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16.06.2021 | Health Strategy

Pre-launch planning & DSLs – the new ways to create launch excellence in Pharma

By Anni Neumann

In this article we cover new ways to create launch excellence in pharma:

  • The role of social media
  • The top three goals of pre-launch
  • The role of Digital Scientific Leaders

This post was first published by PME in the June 2021 edition of PMLiVE.

We are in an era of more targeted drug launches than ever before. Despite the global pandemic, in 2020 the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved 39 new active substances, nine more than in 2019. A trend that we’re witnessing in industry data, and from anecdotal evidence from our clients, is that there are more specialised medicines being developed, more investment into rare diseases and niche indications and increasingly segmented patient groups.

The role of social media in launch excellence in pharma

The market itself has also changed – HCPs, and patients, are learning about treatments and innovations faster than ever before thanks to social media. Dr Allyson Ocean, a GI Oncologist, when talking with CREATION.co, highlighted a number of reasons why she thinks more HCPs should be on social media to:

  • Disseminate medical knowledge.
  • Learn about the latest innovations happening elsewhere.
  • Have discussions with patients.
  • Connect with peers around the world.

HCPs are collaborating in open and closed online networks and through their conversation develop and influence opinions in these forums. These digital spaces can also be a place for you to gather intelligence, and to influence opinion.

At CREATION.co, one thing that our clients consistently tell us is that when they finally arrive at product launch, the level of activity skyrockets and rollout can become quite frantic. So developing an understanding of your customers as early as possible will help you to pre-empt and even mitigate that.

Top three goals of pre-launch

There are three phases when thinking about effectively bringing your product to market  – pre-launch, launch year, and post-launch. This journey will take place over a number of years. The very beginning of a product’s lifecycle is arguably the most critical for your product and the area where the greatest opportunity for success usually sits.

As we are in this era where novel drugs are launched more than ever to serve unmet medical needs the three key goals of launch excellence have become even more important:

  1. Develop a deep understanding of customers to create early awareness and advocacy
  2. Address unmet needs and differentiate from competitors
  3. Accelerate market access

Start early with awareness and advocacy

It is never too early to build awareness and excitement for your product. You can talk about your research programmes and share information about your drug candidate. From our experience, HCPs talk about trials and data very early on and they start shaping the online perception of a brand by giving their opinions.

Providing insights on HCP concerns around trial data, administration and confusion over the treatment landscape enabled one of our clients to create meaningful launch messaging, tailored to the nuances of different geographical markets.

We also advised on digital channels for engaging HCPs and identified HCP Digital Opinion Leaders who could support the development of the environment for future market access activities.

With an increasing number of HCPs using social media, there has never been a better time to get an in-depth understanding of your customers by listening to their conversations to maximise your awareness, confirm advantages and develop advocates. Your opportunities in this early stage are:

  • Strategic communication to develop a positive conversation about your drug candidate
  • Identify and leverage HCP ‘Digital Opinion Leaders’ who are advocating for your drug candidate (don’t wait until the drug launches!)

Differentiate

After building early awareness and advocacy your next big step is to address unmet needs and differentiate your drug from your competitors.

HCPs talk online about their interests in drugs and disease areas. Further topics that they might discuss regarding your drug candidate could be the study and drug trial data, safety and effectiveness, customer experience or general education and information. Understanding the HCP conversations in the broader therapy area will give you great insight into their needs and how you could support them.

Your opportunities in this second stage are to:

  • Address unmet needs among HCPs & patients in your therapy area:
    • What are your customers’ concerns? (burden of disease; patients’ concerns)
    • What are the product benefits? (untreated disease; efficacy; safety; price)
  • Know how your customers feel about competitors or comparatives
    • What are the current concerns of HCPs regarding existing treatments? (efficacy; safety; pricing; medicine administration)
  • Test messaging and language
    • Engage & learn from the online community (without mentioning your product)

Accelerate market access

In their online conversations, HCPs are passionately engaged around market access with payers and policymakers, patient advocacy groups and the public. Understanding those conversations can provide early intelligence into the most likely outcomes during policymaker discussions, and can even provide pharmaceutical companies with evidence to shape their applications in order to achieve a more favourable outcome.

Recently, when supporting a client planning a launch of a novel treatment in a very niche oncology area in the US, we were able to identify early opinions of strong influential HCPs and identify key concerns regarding the new product. This increased understanding allowed the client to make changes to their launch tactics that impacted positively on the launch.

Taking this approach could save time and money for all stakeholders and achieve faster effective healthcare for the patients who need it. Again, HCPs shape a brand very early on and by listening to their online conversation you can detect warning signs months before the approval decision. Your opportunities are to:

  • Identify which HCPs are influencing those conversations online.
  • Learn from those conversations and to understand if there are prevailing agendas out there.
  • Engage market access influencers online and to ultimately shape the market access conversation.

The role of Digital Scientific Leaders 

As has been discussed, an important aspect of your product launch is identifying the online HCP influencers early on and tracking their conversations. This enables you to have the finger on the pulse and those insights can be very important for your launch strategies and tactics.

An HCP might be considered a Digital Opinion Leader by influencing the conversation on a particular health topic. But for launch, you are likely to want to understand the trial and scientific conversation. There are some HCPs who we would identify as Digital Scientific Leaders (DSLs) as they show specific scientific leadership in a particular medical field. DSLs would naturally focus their conversation around research and trials and they might be particularly vocal when new data is released.

From a recent project in a primary care therapy area, we specifically analysed the scientific conversation to identify the Digital Scientific Leaders. We found that DSLs like to engage with research and scientific organisations and they are often more likely to post original content than resharing content. Most of the DSLs are vocal and have strong opinions when it comes to the clinical trial design and data. They are collaborative and well respected by their peers, answering their questions, but they also have many scientific questions of their own which they desire to get answers to.

Knowing your DSLs and understanding their opinions will support your launch strategies especially in the early pre-launch phase. Opportunities are to:

  • Understand the scientific need and to provide content that is relevant and useful for the scientific HCP online community.
  • Partner with the DSLs and invite them as experts to digital ad-boards or working groups.
  • Give them a safe space where they can ask their questions and get answers.

Trying something new

To summarise: when you listen to HCP customers throughout the launch period, you gain a deep understanding to create early awareness and advocacy, to address unmet needs and differentiate from your competitors and you can accelerate market access. And by identifying your Digital Scientific Leaders you can collaborate with the experts and gain real scientific advocates for your drug candidate.

This era is full of new and exciting opportunities and I hope this has inspired you to try something new – go for it! For more information, examples or insights into social media informing your product launch, don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d love to help.

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Meet the Author

Anni Neumann

Anni has spent over 10 years working in the pharmaceutical sector and has been part of different global efforts to support healthcare and the pharma industry relationships across the globe. As Associate Director of Health Strategy, she leads the Health Strategy team to provide expert consulting and actionable insights to our clients. Anni is part of a ladies' chamber choir and being married to a chef she also enjoys very, very good food.

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