New York Pharma Forum Comes of Age

 It’s easy to get caught up in our daily client work, but sometimes it’s important to take a look back to see the progress we’ve made.

20 years ago in mid-November I was in the throes of preparing for the launch of a U.S.-Japan pharmaceutical organization, the New York Pharma Forum (NYPF). Today my staff and I are working feverishly to get ready for the same group’s 20th anniversary of that event, its 20th General Assembly and Annual Dinner: inviting media, coordinating the program and speakers, and handling a thousand logistical details for an international event with 300 people.

The idea behind this organization sprang from the creative mind of Shiro Yamasaki, who had been sent to work in New York by the Japanese Ministry of Health & Welfare. It was ingenious for a few reasons. Those were times of terrible trade tensions between the U.S. and Japan (at about that time, members of Congress smashed a Toshiba radio outside the US Capitol with a sledgehammer).  The last thing the Japanese government wanted was to have trade tensions spread from Toshiba to Takeda, the largest Japanese pharmaceutical company. 

Before the 1980s, there were few Japanese pharma companies in the U.S.  The Japanese government protected its pharmaceutical industry for many years against the onslaught of large overseas companies. However, by 1989 there were clear signals that these companies would have to face international competition at home.  The more savvy US Flag Summarycompanies knew this meant they had to move into overseas markets. The Japanese market was (and is) the second largest in the world for the pharma industry, and until then the Japanese companies made a comfortable income at home and hadn’t made a big push overseas.

Shiro Yamasaki knew these companies were entering a new era. He also saw the wide gap in the business culture they had to cross to have a chance of success in the U.S. market. When an important new drug is discovered, people worldwide want access to it. But medical treatment methods, health care systems, government regulations and marketing and communications differences create unique pharmaceutical industry environments and cultures in each part of the world. “Big Pharma” companies have been globalizing for decades, which really means becoming part of each local culture.

In 1989 the Japanese pharma companies’ U.S. subsidiaries had only a handful of employees, many of them from Japan. I don’t think a single one was marketing its own drugs in the U.S. Profits from drug licensing are only a fraction of those from direct sales, however.  Efforts towards international harmonization of drug approvals were just beginning, and Japanese companies were only doing drug development work in Japan then.  Japanese pharma companies understood the need to build the infrastructure and know-how to develop and sell their products in the lucrative U.S. market.

The Japanese pharmaceutical companies had a lot of catching up to do. New York Pharma Forum was a perfect venue to bring them together with Big Pharma, where they could be exposed to the workings of the international pharmaceutical industry. At the same time, the American companies welcomed the chance to meet and talk to Japanese government officials in an informal setting and get to know some of the senior executives sent here from Japan as a way to facilitate deal-making. 

How has NYPF developed over 20 years? Stay tuned for part two of this post.

— Lucy Siegel

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