The Coming Wave of Biosimilars: What’s it going to take to win?
Marketing a biosimilar brings a unique set of challenges, the most fundamental of which feels like a contradiction: On the one hand success depends on proving similarity; on the other you’ve got to differentiate to win. Donna Vetter discusses these challenges.
If you’re planning to bring one to market, claiming a coveted share of the $169 billion biologic market1—of which biosimilars are forecasted to reach up to $35 billion by 20202—will mean stretching beyond conventional practices. It’s a new frontier that requires a shift in both approach and mindset. For those planning to market a biosimilar, the types of strategies that may have served companies well in the past with small-molecule generics will likely need retooling to effectively compete.
It’s a challenge at odds with itself
Marketing a biosimilar brings a unique set of challenges, the most fundamental of which feels like a contradiction: on the one hand success depends on proving similarity; on the other you’ve got to differentiate to win. This requires a stepwise approach—first you have to fully establish similarity in the minds of physicians in order to gain receptivity to discussions about differentiation.
As marketers we’ve been conditioned to quickly get across our point of differentiation. But doing so too fast with a biosimilar can lead to tune-out if you haven’t passed the first hurdle on similarity.
Another hurdle to clear: establishing trust
Education is a big part of shoring up trust in biosimilars. Although awareness and familiarity with biosimilars among physicians are increasing, there is still much work to be done on the education front—particularly since these levels vary quite a bit by specialty and by country. According to a survey conducted by the Alliance for Safe Biologic Medicines3, most physicians, while ‘familiar’ with biosimilars, have only a basic understanding of them and many can’t tell you what one is. That signals a lot of market conditioning to be done as the patent cliff for major biologics looms.
And while willingness to consider prescribing a biosimilar—which is likely tied to familiarity—is growing year over year according to one recent U.S. and pan-European survey among Rheumatologists4 for example, the reasons cited for not considering them include barriers that can be overcome through fundamental education: doubts about purity, questions relating to clinically meaningful differences in efficacy, immunogenicity and other safety concerns.
These underlying reasons for doubt and concern are very much different versus a new MOA molecule and market conditioning needs to reflect that. Creating a communications plan that effectively pre-empts concerns and instills confidence in what clinicians can expect of your biosimilar in clinical practice is essential and requires that you keep your finger on the pulse of shifts in awareness, perceptions, and attitudes on a near-constant basis.
Physicians are quicker to extend their trust to companies who have a long-established history in a particular category”.
The good news is that physicians are quicker to extend their trust about a biosimilar to companies who have a long-established history in a particular category. So if you’ve got an established heritage be sure to leverage it. If not, be prepared to invest more heavily as it may require greater effort and resources to secure trust.
One of biggest hurdles: “If it’s the same, why should I prescribe it?”
This is where you need to get creative and really stretch. Most likely you’re going up against an innovator biologic heavyweight that’s not only tried-and-trusted, it already comes with a virtual treasure trove of value-added programs and materials for patients. Take, for example, AbbVie’s Humira (adalimumab), Amgen’s Enbrel (etanercept), and Sanofi’s Lantus (insulin glargine), these companies have all invested heavily in terms of relationship building in the medical community as well as development and deployment of patient support resources.
So, “If it’s the same, why should I prescribe it?” is a fair question. And, given that you’re not likely to meet the 50-70% reduced price expectation of a generic or a 1st or 2nd tier formulary status in the U.S. that comes with little or no patient co-pay, you’ve got to offer a compelling value proposition (and don’t expect physicians, payors, or consumers to go easy on you with something soft). This is where commercialization planning and marketing get exciting.
For biosimilars, differentiation needs to play out on brand experience
There are a number of exploration areas to consider, delivery technology for one. Because biological molecule size usually requires that it be delivered via injection, opportunity exists to improve upon the innovator product’s delivery device without affecting the safety and efficacy. Since the device is often a major component of the patient experience—particularly for conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis—this can represent a compelling point of differentiation for your biosimilar brand.
Marketers and their agencies need to push well beyond competitive parity with the biosimilar brand experience they deliver”.
For most, though, success will come down to deep strategic planning and stellar marketing to differentiate. Marketers and their agencies need to push well beyond competitive parity with the biosimilar brand experience they deliver. In my experience, this means not only assessing customer wants and needs very differently but also from new vantage points. For example, taking a more holistic view of the end customer—zooming out to look beyond the patient-only aspect of their experience.
In taking a more holistic approach, marketers are able to deliver solutions that help patients fit the condition into their lives, not their lives into the condition”.
The expectation of customers today is that the brand experience will be highly personalized. Often this involves bringing culture to the forefront in order to provide a very different foundational context both to understand beliefs and behaviors and influence them. In taking a more holistic approach, marketers are able to deliver truly valued solutions that help patients fit the condition into their lives, not their lives into the condition. This is where the bar is set and, for many conditions where biosimilars are in development, there is tremendous opportunity to deliver on this expectation.
Winning will take fortitude and more
Reportedly, there are currently more than 700 biosimilars in development by a diverse range of companies spanning big pharma to major generics companies5.
And with some innovator biologics having up to 20 or more biosimilars in development6, there’s no doubt competition will be intense. Beyond navigating the legal and regulatory uncertainties, which is no small feat, winning will require high resource investment and a strong commitment to innovate from both a strategic planning and marketing perspective.
Donna Vetter is an independent, global healthcare and marketing communications provider who partners with commercial teams to navigate change.
1. IMS Health. (2013). Searching for Terra Firma in the Biosimilars and Non-Original Biologics Market [White Paper]. Retrieved from http://www.imshealth.com/deployedfiles/imshealth/Global/Content/Healthcare/Life%20Sciences%20Solutions/Generics/IMSH_Biosimilars_WP.pdf
2. Allied Market Research. (2014). Biosimilars/Follow-on-Biologics Market is Expected to Reach $35 Billion, Globally, by 2020 [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/press-release/biosimilars-follow-on-biologics-market-is-expected-to-reach-35-billion-globally-by-2020.html
3. Generics and Biosimilars Initiative Journal (2014). 3;3(2):58-62. Retrieved from http://gabi-journal.net/asbm-2013-european-prescribers-survey-report.html
4. Research Partnership. (2014). Biosimilars: Friend or Foe to Healthcare? [Webcast]. Retrieved from http://www.researchpartnership.com/news/2014/05/webcast-biosimilar-friend-or-foe-to-healthcare/
5. Thomson Reuters. (2014). Biosimilars Set to Revolutionize Global Drug Development Industry with More Than 700 Therapies in Pipelines [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://thomsonreuters.com/press-releases/092014/biosimilars-drug-development
6. FirstWord. (2013). Which biologics face the most competition from biosimilars? Retrieved from http://www.firstwordpharma.com/node/1118043#axzz3KNJ2xfkS
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