When the future of big pharma is like beer

When the future of big pharma is like beer


Sarah Price; Senior Planner & social web enthusiast for Havas Lynx EU.
A whirlwind of insights, trends, theory and experience – earnest in her pursuit of creating social brands. Find her at Havas Lynx London or @_sgprice

This is my dream. I might add this wouldn’t be any kind of beer. It would be BrewDog.

BrewDog create craft beers.

BrewDog use creative strategies to craft and market these beers.

In the beginning BrewDog couldn’t afford to use traditional advertising methods.

So they identified the most influential beer obsessed writers and sent them beer.

BrewDog needed to raise capital to grow scale in a market monopolised by brewery giants.

So it set-up a website where fans could buy shares in the company.

In 2015 BrewDog are the fastest-growing food and drinks producer in Britain, for the fourth year in a row [1].

The recipe of their success is not secret. You can read it in their book ‘business for punks’ or even recreate the products using their Brew kits.

So what, you may ask, does this have to do with big pharma?

I want big pharma to be more like BrewDog.

Before you jump to conclusions let me explain.

Last month I emailed Havas Lynx’s CEO Dave Hunt.

The title: ‘The future of Pharma?’

In it was a link to what I believed to be the BrewDog of pharma. It was Jay Bradner’s 2011 TedTalk on ‘open-source cancer research’ [2].

Jay’s talk was about the development of a small-molecule inhibitor, called JQ1.

JQ1 started life in the Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s lab.

On discovering potential molecules they did the opposite of what a pharma company would do.

They shared it. They told people how to create it. They posted free samples to anyone in the medical research community who was interested.

They encouraged them to try it, test it and more importantly to share results.

This open, collaborative academia network yielded results and data that couldn’t be generated in one lab alone.

All funded by foundations.

They even used a start-up called Tensha Therapeutics, to trial drug substances based on this molecule.

But this is where we leave Tensha.

On the 11th January 2016 – the company was acquired by Roche for $115M [3].

What I like about this story was that Jay challenged the status quo. He fundamentally sought a different way to craft and ultimately deliver treatments.

He took an open source approach. He crowdsourced knowledge and expertise. He used alternative funding means.

Sound a bit like BrewDog?

So whilst the fundamentals don’t change; the science, the regulations, the patients.

The strategy to achieving outcomes can.

We didn’t need another beer company.

But BrewDog challenged the category with a creative strategy and made us believe otherwise.

So until pharma lets go of it’s traditional approach it will only ever see traditional results.


To achieve remarkable results you need a remarkable strategy.

I’ll leave you with a bit of Larry Page [4]:

“How exciting is it to come to work if the best you can do is trounce some other company that does roughly the same thing?

That’s why most companies decay slowly over time.

They tend to do approximately what they did before, with a few minor changes.

It’s natural for people to want to work on things that they know aren’t going to fail.

But incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time”. 







[4] https://www.wired.com/2013/01/ff-qa-larry-page/