Why is oncology growing so rapidly? Are cancer rates shooting up?
There's clearly an unmet need. PhRMA [Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] just released a new study that
said there are around 700 drugs for oncology. And an area that's driven by unmet need becomes a very competitive part of the
industry. Five years ago, Pfizer didn't have an oncology division. Now it has a major one. Bayer, Merck, as well as big biotechs
like Amgen and Genentech—all major pharma companies now have oncology divisions.
Then why don't oncologists want to spend as much time with sales reps?
It's not that sales reps are becoming less important, it's that more pieces of a company are reaching the oncologist. In other
words, a company has many different types of activities that focus on the oncologist, not just the rep, who is obviously interested
in influencing prescribing behavior.
What we've been suggesting to our clients is that they need to go beyond relying solely on their sales reps, and look at what
we call "the total customer experience." Companies need to look at what the total customer experience is. This might include
everything from CME to patient assistance programs to help with reimbursement—all the areas that are most important to an
oncologist's experience with a pharma company.
So the answer is a more holistic approach, rather than just focusing on the sales call.
That's correct. There are many services and activities being brought to the oncologist by pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical
companies—well beyond the sales force. In oncology, a physician's image of a [pharma] company ends up being important not
just because they may or may not prescribe a product; they may also be willing to participate in other areas of the company's
needs. For example, serving as a clinical investigator in a clinical trial. That's one of the key issues right now in oncology:
There are simply not enough physicians and not enough patients for all the clinical trials. A company that provides a good
experience in clinical trials is more likely to attract more physicians. If you deliver a good experience with CME, you're
more likely to have physicians want to participate. If a physician has a strong image of and experience with your company,
they're more likely to visit your company's booth at major medical meetings.
So that's one area that I think companies need to be looking at—that total customer experience, rather than simply that sales
rep call. The second area that is becoming very important is healthcare reform. More patients are finding it difficult to
pay for drugs or cover the cost of out-of-pocket expenditures, and many pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies are
turning to patient assistance programs to help physicians provide their product to patients. In oncology, it's very important,
because the cost of treating cancer has risen tremendously, and so almost every oncology pharma has a strong patient assistance
program. This year, MSI has created a division called Access to Care, and one of the topics we've been studying is these patient
assistance programs, because it's a very important part of the customer experience to oncologists.
Peter Carlin is the senior vice president of Market Strategies International's Healthcare division, and brings more than 25 years of experience
within healthcare and life sciences to the company. He specializes in oncology, nephrology, and hematology strategic market
research and consulting, and has held senior level positions with companies including Novartis, Ciba and Pfizer.