The Total Customer Experience

Genentech had previously been number one by a very wide margin. This year that margin started to narrow. Novartis is now a much closer second
Jul 01, 2008

Peter Carlin
With a wide range of cancer treatments coming to the market, oncology has become one of the fastest growing segments of the pharma/biopharma business. In order to better understand how pharma companies can reach doctors with these new products, Market Strategies International (MSI) conducted its third annual MSImage Oncology & Hematology Study, which identifies those pharmaceutical/biopharmaceutical companies that oncologists and hematologists perceive to have the best overall image. The study asked 465 physicians to evaluate which measures drive a pharma/biopharma company's image and performance.

Pharmaceutical Executive talked with Peter Carlin, senior vice president of Market Strategies International, about how pharma and biopharma companies can go about reaching this burgeoning market.

In terms of marketing, what specific needs of oncologists and hematologists did the study address?

The study looked at how oncologists and hematologists define company image, and how they evaluate performance in terms of services and other value-added programs offered by pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies. We looked at 31 different performance measures ranging from customer satisfaction issues to how an oncologist or hematologist generally perceives a company's commitment to their practice or their patients. The performance measures are divided into three different areas: sales representative performance measures, corporate commitment performance measures, and R&D performance measures. The study ranks all the companies that deliver oncology products to physicians.

What were the results?

Genentech has been ranked number one by oncologists and hematologists for three straight years; this year, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca, and Amgen round out the top five. Essentially, Genentech finished first in all three areas. What's interesting about 2008 is that Genentech had previously been number one by a very wide margin. This year that margin really started to narrow. Novartis is now a much closer second, implying that oncologists and hematologists are starting to see Novartis as the major threat to Genentech's leadership.

Over the last few years, Genentech has had four major products—Avastin, herceptin, torciba, and retuxin—that have been widely used by oncologists. In many respects, those products drove Genentech's leadership, as well as its profile among oncologists and hematologists. Those products have been around for a while, and they're still first in almost all their categories, but Novartis has come up with a number of different products, and has started to perform better on many of the measures we evaluated. Novartis is now second to Genentech in all the sales force attributes, as well as corporate commitment and R&D measures.

What kinds of sales force attributes create a positive image of a pharma company?

The most important sales force drivers among office-based oncologists were:

  • Providing objective data
  • Being knowledgeable about their products
  • Being responsive to a physician's request
  • Providing valuable information to physicians
  • Respecting the time of physicians
  • Respecting the physician's staff's time.

The last two of these key sales force drivers—that reps respect physicians' time and that they respect the time of physicians' staff—are very important in the industry right now. MSI recently looked at whether or not sales reps were being restricted in terms of their access to physicians. It's been going on now for a while in the mass market (the non-specialty areas like primary care physicians), where more and more sales reps are finding it difficult to get into a physician's office to see them.

We did a separate study with oncologists, and what we found was that a growing number of oncologists are restricting the access of sales representatives to their practice. And when they do see a physician, they're spending less time than they used to. It's a general trend throughout the industry.

In oncology, clearly one of the key reasons for this is the nature of the practice and the treatment of patients. Oncologists want to spend a lot of time with patients; what they're looking for from sales reps is not old data but new information that's going to help move the needle and treat their patients more effectively.

Oncology is the fastest growing area of the pharma/biopharma business. Still, a lot of the mass market products are finding it difficult to crack the market because of managed care restrictions and because of R&D issues that have been cropping up in clinical development. On the other hand, because of the focus on cancer, and the fact that cancer products are becoming much more widely used and certainly widely paid for by both Medicare and managed care, there are close to 25 major companies involved in oncology.

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