04 May 2021

The transformation of global pharma’s Government Affairs functions

The pandemic has changed what policymakers expect from the pharma industry. How can global Government Affairs teams respond?


The relationship between governments and the pharma industry has been transformed since the pandemic began. In the race to control the virus, global Government Affairs teams have found themselves on the ‘virtual front line’ – collaborating with policymakers to support health systems to cope with unprecedented levels of demand, and accelerating the development of vaccines and treatments that will finally bring the pandemic under control.

The success of this collaboration provides an opportunity to build a positive long-term relationship between governments and the industry, but also presents two fundamental challenges for global Government Affairs leads.

The first is a challenge of prioritisation. The scale of the crisis health systems have experienced – and the breadth and depth of many companies’ expertise – has resulted in a large number of urgent requests for Government Affairs support. While many have come from external stakeholders, including above-country patient and healthcare professional groups, others have come from in-market business units working to understand the implications of rapidly-introduced changes to the design and delivery of healthcare. These urgent activities have often been delivered without additional headcount, requiring Government Affairs leads to adopt a laser focus on the projects that will have the biggest impact on policy and practice.

The second challenge is how to embrace the digital transformation of Government Affairs. A function that previously relied heavily on face-to-face interactions, Government Affairs has proved remarkably effective in the Zoom-era. Paradoxically, in some ways being apart has brought Government Affairs leads and the policy-making community closer than ever. Removing the need to travel has made it simpler to bring international stakeholders together, and the view into one another’s home lives during lockdown has humanised previously formal relationships. However, strategic digital approaches to Government Affairs are still in their infancy, particularly at above-market level, with companies often unclear about the most effective ways to identify and engage with policymakers online.

As we emerge from the pandemic, and industry leaders consider how to structure their businesses to meet the challenges of a post-COVID world, they will undoubtedly looking at the future of their global Government Affairs functions.

That is why we have established the ENGINE MHP International Government Affairs & Policy Network. The network is made up of Government Affairs leads in above-market roles, who often find themselves without the peer network that their in-market colleagues enjoy due to the international nature of their roles.

The network meets informally to provide a forum for global Government Affairs leads to share their insights and experiences on above-market policy-shaping. Future meetings will feature expert speakers on digital approaches to engaging with policymakers and understanding what policymakers expect from interactions with global pharma, in addition to broader conversations about demonstrating the value of Government Affairs and how global projects can drive change in-market.

The network is open to anyone in an above-market pharma Government Affairs role. If you would like to join a future meeting, please contact Nick Hoile, a Senior Director in our Health team.

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