies identities were
immediately subsumed which may for example have obliterated decades of
accumulated market reputation and loyalty.
2. Glaxo acquired Wellcome via hostile takeover in 1995, Zeneca merged with
Astra in 1998. A key characteristic of these organisations is that while they
may merge internally for efficiency in research for example externally each
operating company is kept separate with its own product focus. Smith Kline
could also be placed within this group alongside American Home Products.
These companies also have a history of using licensed products to exploit
opportunities and plug portfolio gaps. Zeneca licensing in lisinopril (Zestril)
which complemented strength in cardiovascular medicine and constituted
12.1% of Astra Zeneca’s sales the 2nd most important contributor to sales.
SKB acquired the licence for paroxetine (Seroxat) when they merged with
Beecham in 1989. Seroxat SKB’s largest product represented 38.5% of sales
at year-end 1999. Similarly American Home acquired the UK rights to
lansoprazole (Zoton) when they purchased Lederle, a product that represented
45.4% of sales by the end of 1999. [Source IMS BPI MAT 1999].
3. MSD, Lilly, Pfizer and Warner Lambert represent research led companies that
have remained committed to organic growth via strong operating companies
focused upon defined product therapy areas.
In conclusion the use of Cladistics may provide a systematic method to analyse and
organise knowledge about industrial populations. A structured process for the study of
diversity allowing identification of patterns and relationships that may explain the
existence and evolution of different strategic groups. The resulting cladogram a visual
and transparent intellectual vehicle of practical value for interpretation and
explanation. A snapshot of the evolutionary history of a company and constituent
firms comprising an industry. In short a method that in combination with the
corporate genome concept may allow timely and relevant comparisons to be made
between different pharmaceutical groups tracking evolutionary relationships and
clearly discerning the specific locus of competition.
The Author wishes to thank Gerry Williams of IMS UK for permission to use data
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(1998) An Architecture for knowledge evolution in organisations. European
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13. Lynn, Matthew. (1991) The Billion-Dollar Battle. Merck v Glaxo. Heinemann.
14. Bastianelli, Enrico.,Eckhardt, Jurg., & Teirlynck, Olivier. (2001) Pharma: Can
the middle hold? The McKinsey Quarterly 1
The Top 10 UK Pharmaceutical Corporations
SKB 3.8 Pfizer 3.5 Novartis 2.7 Lilly 2.3 Warner Lambert
Product Portfolio Age Profile Top 10 Corporations
Years from Launch
SKB Pfizer Novartis
1999 1999 1999 1999 1999
1999 1999 1999
Source IMS BPI Data MAT 1990, 1994 & 1999
Why Astra and Glaxo Were Intense Competitors
Products Therapy % of Sales Products Therapy % of Sales Products Therapy % of Sales
Example of Part of Base Data for Astra Zeneca Cladogram
Red = At least 1 product (gene) from each parent Yellow = Astra synapomorphies
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Ich hoffe, in der nächsten Stunde eine kleine Verschiebung Ihrer Sichtweise zu bewirken. Was ich Ihnen verständlich machen möchte, ist das quantenmechanische Modell; nicht nur das Modell des menschlichen Körpers, sondern des Universums, das unser kosmischer Körper ist. Unser wissenschaftliches Verständnis macht gegenwärtig einen Paradigmawechsel durch. Die Wahrnehmung dessen, was die wir