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Laboratory testing has become a critical access point for sales teams in the age of personalized medicine.
Personalized medicine has emerged on the healthcare scene-slowly, at first, then picking up speed and momentum like a snowball rolling downhill. Increasingly, it’s no longer enough to deliver every patient who has asthma, or arthritis, or cancer, the same blanket treatment regimen of care and prescriptions. Rather, personalized medicine is about treating the particular patient in front of you for his or her particular illness and how it is manifesting-this means different cocktails of drugs or different biologics, such as immunotherapy vaccines; depending on genetic mutations; biomarkers; stage of disease, and more.
And while personalized medicine has opened up a world of treatment options for patients that have extended and improved the quality of life in many cases, this customized approach has made the job of pharmaceutical sales and marketing teams much more difficult. In a world where blanket treatment plans are no longer appropriate, blanket marketing and sales strategies won’t work either.
Another change in this new arena of personalized medicine is the value and the role of laboratory data. Lab testing is, of course, something clinicians have done for many generations as part of the diagnosis process. As personalized medicine has advanced, however, so has lab testing. Now, lab data can show not only a positive or negative result, but can also reveal each patient’s genetic mutations and biomarkers, pinpointing exactly which therapy will work based on the patient’s specific genetic makeup and test results.
It was only in October of last year, for example, that researchers discovered 65 previously unknown gene mutations that contribute to the risk of developing breast cancer. As researchers continue to learn more about the underlying causes of disease, lab testing will need to keep up with the curve to aide in diagnoses, and pharmaceutical and biotech companies will need to meet demand for increasingly tailored products that treat ever more specific mutations and variations of disease. In this way, medical research, lab testing, and pharma are interdependent. And pharma sales teams must be able to show value as these new medications are being developed.
Traditionally, pharma companies deploy sales teams and develop messaging based on historical claims data and previous prescription information. They use this data to determine which physicians have previously treated patients in a company’s target market, and plan sales strategies and deployment accordingly. In a world of personalized medicine, however, the old ways fall short.
Looking at prescription data tells a pharma sales team where the patient has already been, and conditions a physician has already treated for. However, with lab data, drug manufacturers can gain insight earlier in the patient journey-at the time of diagnosis-and tailor sales messaging and deployment based on what is going to happen next. A lab test that shows a new diabetes or hepatitis C diagnosis, for example, allows the pharma company to reach physicians before they’ve made their initial prescribing decisions. Operating on insight, rather than hindsight, can benefit the patient as well as the drugmaker by getting the patient on the medicine that is right for their specific circumstance.
In addition to new diagnoses, lab data can also often show when a patient is not reacting well to a particular drug, or if a condition is uncontrolled or progressing. For example, a patient taking one type of statin for high cholesterol may show elevated liver enzymes, prompting a physician to recommend altering the dose or switching to a different class of medications. Similarly, multiple myeloma patients are monitored using lab tests. An increase in or a returning M-spike-a measure of monoclonal protein-would indicate that treatment is not working or that the disease is progressing. The patient’s doctor would likely consider changing therapies. If pharma sales teams have the same information, they can be present for and educate the physician before the moment of decision. It’s the unique ability of lab data to provide this insight earlier in the patient journey that allows sales teams to make proactive, rather than reactive, decisions (see chart).
Using lab data in a sales strategy is also a good way to prevent wasted resources. For example, if a drug is intended to treat only those patients who fit a particular profile, the most logical strategy from a business perspective is to focus the time and resources of the sales team on reaching only those patients. A keen marketing strategy in any industry is not to cast a broader net, but to cast the net in the right place from the start.
Access to timely lab data insights can also help sales teams in both gaining and retaining market share. When a company launches a new drug, knowing which physicians (and, therefore, which patients) to target based on lab data allows manufacturers to ensure their new product reaches the target population as soon as it hits the market. Similarly, using lab data to target physicians whose patients might benefit from an adjusted dose could help retain market share and prevent clinicians from unnecessarily switching to a competitor product.
In rare diseases in particular-where the target population is 500 patients as opposed to five million-overcoming the challenges of reaching the right audience, at the right time, with the right medication is critical for the lifecycle of the drug and for the lives of the patients with these often serious conditions. Hence, in the rare disease space, lab data becomes more important than ever.
Lab data, used to its full potential, can point pharma sales teams to the patients that are best served by their brand, and to the treating physicians. No longer must manufacturers rely on data from the past to predict the future; now, sales interventions can happen right at the point of care, before treatment decisions are made. Whether a patient is newly diagnosed, relapsing, or their condition is poorly managed; whether they are on first-line therapy or their disease is progressing; lab data is what physicians are using to make real-time care decisions. Sales teams should be looking at the same information.
As the future of personalized medicine continues to take shape before our eyes, it’s crucial that sales and marketing strategies evolve at the same pace. Lab data is the missing evolutionary link that will get us there-one patient at a time.
Melissa Leonhauser is General Manager, Alert & Targeting Portfolio, Life Sciences, Prognos
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