[Update: Not that I expect anyone is still reading this post, but just in case: It turns out that the Pinney move was actually a move to drop Glaxo as a client and replace them with NJOY, which was one of those classic power-politics negotiations. I have yet to see any public acknowledgment about it, but that seems to be what happened. Thus, half the clues supporting my hypothesis turned out to not be real. Thus this seems much less likely than I originally thought. Still a good question about how they plan to acquire drug trial skills, though.]
by Carl V Phillips
[I should lead off by saying that I have no evidence about the speculation in the title other than what I am presenting here, and that nothing here is meant to express judgment about whether this would be good or bad, though we might address that point later.]
Making and selling fast moving consumer goods (FMCG; basically anything that you might buy in a grocery store or C-store) is very different from making and selling medicines. In addition to the obvious matter of navigating the medicines regulatory process, the distribution network and sales methods are very different, and the manufacturing and supply chain controls are much less flexible and more exacting.
So why would NJOY, a company that has mastered FMCG manufacture and sales, show enthusiasm about pursuing medicines approval for their products in Canada and seemingly support medicines regulation in Europe? (Note that in the USA, they remain a leader in fighting against state and local restrictions that would hurt their FMCG business and consumers, and of course were the co-plaintiff in the lawsuit that prevented medicines regulation in the first place.) Medicines approval, marketing, distribution, and manufacturer are not part of their core expertise, and are expensive skills to acquire.
By the same token, one of the reasons pharma companies have not jumped into the e-cigarette space is that they are generally not all that good at selling FMCGs, though J&J’s consumer division certainly does a good job with Band-Aids and such.
Enter synergy. How could NJOY possibly feel comfortable jumping into the medicines space? Perhaps because they (a closely-held company that thus could easily cut such a deal) are discussing acquisition by someone who knows how to do it.
Why GlaxoSmithKline? Today NJOY announced that they are hiring Pinney Associates — former home of FDA’s tobacco chief, Mitch Zeller, among other players — a consulting firm that is closely associated with Glaxo. It is difficult to imagine that happening without Glaxo’s explicit approval, and difficult to imagine NJOY making that choice among such firms unless the connection was intentional. Glaxo also has other advantages over their competitors, including being in the NRT space (along with J&J and others, of course) and having a near monopoly on asthma and COPD drugs, the medicines products that are most similar to e-cigarettes and that could yield some cross-technologies.
Of course, all this is also compatible with some sort of strategic alliance that does not involve full-on acquisition. Presumably Glaxo would prefer an acquisition, but it is conceivable that NJOY’s owners might prefer to keep building their own small empire rather than joining a larger one.