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Embracing the Future: Meeting Doctors and Patients Where They Are Now


Pharma companies must embrace the future to advance commercialization.

Over the course of my career, I have seen significant changes and evolution in the pharmaceutical industry and challenges brought forth by the ever-evolving landscape. However, the past few years have been a time of unprecedented change, spurned by the global pandemic and digitization, which has ushered in a new era in how we do business.

As the General Manager of our US Commercial Business at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS), it is clear to me that as commercial leaders, we must think, act, deploy, leverage talent, and approach our customers and patients differently. We are now challenged to identify ways to completely transform how we operate and engage moving forward.

At BMS, we have been actively working to embrace this future–but we cannot revolutionize the go-to-market model alone. As an industry of pharmaceutical leaders, we can advance commercialization in three ways: proactive collaboration, flexible approaches, and a commitment to meeting the changing expectations of patients and healthcare professionals.

The Paradigm Shift: From Siloed to Collaborative Commercialization Models

In the past, pharmaceutical commercialization models often operated with limited collaboration among various external stakeholders. Companies would primarily focus on developing and marketing their products without engaging with other healthcare industry participants. This siloed approach often resulted in fragmented strategies, where issues related to market access, reimbursement, and patient needs were often addressed only after a product was already developed.

With the pandemic, we've seen what proactive, systemwide collaboration can do. The future demands proactive cooperation with multiple stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem. This includes engaging with payers, providers, patient advocacy groups, and regulators from the early stages of drug development. We can create a more seamless and effective commercialization process by aligning commercial strategies with development, reimbursement, and market access.

Collaboration with payers, in particular, plays a pivotal role in shaping commercial strategies. Traditionally, our industry would engage with payers late in the drug development process and remain primarily focused on pricing negotiations. However, the evolving commercialization model demands early and proactive collaboration with payers. At BMS, we've found that early engagement can enable the development of value-based pricing models and evidence-generation strategies, highlighting pharmaceutical products' clinical and economic value. This collaborative approach ensures that patients have timely access to innovative treatments while also addressing the financial concerns of payers.

Healthcare systems, including hospitals and clinics, are another critical group of partners in the commercialization process, and that partnership will only increase going forward. Historically, industry interactions with healthcare providers were primarily through marketing activities and sales representatives. This transactional approach often lacked a deep understanding of provider needs and unique patient populations. However, the evolving commercialization model requires a shift towards collaboration and co-creation of care pathways, areas we continue to work towards. This co-creation of care pathways and generation of real-world evidence is critical for the industry's ability to demonstrate the value of our products in specific patient populations. This partnership with healthcare systems improves patient outcomes, fosters trust, and streamlines the commercialization process.

Additionally, proactive communication with regulatory agencies is essential. Engaging reactively can cost pharmaceutical companies time and money and ultimately slow the process of getting medicines to patients. Pharmaceutical companies can navigate the complex landscape more efficiently by collaborating closely earlier. Early engagement allows for timely identification and resolution of potential policy hurdles and ensures compliance with evolving regulations. This proactive approach may reduce time-to-market and improve patient access to innovative therapies.

Patient advocacy groups must also be actively engaged. Over the years, it has become increasingly apparent that the previous relationships between industry and advocacy organizations—generally limited to marketing efforts or supporting patient recruitment for clinical trials—failed to realize the important benefits of partnering more closely together. Pharmaceutical companies can gain invaluable insights into patient needs, preferences, and experiences by collaborating with these groups.

For example, when we acquired Camzyos in 2020, a treatment for patients with obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, we quickly built a strong relationship with and partnered closely with the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association – the leading advocacy group in our space to learn more about the HCM patient population, the needs of these patients and how BMS could best support the community. This closer connection will enable the development of patient-centric commercialization strategies that foster patient engagement and adherence. By involving patient advocacy groups early in the development process, we better understand patient perspectives, improve clinical trial designs, and enhance patient recruitment and retention.

