Delivering Launch Success in a Changing Environment

Things are not what they used to be. In the good old days you could launch a drug and enjoy around seven years to reach peak sales. However, now the window is shorter and typically less than five years.

In addition to that, the height of peak sales is on average around 30% less than it used to be. The old rules of launch need to be re-examined and modified for the reality of launching in today’s brave new world.

Why is this happening?

There are several reasons for this state of affairs. One is that many new drugs are ‘me too’ drugs which compete with existing similar treatment options, shrinking the market for each player. In addition, many therapy areas already have good treatments available (at less cost) and, therefore, in order to establish the appropriate amount of efficacy, the team needs to find a sub-population that responds to the new treatment after failing on an existing treatment, which ultimately means a smaller population to treat.

On top of these issues, we have payers with a choice of a much wider group of drugs (including generics) who are being more critical than they were previously of new drugs that have to soundly prove they are effective, reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. Patients are more educated and vocal than before, and demand both efficacy and value. Giving patients what they need is another vital aspect to the launch that needs to be addressed.

Pharmaceutical budgets are ever-shrinking and everything has to be communicated with fewer resources and more speed than ever before, so the strategies used must be more efficient and sophisticated than they were in the past. In addition, more and more companies are co-promoting drugs which adds to the marketing complexity at launch.

So, what do these factors mean for your launch plan?

1. Start earlier. Ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the market, competitors and all stakeholder drivers much earlier in the process - ideally during Phase II trials. At this stage, the commercial, marketing, and analytics teams should become involved to ensure that the trials are not just measuring efficacy of the drug against placebo but actually measuring aspects that will show the added value of the drug to the stakeholders - such as patients, physicians, payers, and regulators - in terms that matter to them.

2. Add value to your product offering. Consider all ways that your product will drive added value to all stakeholders. Marketers need to take into consideration how the condition is currently treated and how their product will impact that condition, and ensure it is an offering that adds value to patients, physicians and payers so that they achieve their needs and goals. How do you know what these are? A combination of market research with them, and analytics based on that data, will give you the answer. Your problem may not simply be efficacy, and providing a slightly better outcome than existing treatments. You may well need to offer a service package to go with the drug – and much more than simple patient support programs.

3. Create compelling differentiation. Differentiate based on stakeholder drivers and goals. Based on this, take a comprehensive look at your product, your competitors and the marketplace, and develop strong competitor differentiation in areas that drive uptake. Don’t just take the easy way out as many brand teams do, and focus on a unique mode of action if that is not something that your customers care about.  If it is difficult to find a strong competitive differentiation, and you are not that different, you will need to really think hard about positive driver attributes that you possess (efficacy, improved patient outcomes, reduced healthcare cost, additional services, etc.) and how to communicate these to influence your stakeholders. At all times keep in mind the added value proposition of your offering to the stakeholders and how you can communicate this value to them.

4. Target Sensibly. So much of Pharma sales and marketing used to be about size and reach, whereas now we have limited resources; we have to be more sophisticated about how, and where, we target for maximum results. It is not about targeting all the top decile doctors anymore. We need to target the right doctors, as well as other key stakeholders such as patients, payers and other influencers, to get optimal revenue results.

5. Changing the Sales Force Model. The environment is forever changing and presently it is often not one-to-one selling by the sales force that works as more and more practices are combining into groups to increase purchasing power; and, of course, much prescribing is by institutions. Therefore, the sales force model must be modified to accommodate these changes from focusing mainly on individual doctor sales to a range of focus points, from the individual doctors to influencing networks and institution purchasers. This could involves change in the types of sales reps, and perhaps there will be a need for more of a range of rep types - from the science-focused rep to the customer service rep as well as the traditional reps in situations where they are still required.

5. Personalize. Today, programs need to be personalized and sophisticated. Launch marketing has shifted from big sales forces with high frequency and reach, heavy SOV and mass market appeal to more targeted, sophisticated and personal approaches.

6. Critically analyze the plan and identify gaps early. If there are gaps in the plan, ensure that they are addressed as soon as possible. The longer they are left, the more difficult they will become to deal with.

7.  Maximize your insights and results with analytics. Ensure you utilize analytics to identify all areas that will provide you strong competitive advantages and work them. Analytics can assist with where to focus, how to target, as well as resource allocation decisions derived from a thorough understanding of where the most potential can be gained from focus and resource allocation. These can be done by various target segments (e.g. stakeholders, geographies), indications, line of treatment, and much more.

8. Don’t stop at launch. So often, Pharma clients call us in after launch, when the drug is not taking off as rapidly as they expected. Don’t lose intensity of focus, or analytic rigor, after launch. One of our clients called us in 10 months post launch as a pre-emptive strike. The product had suddenly started to decline around 14 months post launch in most other markets, so they wanted to ensure it did not decline in that specific market. The analytics uncovered some unknown and unexpected insights (an inaccurate but effective smear campaign by competitors that their market research had not identified) and we were able to counteract the misinformation before the damage was done in that particular market. By combining continued vigilance and sophisticated analytics, launch is only the start of the party so that growth can accelerate unhindered, and any adjustments required will be picked up immediately and dealt with accordingly.


This new environment means fresh challenges and some areas of launch must be changed to adapt to the new reality. The companies that succeed in doing so will be better equipped to thrive exponentially.

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