From the same team that brought you The Road To BIO in 2017, The Road To CPhI Milano is a new adventure – taking place in the run-up to CPhI Worldwide 2020 in Milan. As we did on The Road To BIO across America, we will be discovering the future of healthcare – only this time on a 7,000+ mile journey around Europe.
While I’m not a scientist, I’ve always been fascinated with how scientists work to improve everyday health. That process, at least as I perceive it, is a cycle of small, incremental changes in their R&D efforts day after day after day, offset by recurring setbacks. Because the setbacks close doors but also open other doors, they can really be viewed as a feature, not a bug, within this ongoing progress. When we work with customers, we are often introduced to an R&D department that has spent years and years going nowhere, punctuated with one or more transformative moments of true breakthroughs, which can change the entire trajectory of the research and the business.
While we aren’t conducting any scientific research or development at That’s Nice, we’re constantly talking about science and promoting our clients’ stories. After we completed The Road To Bio — which was really a highlight of that year for myself that I think will be a memory for hopefully many, many years — we reflected on some of the clumsier aspects of that trip or events that didn’t go according to plan. Sometimes you can become transfixed on the quotidian details of the trip, locked into the daily routine, and lose your sense of perspective.
On a road trip, you generally have the destination in mind, and maybe some of the milestones along the way, but you don’t necessarily have a pattern or know the precise route you’re going to take. There will always be surprises: you lose tires, hit potholes, get tied up with immigration, and encounter illnesses. A road trip definitely puts pressure on individuals and the group dynamics, bringing out the extremes of every personality.
When we were organizing The Road To Bio, we had this whole glorious vision of picturesque inland roads, like the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee and Kentucky and down the Appalachians — but once you’re on the road, and you realize that you’ve got 500 miles to drive, your priorities change. Do you want to tackle 500 beautiful miles at 30 miles an hour or something less striking at 70 miles an hour? The whole itinerary goes out the window, and instead of hitting all of the sights you imagined when you were sitting at your desk, you end up taking a new route and discovering things you didn’t anticipate, which I think is actually more exciting. Adventure and exploration have always been important parts of the That’s Nice company culture.
I think there’s a strong analogy between scientific R&D and a road trip: the map is not there, although you have a sense of the end points and some of the options. Each day and each week, a scientist may say, “I’d really like to get to this place” — and get 12 reactions done, or a purification. But one never knows when a single failure or an unexpected success will completely change the entire trajectory of the research, or of the company more broadly. It’s not that unusual for a company to encounter all kinds of roadblocks to the development of a particular drug and explore creative solutions, only to suddenly discover that one of those solutions has more value than the drug itself, and to reorient to further develop that solution as a platform technology, perhaps transforming the entire business model from innovator pharma to a CDMO model to sell that solution to other pharma companies.
Ever since we completed The Road To Bio, and even more so as we wrapped up our Nice Passion film documenting the trip, I’ve wanted to do something similar, but even more intense. As 2020 is the 25th anniversary year of That’s Nice, we landed on the idea of visiting 25 countries in 25 days. Once we had that concept in mind, we quickly settled on targeting Europe, because we really wanted to maintain the road trip feel rather than jumping on a series of transcontinental flights, which I felt would take away the continuity of the experience. I’ve never actually driven across Europe, but I knew that the continuity — connecting the dots between the cities, observing the subtle cultural shifts over the miles between, for example, Munich and Bucharest, and seeing how all of these individual pieces fit together — would be a critical part of the experience.
We are estimating that we will travel a total of about 7,000 miles on the upcoming Road To CPhI Milano trip. We are still in the process of determining all of our destinations, the companies that we want to visit, and the other roadside attractions. We definitely plan on both beginning and ending the trip in Milan, which is where CPhI Worldwide will be held this year on October 13–15. We plan to depart from Milan and travel northward through Eastern and Central Europe, ultimately all the way to the top of Scandinavia, zigzagging as we visit Poland, Germany, Austria, Czechia, and a few other countries. After seeing Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland, we will likely take a ferry through the fjords and across the North Sea into Scotland, then travel on through the rest of the United Kingdom and Ireland. After that, we will cross the channel into the Low Countries and France and take a circuitous route through Spain, Portugal, maybe Monaco, and Switzerland before returning to Italy to reach our final destination of CPhI Worldwide.
