Consumerization: Pandora's Pillbox - Pharmaceutical Executive


Consumerization: Pandora's Pillbox
By going direct-to-consumer, the industry unwittingly unleashed a swarm of opportunities for other players to enter the pharmaceutical fray. And they made the most of it. Now, a decade later, pharma is feeling the fallout in consumer trust and product value. It's time to take back control.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Consumers invariably want more control and choice in drug use. The primary mechanism for this is to promote patient-doctor dialogue about treatment options and to provide accurate information. The recently enacted PhRMA Guiding Principles on DTC advertising are a step in the right direction. An excellent illustration is Eli Lilly's 2006 "Depression Hurts" ad, a black-and-white unbranded TV spot that speaks to the real pain of depression without mentioning the company's new antidepressant, Cymbalta. Many companies have taken a different approach by shifting spending from DTC to "DTP," or direct-to-patient, activities: brand-specific drug-adherence programs, loyalty cards, Web sites and e-mail campaigns, and direct mail. Several analyses suggest that DTP results in higher brand loyalty and better treatment compliance—and is more cost-effective than DTC.

Innovative drug companies are moving from targeting consumers to teaming with them—for example, forming partnerships with patient-advocacy groups on disease-awareness and treatment campaigns. EMD Serono Pharmaceuticals and Pfizer have worked together with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to establish the MS Lifelines program featuring "patient ambassadors," people with MS who help educate and empower newly diagnosed patients. Other pharma–consumer collaborations include patient advisory boards to provide feedback on everything from consumer advertising to clinical-trial design.

Companies can also benefit from customizing their marketing and products. For example, AstraZeneca's "Sisters" campaign for breast-cancer management provides a Web site ( enabling users to "personalize their experience" by answering questions related to their diagnosis.

A far more powerful tactic is to customize actual patient treatment with advanced pharmacogenomic technologies. These cutting-edge tests identify genetic markers that transmit critical information, such as which patients are most likely to respond to a particular drug without serious side effects. The classic example is Genentech's breast-cancer agent Herceptin, which is prescribed after a patient gets a positive result from the HercepTest, predicting treatment success. Personalized drug treatment has the potential to increase drug-efficacy rates, which currently average only 30 percent to 50 percent, and to minimize the nation's annual 2 million side effects and 100,000-plus drug-related deaths. By improving patient outcomes, these advances will greatly enhance the value of pharmaceutical products and the overall image of the pharmaceutical industry.

In this way, the pharmaceutical industry can use the consumerization process itself to restore its own health and well-being—and resolve the decade-long series of adverse effects caused by opportunistic stakeholders. And to avoid any relapses in the future, pharma needs its consumer relationships to maintain transparency, accountability, and a continued commitment to making high-value products.

Stan Bernard, MD, MBA, is the president of Bernard Associates, a management consulting firm for the pharmaceutical industry ( He can be reached at


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