The Pharma Bureaucracy Index: Who’s Nimble, and Who’s Sloooowww?

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the respondents that their answers would remain anonymous, but that I’d used their scores to put together a composite index of pharma bureaucracy. By the end of business on Thursday, eight of the 20 (40 percent) responded.

Some of the results surprised me, but others didn’t. The top-ranked company, which you can see in the chart below, is Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG). Of the eight respondents, five ranked Celgene as the fastest/least bureaucratic of the big drugmakers. Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) was next in line, which wasn’t a big surprise, given that three of its top executives cut their teeth at small biotech companies. The companies at the bottom of the barrel, predictably, don’t make many headlines for striking deals with the hottest up and comers in biotech. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and Japan-based Eisai Pharmaceuticals achieved that dubious distinction.

“Bureaucracy has always slowed down dealmaking and is particularly prominent in biotech/pharma,” Kleanthis Xanthopoulos, CEO of San Diego-based Regulus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RGLS), said in an email. “Our deals take a long time to complete (12-18 months for a licensing transaction) from first meeting to signing and must be the worst record amongst industries. I hear social media and IT do deals in weeks and sometimes do not even meet in person :-) Partially this is due to the complexity of our deals, i.e. multiple experts have to express an opinion whether one evaluates a compound or a technology, but a lot of it has to do with complex, byzantine structures in pharma that are not incentivized to move quickly.”

With that, here’s the inaugural Pharma Bureaucracy Index. Each company gets a composite score based on the rankings submitted by each respondent. I realize that these rankings could change dramatically over time—one respondent noted that AstraZeneca has behaved quite differently in the last year since new CEO Pascal Soriot took over. Enjoy the list, and as always, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below or send me your feedback via email to ltimmerman [at]

RankCompanyBureaucracy Score
2Biogen Idec5.29
5Gilead Sciences5.86
9Johnson & Johnson9.86
11Novo Nordisk12.43
12Bristol-Myers Squibb12.57
14Astellas Pharma12.86
17Merck KGaA14.33
18Eli Lilly14.57
19Takeda Pharmaceuticals14.63
20Eisai Pharmaceuticals18.83














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3 responses to “The Pharma Bureaucracy Index: Who’s Nimble, and Who’s Sloooowww?”

  1. Paul Frohna says:

    Is there a relationship between higher bureaucracy scores and more successful deals leading to drug approval? If not, what is the point?

  2. Kevin Chow says:

    Hey Luke, interesting discussion. At the risk of stating the obvious, some large organizations can be both fast or incredibly slow and bureaucratic. If the asset is supported by solid data and in their core interest area(s) they can cut away a lot of the red tape and rapidly raise the discussion to the highest levels, but if it is not in a core interest area and/or thin on data it can be “death by a thousand cuts” working at the level of in-licensing evaluation teams. Therefore, the onus is on the licensor biotech to manage expectations by doing their homework in understanding the current and future directions of potential partners in correlation to the status of the asset to be partnered. Not easy with all the reorgs and refocusing in large pharma today.

  3. Kevin, I think it’s clear that all of these pharma companies can move more quickly when they are really interested in an asset or a platform, or when top management is involved early. A few of the respondents noted that M&A deals can often move more quickly than licensing deals, especially if they are competitive situations. Maybe I’ll follow up another time with a column with some BD folks sharing tricks in the art of how to keep your deal from dying in pharma committeeland.