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Lessons Learned on the Art and Science of Product Commercialization

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive: May 2024
Volume 45
Issue 5

Insight that can help smaller biotech companies prepare for commercialization in the world of big pharma.

Chris Martin is chief commercial officer at Verona Pharma.

Chris Martin, Chief Commercial Officer, Verona Pharma.

Thomas Edison once said, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.” As the American inventor of the light bulb and the first recording device, it seems like advice worth heeding.

In today’s world of drug development—in which a most promising treatment can fail or underperform its market potential because an optimal commercialization plan is not implemented—there is a lot to consider when bringing together opportunity and planning to deliver a drug to market. It can be both an art and a science.

The road to commercialization is long and challenging. I’ve launched products in several disease states from companies both large and small. Many were successful, including some that presented challenges that taught me and my teams valuable lessons, pushing us to consider new ways to drive opportunities forward.

In my current role at Verona Pharma, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on chronic respiratory diseases, we’re using our blended experiences to prepare for the potential US commercialization of ensifentrine for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If approved, ensifentrine is expected to be the first inhaled maintenance COPD treatment with a novel mechanism of action in more than 20 years.

As a small and nimble company, we are not bound to follow a commercialization playbook. Instead, we are creating our own playbook of best practices, allowing us to differentiate ourselves in a crowded marketplace dominated by large, established companies. To help others looking to redefine product commercialization, I’ve assembled a list of lessons from over the years that can help smaller biotech companies prepare for commercialization in the world of big pharma.

Build the right team

When identifying the ideal candidates to join your commercialization team, consider people who have worn multiple hats in previous roles and who can bring value to many areas of the business. This enables an organization to grow at the right speed, but also to be correctly resourced, with the right people in place to execute when it’s time to pull the trigger on important activities. These colleagues also know how to collaborate across disciplines, ensuring all functions within a business are in sync with the commercial mindset.

Start early and get aligned

Never underestimate how early to start planning. If you’re asking yourself whether it’s time, you’re probably already behind. Organizational buy-in on a commercialization strategy takes time, especially if you’re bringing your first product to market.

Ensuring alignment on a plan—ahead of a big milestone, regulatory approval, and commercial launch—helps eliminate silos and mitigate delays or roadblocks that can lead to an unsuccessful launch. This includes engagement with clinical and medical affairs, market access, communications, and other functions to determine how the commercialization strategy is influenced by their plans and insights.

Plan for the long-term

Let’s face it, a small biotech trying to operate like big pharma is going to struggle. Instead, use your size to your advantage and plan for the long-term (not just the next earnings call). As you develop your commercialization strategy, consider where you want to be a few years after launch, setting realistic big picture goals for the organization that can be achieved and refined year-over-year. This may mean breaking down the launch into stages, allowing you to match your budget and stagger activities.

Position product from outset

Product positioning is everything, especially in a crowded marketplace, such as COPD. Facts are friends. Market data should lead just about every commercialization decision you make.

Just like data drives decisions for clinical trials, data about your disease state and key audiences ensure you don’t spend valuable resources pursuing launch-related projects that are not aligned with your overall strategy.

For example, involving medical and clinical affairs, market access and communications teams in early product positioning conversations will help shape messaging, identify gaps in data, and eliminate inconsistencies or misalignment. There is a misconception that big pharma can “do it better” when it comes to commercialization of a new treatment.

But I believe that successful launches ultimately come down to nimble alignment—no matter your size. This allows every function to maximize their value by bringing the best of what they offer to each moment.

About the Author

Chris Martin is chief commercial officer at Verona Pharma.

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