Digital Education a Key Bridge to Tapping Emerging Markets

April 4, 2014
Michael Christel
Michael Christel

Michael Christel is Pharmaceutical Executive and Applied Clinical Trials' Managing Editor. He can be reached at michael.christel@ubm.com.

Pharmaceutical Executive

In our second Q&A installment previewing next month’s iPharma2014 conference in New York City, we spoke with David Stern.

In our second Q&A installment previewing next month’s iPharma2014 conference in New York City, we spoke with David Stern, executive VP of global commercial operations with OvaScience. Stern will be presenting on “Going Global – Innovative Tactics to Engage Emerging Markets and Extend the Global Strategy to a Regional Level.” Drawing from his time as an executive at Merck Serono, Stern will present some general examples of ways pharma companies can engage regions worldwide, including emerging markets. Stern served as head of Merck Serono’s fertility global business franchise before joining OvaScience earlier this year.

PE: When engaging with consumers and physicians today, what impact should emerging markets have on a global pharma’s overall strategy?

Stern: At my last company, Merck Serono, the emerging markets segment was growing much

 quicker than the mature markets. When we looked at the mature markets – which in our business is mainly Europe, the U.S., and Japan – the markets there were very flat. When we looked at the emerging markets – what we called intercontinental: Russia, Turkey, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific – we saw phenomenal growth with an average growth in the range of 10-25% and in some markets, as high as 30-40%.

A lot of companies are typically focused on the more mature markets, but as healthcare is changing in many of these emerging markets, the growth opportunities there are quite large. (But) one of the things I learned in my past experience is that (healthcare) training in these regions is not the same as it is in the U.S. and Europe, where it is very typical that you’ll do specialty training. In a lot of the emerging markets, you get trained in the basics and then you just start practicing and you learn from other people. There’s a need for more formalized training.

PE: Is that mindset helping drive efforts by multinational pharmas to improve overall education and communication at regional levels?

Stern: The education factor is something that we viewed as a competitive advantage – being able to hook up some thought leaders from the more established markets and put together training websites for these other countries, where they were able to go in and learn from these experts through online modules. They would never have had that opportunity otherwise – to learn from thought leaders, but to be able to do that in their own country. (Local) physicians were able to log into sponsored websites and be trained on the latest techniques from experts in the field.

PE: What are the one or two key challenges today in extending a pharma’s therapeutic brand globally?

Stern: One of the challenges is always around positioning and messaging. This is very important, depending on the lifecycle of where a product is. When you’re launching a new product, it’s very easy to come out with a global positioning and a global messaging. It’s a lot harder when you take an established product or if you’re launching at different stages. Because, unless there is updated data, when the product’s been out on the market, it’s harder to readdress or reposition products. The challenge is really understanding the lifecycle and understanding through market research what are the perceptions of the physicians and patients – depending on the country – and what are the attributes of the product; how is it utilized and what kinds of patients are using it today?

Typically, patient types and how patients use various products can be different in different countries, based on cultures. What might be a first-line (treatment) in one country might be a second or a third line in another. It’s very important to understand the dynamics of the treatment regimen and even the patient journey: when do they get to the doctor? Is there a secondary or tertiary referral? Those are all very important to understand before you just kind of slap a global messaging on something when you don’t understand what that environment is.

One of the common pitfalls is people tend to gravitate towards either the European or U.S. treatment dynamic. In Europe, the treatment dynamic in a lot of cases, because of socialized medicine, is sometimes quicker; whereas in the U.S., it’s not always as quick, as well in other parts of the world where there isn’t the same kind of socialized medicine and patients are paying more out of pocket. They’re different costs and drivers in patients making decisions, and you need to know that kind of stuff. That can be done through market research, advisory boards, etc.

It’s important to share a lot of best practices from the more established markets with the local countries. But one of the challenges is if you’re working in a more established market like the U.S. France, or Germany, sometimes they fight the global people because they have enough budget to do it themselves. In a lot of the emerging markets, they don’t yet have the budget, so anything they can get, they typically are very happy to get. (At Merck Serono), we saw tremendous growth just because we were able to share some of those best practices.

The thing I learned in hindsight is that there are a lot of similarities. Patients are patients, so you can understand the emotion of why a patient in China, for example, is much more similar to a patient in the U.S. then you would expect. They’re very career focused and they go late to get treatment, so a lot of the learnings that you have in the U.S. can be applied in China.

PE: What overarching message do you hope to get across in your presentation in May?

Stern: Don’t forget about the emerging markets. Maybe the market today is smaller – it’s not as mature, the sales volumes are less. But when you’re looking at a country that’s got 20% growth over a three-to-five-year period, they get to be meaningful in a short period of time. Often times, a lot of people focus on the large numbers and don’t bother so much with the smaller markets. But my belief is as markets are growing – and when they’re growing at 15-25%, and some as high as 30-40% – if you can build your company brand and reputation there and be seen as a partner in helping physicians and patients get better options and better treatments, then you’re building this relationship over time and the numbers will increase significantly.

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