Today's brand teams play for extremely high stakes when fighting off competitor challenges. From attacks on clinical-trial
interpretation (witness Vioxx), unexpected toxicity (Tysabri), and explosive social issues (Gardasil) to oceans of emerging
data (new cholesterol medications such as Zetia and Pfizer's investigational drug torcetrapib), brand teams need to interact
with medical and scientific professionals more than ever. Brand managers need scientists to interpret, counsel, and inform
them on these issues, but also for a host of other activities, like fielding physician inquiries, reviewing promotional copy,
and hobnobbing with KOLs. Yet most pharma companies still "borrow" time from other parts of the organization—typically from
their discovery-oriented scientists—to handle these tasks. Only now are some companies beginning to place dedicated marketing-oriented
medical experts on brand teams.
Guns for Hire
There aren't enough of these medical experts to go around. Historically, strong medical candidates wouldn't have considered
marketing a viable career path. In addition, scientists generally lack commercial experience and don't think strategically
for the business. More and more, savvy marketing directors are starting to realize they need to find individuals who possess
both skill sets. To fill the growing void, innovative pharma companies are beginning to contract medical/scientific strategists
to serve on brand teams. These "guns for hire" bring the science and marketing savvy that clients need, often with in-depth
category experience, but without the commitment and cost associated with hiring a full-time employee.
Companies need to consider early in product development whether they need to bring in an outside scientific/medical consultant.
Most typically, for both small and large pharma, marketing budgets for Phase I and Phase II products are skeletal, given the
high risk that the products will never reach the market. Dedicating full-time medical support to them just doesn't make financial
sense. At the same time, lean teams still have a very long list of deliverables, including guiding global strategies, positioning,
and clinical development. To achieve these goals, brand teams often struggle to learn about the disease area directly from
clinical investigators or KOL-level senior advisors, who invariably bring a scientific (not marketing) orientation to the
table. Or they read the unfamiliar literature and attend symposia aimed at practicing clinicians. Not surprisingly, they
are not getting the full scientific understanding they need. Hiring freezes or head-count restrictions just make matters worse.
For teams like these, outsourcing offers a strong value proposition. Chosen well, the contract medical/scientific strategists
bring with them a commercially focused interpretation of the scientific and commercial drivers of the category, first-name
relationships with KOLs and thought leaders, an insider's perspective on the relevant clinical literature, cross-pollination
of best practices from similar launches, and a fresh eye unbiased by internal politics. The strategist can be deployed just
as an in-house expert would be: developing positioning alternatives, attending congresses, training the brand team, participating
in clinical development planning—but without the fixed costs. Companies pay only for the services they need, when they need
them. This is particularly useful when companies approach the critical go/no-go development decisions and want to ramp up
capabilities while mitigating financial risk.
A Transitional Time
On the discovery side, contract investigators have been a staple of clinical research for decades. However, the outsourcing
idea is still new to commercial organizations. Standards are only now emerging for delegating the tasks involved in advising
the brand team on medical/scientific issues and strategies.
What Medical/Scientific Strategists Can Provide
Many companies expand brand teams 18 to 24 months before launch, when the product migrates from a pre-commercialization to
a launch group. Often, the change in personnel dilutes the institutional learning of the group. In particular, the core science
behind the compound tends to get lost. Also, the "not-invented-here" syndrome arises, as the incoming team tries to make its