Moving Beyond One-Size-Fits-All: The Need for a Tailored Approach

In addition to proactive collaboration, the future of commercialization demands a departure from the traditional one-size-fits-all approach. Our rigid, standardized commercial strategies are moving towards flexible, nuanced models that address the specific needs of different therapeutic areas, patient populations, drug lifecycles and markets. The advent of personalized medicine and precision therapeutics is also necessitating individualized commercialization strategies.

Therapeutic area-specific strategies are paramount. Previously, our industry has focused on broad market segments, lacking granularity and specificity and limited differentiation in targeting and messaging to stakeholders. This model has become ineffective as more specific therapeutic areas have been created. Each therapeutic area has unique market dynamics, patient demographics, treatment patterns, unmet needs and stakeholder expectations. Pharmaceutical companies must develop specialized teams with deep therapeutic knowledge and more directly engage with key opinion leaders in specific therapeutic areas to tailor their commercialization approach. At BMS, we know this approach can help us gain valuable insights, gather expert opinions, and address the unique aspects of each therapeutic area, leading to optimized patient outcomes.

Personalized medicine is rapidly advancing, and commercialization strategies must adapt accordingly. An important example of this is the need for further diagnostics integration. Pharmaceutical companies must work closely with diagnostic partners to integrate companion diagnostics and biomarkers into their commercialization strategies. Collaboration with diagnostic companies helps ensure appropriate patient selection, identify responders to personalized therapies, and facilitate reimbursement for diagnostic testing. Likewise, we're seeing how tailored communication and education plans, highlighting the benefits of customized treatments, are becoming more crucial for gaining acceptance from patients, providers, and payers. Our ability to address knowledge gaps and promote understanding speeds up the approval and utilization of personalized therapies across the healthcare ecosystem.

When I began my career, and even as recently as 10-15 years ago, the pharmaceutical commercialization landscape heavily relied on traditional marketing and communications. Companies primarily engaged with healthcare professionals through face-to-face interactions, in-person conferences, and print media. Information flow was slower, and access to real-time data could have been much better. With the digital transformation, however, the commercialization landscape has significantly shifted. The pharmaceutical industry now has access to various digital tools and platforms that enable enhanced patient engagement, optimized marketing efforts, and real-time data capture. We are investing in these digital solutions, enabling BMS and other pharmaceutical companies to provide value-added services and stay ahead in an increasingly digital healthcare ecosystem.

Meeting Changing Expectations of Patients and Doctors

Lastly, meeting the changing expectations of patients and doctors is paramount for commercialization organizations of the future. Patients and physicians actively participate in healthcare decision-making, demanding greater transparency and better access to information. The how, where, and when healthcare providers and patients expect to communicate with pharmaceutical companies has also radically shifted over the last decade–a shift that was further accelerated during the pandemic.

Meeting patients and doctors where they are with the information they value is a priority for BMS and is becoming a requirement for our industry. Patients and doctors are increasingly turning to digital platforms for information and communication. Patients often seek health information online, including treatment options, side effects, and medication instructions, and when they engage with pharmaceutical companies, they expect the same level of personalized communication they experience in their everyday lives. So, not only must pharmaceutical companies leverage the appropriate digital channels (websites, social media, apps, etc.) to reach patients and doctors, but we must also utilize the right tools and data analytics to understand our audiences as individuals in a human-centric manner. And when we communicate, we must speak to them in a way that resonates with their shifting expectations towards a more personalized experience. Bristol Myers Squibb, for example, is piloting "Mava Made Easy," a solution to educate and enable busy cardiologists to dose mavacamten through an interactive, user-friendly dosing guide correctly. This simple innovation will save time for clinicians and contribute toward patient safety.

The pharmaceutical commercialization model is on the verge of significant change, some of which we're already experiencing. Collaboration with healthcare industry stakeholders, a flexible approach to commercialization models, and meeting the changing expectations of patients and doctors will be key drivers of success in the coming years. By embracing and preparing for these changes, pharmaceutical companies can navigate the evolving landscape, maximize patient outcomes, and ensure sustainable growth in the dynamic healthcare industry.

Catherine Owen is SVP and general manager of US Commercial at Bristol Myers Squibb.

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