How Pharma Companies can Successfully Launch New Products
Updated: Nov 23
Although clinical differentiation is vital, there are also other metrics which have proven to consistently improve a new drug’s performance in the marketplace.
Sales falling short of expectations is not an uncommon issue for pharmaceutical companies launching new drugs, despite the many years and millions of dollars they have spent on the drugs’ development and clinical trials; and their earnest marketing efforts.
As a PR agency specialising in healthcare, Bridges M&C has worked with some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing companies, providing comprehensive region-wide marketing solutions for some of their new products and offerings. And we have seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to product launches.
Although clinical differentiation from competing products is a vital part of a drug’s success, it is not the only marketing tool in the box. Bayer’s launch of Xarelto is a good example. Although it was the second novel oral anticoagulant (NOAC) to be launched, it quickly become the market leader, despite having little clinical differentiation in performance from its competitor. Bayer managed that because there are other factors apart from clinical differentiation which a launch team can focus on to ensure success in the marketplace.
A recent survey of 100 senior launch executives from 20 top pharma companies, which was conducted by Bain & Company, pinpoints some of those success factors. According to the Bain & Company’s study, the main thing companies with successful launches do differently is to use product benefits, as well as post-launch data and services, to their advantage.
Over the years, new drugs have faced more intense competition than they did in the past. Today, the average time a drug is on the market before a new competitor product arrives, is only four years, half what it was just 10 to 15 years ago. This swell of new entrants makes it harder for pharmaceutical companies to rely solely on phase III clinical data to differentiate their products among doctors, regulators and health insurers.
The companies which are successful are those that are adept at communicating key clinical and non-clinical benefits to customers, and using post-launch data and services to make their products stand out.
To drive product messaging, most pharmaceutical companies use data from research tools such as patient pathways, physician segmentation, and focus groups as part of their communication strategies. But the companies with consistently successful launches have learned to transform this data into actionable insights. Communicating benefits and efficacies is important, but successful launch teams ensure that drugs also stand out by considering the cognitive shortcuts doctors use when making decisions about whether to adopt new treatments.
Which brings us back to why Bayer’s Xarelto launch was successful. They did not rely on just the reams of clinical data from the trials; instead, they kept the messaging simple and focused on a key benefit. Xarelto only required once-a-day dosing compared with twice-daily for the ﬁrst-to-market rival drug Pradaxa. Xarelto’s comparative ease of use and therefore the more likely compliance of elderly patients prescribed the drug, proved a more important factor in doctors’ decision making than the nuanced differences in the two drugs’ performance and efficacy detailed in the research papers.
“As a PR company specialising in medical communications, we can help design effective product messaging, according to physician heuristics and data from market research, to target customers, consumers and other decision makers,” says John Battersby, Account Director of Bridges M&C.
“We also recommend that pharma companies conduct post-launch studies to ensure superior data quality over new entrants. Successful companies initiate a post-launch evidence generation plan 18 months before the launch to produce a steady stream of data that further supports a drug’s efficacy.”
“At Bridges M&C, we specialise in collecting and collating post-launch data and developing key resources such as white papers, in-depth articles and case studies to help our clients optimise their sales efforts and close any potential gaps in messaging,” adds Nanny Eliana, Account Director of Bridges M&C.
Another important factor for success is providing competitive services and superior customer service that address and resolve doctors’ pain points and turn everyday prescribers into product advocates.
According to Bain & Company, healthcare professionals (HCPs) today look beyond drug price and protocols. They are now more discerning, often considering a wider set of factors, including the availability of value-added services such as patient identification, reimbursement support, compliance, etc., as well as how well companies provide answers to medical questions and connect physicians to their peers.
“At Bridges M&C, we can help turn HCPs into product advocates by connecting our clients with potential customers and thought leaders. We can also help answer questions by developing and creating fact sheets, FAQs or others material so that doctors and users stay informed on the latest product updates and strategies,” says Nanny.
Finally, and most importantly, companies should treat drug launches as micro battles.
Product launches today require greater on-the-ground coordination, yet brands continue to rely on launch teams with a nominal global leader. The problem with this rote strategy is that the global heads control the power and manage launches via checklists, undercutting the local team’s ability to respond to issues.
With the micro-battle strategy, pharma organisations adopt the "company within a company approach", where launch teams have the authority to make decisions for the brand. This gives them the independence and flexibility to make adjustments according to different local scenarios, allowing pharma companies to adapt rapidly to competitors, regulatory changes and new insights, as well as make bolder decisions that ultimately deliver superior launch results.