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Bringing Specialty Products to Market: The End is Only the Beginning
We’re no longer in the era of the blockbuster. The days when drugs like Lipitor or Nexium generated billions in sales from millions of prescriptions have passed. As of June 2012, five drugs that were in the top 10 in US sales in 2011 had already lost patent protection, and patents on four others will expire before the end of 2014.
As treatments become more individualized, it will be specialty drugs—specific drugs with specific targets for specific patients—that will dominate the pharmaceutical market going forward. Overall, we will see more drugs in more specialized areas. The pharmaceutical market is expanding even as the focus for individual products gets narrower.
There are a hundreds of companies in the biotechnology space with their own intellectual property and platforms looking at specific, specialized medicines. The most successful of these companies will start thinking about maximizing the commercial potential of their brand early, even before the compound’s phase 2 studies are finished. Smart companies start with the end—commercialization—in mind. Then they work backward.
Understand your goal
Too many life science companies, especially those in the specialty space, pick the wrong go-to-launch plan because their main goal is registration. The real goal is commercialization. It’s not uncommon for a drug to get approved by the FDA, then turned over to the sales and marketing team, who are told, “Go sell this.” But marketing teams are handcuffed because of restrictions in the label or claims that were not covered in the clinical trial.
As a result, the drug could make a poor first impression and fail to reach its potential. Companies must figure out how to maximize a product’s commercial potential during the clinical trial program. It’s hard to make a good second “first” impression with a drug years after it’s been launched and marketed. There is a perception about what the drug is and what it does, and that perception is difficult to overcome.
While the trials are ongoing, look into the future to see what products your competitors are working on. Look ahead and see what sort of knowledge your eventual customers will need so they’re ready to adopt your product from the start. Anticipate regulatory challenges.
Precision is key
As the drug market becomes more specialized, the same thing is happening in the clinic. Look at oncology, for example. Years ago, an oncologist was an oncologist. Today, oncology practice is increasingly specialized and cancer generalists are relatively rare.
Accordingly, marketing to those specialists has to be precise because their practice is precise.
It takes well-executed research to identify the top physicians but that’s why you start early, looking forward and working backward. You need to gauge the level of knowledge among your customer base and understand where the gaps in knowledge are. We’re no longer just educating physicians about a drug or a therapy. Instead, we’re educating them on why the drug works and how to use it. As your clinical trials progress, you’re simultaneously teaching the audience what they need to know about your product.
Do it right and there is a cascade effect. Educate the top physicians so that they’re knowledgeable about your product, and they’ll share their knowledge with a broader group of physicians. As the key opinion leaders get comfortable using your product, they share that experience with a wider audience. Positive word of mouth is always the best advertising.
Your ultimate end is to bring a great product to market. Keep that in mind when you’re beginning the drug development process.
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