Just like The Road To Bio, the plan for The Road To CPhI Milano is to undertake this road trip in a new model Lamborghini, along with one or more support vehicles. We are currently in discussion with Lamborghini to make this happen. Traveling in that kind of style opens doors and makes it easier to interact with strangers, but it also comes with complications — you can’t simply park a Lamborghini outside a hotel, or pull off the road and go through a drive-thru. Certain kinds of roads, or humpback bridges, are really off limits as well. It adds a new dimension that both simplifies and complicates our objectives.
Although I’m originally from Europe, I didn’t develop my fascination with human health and healthcare until I found myself in the United States. Although we work with many European companies, I realized that there was still so much I didn’t know about Europe. The further we have gone in our planning, the more questions have come up that we’d love to try to explore and get some answers to, although we know that we will still be only scratching the surface of this incredibly complex mosaic of cultures and experiences. Has there been a truly significant scientific discovery in every one of these countries in the last few decades? Which country is innovating the most and improving the quality of life? What’s the median population in each of these countries, the death rates, or the orphan rates? What are the primary health concerns in each country, and are the individual health systems set up in a sensible way to address those concerns?
I’ve heard from many sources that Switzerland has the highest quality of life in Europe, likely in the world. Now, I’ve visited Switzerland maybe 50 times, but I don’t have a handle on why that is. I know that it’s cold most of the year, the cost of living is ridiculously high but the food is cheap, and the pay is generally the highest in Europe. But why is Roche there? Why is Lonza there? Obviously, the tax structure is a major draw for any big companies, but there still seems to be an overrepresentation of giant pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland.
A major component of the trip is going to be interviews with the CEOs and leadership of a range of European pharma companies and the companies that support them (e.g., CDMOs, CROs, suppliers, logistics organizations), which we plan to film and promote through our site and on Pharma’s Almanac TV. For this trip, we want to do something quite different from the typical CEO interview — filming them behind their desks or walking through a facility — which has been done so many times before. Instead, we are going to conduct these interviews somewhere that is a better representation of that country and its culture, such as a famous landscape or landmark or the local flavor of their favorite café or street food vendor. We’re looking more for the vibe of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee than your traditional pharma talking head interview — a casual setting and a couple of people talking, as candidly as possible.
Beyond the small talk, we will also have a series of questions that we will put to each of these executives because we are really interested in how the answers will vary from country to country. We all try to get an understanding of the world by reading or doing research online, and we have certainly built a body of knowledge from our decades of working with companies in Europe and across the globe. That has tremendous value, but it can’t compete with those personal interactions and the experience of getting a range of responses to the same queries, and working to understand the reasons underlying the similarities and differences.
Equally important, as far as I’m concerned, will be our conversations with the random individuals that we encounter through the trip via person-on-the-street interviews. I’m very curious about how well a pharma CEO’s sense of the healthcare landscape in a given country aligns with the general population. In America, we have this situation where the public is deeply dependent on drug companies and quick to adopt their newest innovation, but at the same time deeply skeptical and critical of their motives. I’m fascinated by exploring that disconnect across the continent, as well as fundamentally how people in each country view health, nutrition, doctors, hospitals, and the future innovation of the industry.
Ultimately, I hope that the trip will underscore all of the work that we do at That’s Nice and the philosophy and approach we bring to all of our work for our clients, providing a strong bookend for this first quarter-century of the agency. In 2020, all of our campaigns are focused on the number 25: 25 logos, 25 thought leadership campaigns, 25 molecules that changed the industry, 25 market research projects, and here, 25 countries and 25(+) conversations. The trip will serve as a manifestation of all the work my team does every day, but sketched on a much larger canvas: the map of Europe.
Mr. Walker is the founder and managing director of That’s Nice LLC, a research-driven marketing agency with 20 years dedicated to life sciences. Nigel harnesses the strategic capabilities of Nice Insight, the research arm of That’s Nice, to help companies communicate science-based visions to grow their businesses. Mr. Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design with honors from London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, England.