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‘Emerging’ Product Launch Strategies


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-08-01-2018
Volume 38
Issue 8

Commercial leaders can boost product launches with a data-driven roadmap.


Commercial leaders can boost product launches with a data-driven roadmap


Both big pharma companies and smaller, emerging biopharma companies-specialty pharma “startups” with fewer drugs on the market-aim to maximize sales from a product launch. So, it’s tempting for commercial leaders at emerging pharma companies to simply replicate the approach adopted by their big pharma counterparts. However, established and emerging biopharma organizations face vastly different situations at launch. For one, emerging pharma companies have the opportunity to build their commercial strategies from scratch. Second, they often must launch with fewer resources than their big pharma counterparts.

All pharma companies need to create and deploy comprehensive, custom roadmaps for launch. A typical launch roadmap includes everything from hiring the right number of field sales representatives, to designing balanced sales territories, to creating an incentive compensation plan that motivates the field and addresses home office constraints. While the individual components of a roadmap will look similar for both big and emerging biopharma companies, emerging firms need to do much more foundational work related to data, operational processes, and technology than their big pharma counterparts. This foundational work can be easy to overlook amid the competing pressures of launch. However, laying the proper groundwork for launch is crucial to ensuring long-term product (and company) success. As they formulate and lay out their roadmap, emerging biopharma commercial leaders should consider several key strategies.

Prioritize data

Without robust and organized data, it’s difficult for a product launch to get off the ground. With the right customer and market data on hand, a company can create a comprehensive data infrastructure from which it can pull valuable insights that help it make accurate sales projections, design sales territories effectively, and thoughtfully segment the target universe. But collecting, organizing, and analyzing data requires thorough planning. 

An emerging biopharma company should start by collecting data selectively. It may be tempting to purchase every available type of data-claims, procedural, patient counts, electronic medical records, etc. However, this requires a significant investment that startup companies with smaller budgets often can’t afford. Further, a company rarely needs all these data sources. Instead, emerging biopharma organizations should scrutinize their needs and purchase the data that will best help them address those needs. They should also look to supplement syndicated data with publicly available data, such as open payments or census data, when appropriate. The data required for launch will vary depending on therapy area, but the approach will be the same. 

Once a company has the data it needs on hand, it may have to get creative to identify market opportunities. If an emerging biopharma company is launching a first-of-its-kind product, it may not have any historical market data. But that doesn’t mean it has to operate in the blind. The commercial team should reference data on patient comorbidities and use its knowledge of the patient journey to identify potential analog products and markers of potential. For example, it may be difficult to track a relatively new diagnosis, but if the commercial team finds that patients with this disease often have another medical condition, they can identify physicians who diagnosed patients with this related condition as part of the segmentation process. The company can then introduce these physicians to its new product, knowing many of the physicians’ patients likely also have the difficult-to-track disease. Additionally, by understanding the patient journey, commercial teams may decide to focus their promotional efforts on specialists, since primary care physicians will rarely diagnose and treat rare diseases. 

Finally, it’s crucial to refresh data just prior to a product launch. For example, the commercial team should refresh market data six to eight weeks prior to product launch to make sure the company’s deployment, forecasting, and targeting align with current market conditions.

Focus on flexibility

When an emerging biopharma company launches a product, the commercial team faces a significant amount of uncertainty. Though rigorous data analysis can help the organization make accurate sales projections. Launches hardly ever turn out exactly as planned; this uncertainty is compounded for an emerging biopharma company that has launched few, if any, products.

Commercial teams should plan for a variety of “what-if” scenarios prior to launch. For example, what if a sales territory or team over- or underperforms dramatically? How will that impact payouts for the field sales representatives and total company exposure? If a company analyzes various possible outcomes before launch, it can adjust its commercial tactics and parameters to avert disasters like a demotivated sales force or financially ruinous compensation plan.

An emerging biopharma company also needs to ensure the technology solutions it implements to help organize and analyze large amounts of data can facilitate a flexible approach to launch. Many emerging biopharma commercial leaders make a mistake by buying big-name solutions that do much more than a startup company needs. These solutions, while robust and comprehensive, can require significant effort to implement and maintain. Therefore, they aren’t always the best fit for emerging biopharma organizations, which typically need more configurable solutions that allow for quick customizations and changes. 

Further, commercial teams should build in processes that ensure dynamic relationships between data and technology tools. For example, at the outset, a company may only need to look at a couple of key data feeds, but as market conditions change and more sales results come in, the company may need to consider new feeds and process data in new ways. A biopharma company must account for these potential changes before launch and ensure its technology solutions can seamlessly accommodate tweaks in how the firm processes and analyzes data.

Create your own path to launch success

An emerging biopharma company faces unique challenges at launch and, therefore, must work hard to build a comprehensive launch roadmap that is grounded in data, incorporates the right technology tools, and accounts for the inherent uncertainty associated with launching a first product. The commercial teams that take the time to lay this strong foundation will position themselves to exceed expectations at launch.


Erik Cruz is a Manager at Beghou Consulting. He can be reached at erik.cruz@beghouconsulting.com 

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