How’s Your Canary Doing?


By DJ Edgerton

You’ve heard the stories about them. Canaries were used up until very recently to monitor air quality in mines. When they stopped singing and dropped dead, it was time to beat a hasty retreat. A bit startling for those of us who are PETA-friendly, but effective.

And they’ve become the icon for that part of a disaster that is first, small, and signals larger problems.

Some people say that the canary in the global financial crisis was Iceland. But the point is, there was one. Those people who had the foresight and the broad understanding to see it for what it was were able to bolster their positions, change tack, and ride out the storm. (Even if they mixed three metaphors at once while they did it.) Those who saw it as a problem far away that didn’t concern them… did not.

The question is: is pharma watching a canary get dizzy right now? And if so, are we getting out of the mine?

I’ll tell you right now: I don’t think we are. I’m no Chicken Little. (Now I’m mixing my avian metaphors.) But the sky isn’t falling. Yet. There are bright spots. The upcoming FDA hearings on social media are a great sign that the industry is open and willing to change.

But the mergers are worrying to me. Roche buying Genentech, Pfizer buying Wyeth, Merck buying Schering-Plough – it’s starting to become a very small party full of very big guests.

Here’s what will be a canary for me: when one of the top 20 companies buys another top 20 company. Pfizer, J&J, Bayer, Hoffman-LaRoche, Novartis, GSK, Sanofi, AZ, Abbott, Merck, BMS, Lilly, Boehringer, Takeda, Amgen, Genentech, Baxter, Teva, Astellas, Daiichi. When the party gets so small they start cannibalizing each other – that’s when we’ve got very big problems.

What about you? What will be your canary in the mine shaft

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