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Making the Most of Maturing Oncology Brands


Pharmaceutical Executive

A checklist of best practices for mid-life products a few years after launch to help companies with growing oncology portfolios determine not only to see if there’s hidden vitality still left in their aging brands.

As any parent of adolescents will tell you, the middle years are often the toughest ones. That seems to be true for oncology brands, too. Once their growth curves plateau, older products typically struggle to get attention-from management as well as their market-while all eyes gaze adoringly on launches of the company’s “babies.” Building an efficient and effective marketing and sales model that supports a rapidly expanding family of both legacy and novel oncology products can be challenging. As with teenagers, however, sometimes the right encouragement at the right time can yield unexpectedly positive outcomes.

Here is a ten-item checklist of cost-effective best practices for the often-overlooked mid-life products, five or so years after launch. Companies with growing oncology portfolios can use this list to determine not only to see if there’s hidden vitality still left in their aging brands, but also to inspire outside-of-the-box, often low-investment solutions to grow their bottom line.

Before you stop promoting (or sell off) a maturing oncology brand, ask yourself these ten questions.

  • Do you still have data that contribute to scientific exchange? Some maturing brands are fortunate enough to have new indications pending. While an incremental indication or a move to an earlier slot in a sequence may lack the market impact of a first-in-class launch, the release of trial data related to developments such as these maintains your clinical share-of-voice (SOV) and keeps your brand from being overlooked. As with any launch when publishing or presenting the data, maximize its reach and impact by engaging journalists and advocates, as well as influential oncologists. You can also help cut through the clutter at crowded meetings like ASCO and ESMO with dynamic data visualization techniques-video, interactive graphics, and virtual reality-that go beyond ordinary bar graphs and tables. 

  • Do secondary end points observed in earlier trials deserve new clinician attention? With appropriate caveats that acknowledge the statistical limitations that apply, these may contribute to better understanding of your brand’s differentiating features and benefits-helping clinicians make better-informed choices. They deserve to be seen in posters, tele sessions, speaker slides, product theaters, and other educational venues.

  • What patient types have benefitted most from your brand? Are there interesting subsets of your data you can share? Data sub-cuts provide contextual information about your patient population. While there’s still healthy skepticism about ‘data dredging,’ FDA seems to be opening up the gates to marketers using quartiles, forest plots, comorbidity information, and other ways to help unveil where your product has profound benefits, as long as you’re not expanding your indication outside of label. One often-overlooked potential resource is the Summary Basis of Approval submissions filed with FDA and filled with all the brand’s registration data; has your team taken a second look at them? Other questions to ask include: Are new genetic markers relevant? Are responding patients members of underserved populations? In an ever-changing treatment landscape, clinicians need help narrowing their myriad options to fit the right treatment to each patient.  As they increasingly seek precision medicine for their patients, well-defined populations help them achieve their goals.

  • Is there a strong case for case studies? One major benefit of being on the market for a while means you have access to patients and caregivers with hands-on experience using your brand. Has your product performed well in challenging and interesting cases? By working with high-prescribing physicians and advocacy organizations to profile patients/caregivers, you can capture their stories and then pulse them out in sales materials, webcasts, the brand website, social channels, even mass media. Case studies not only pump up prescriber interest, but also help clinicians learn how to practice better medicine. If your goal is to resonate strongly with lay audiences, however, the stories should go beyond treatment and talk about the broader patient journey, such as impact on relationships, work, and lifestyle.

  • What Real-World Evidence (RWE) has emerged post-launch? Years on the market also means there are volumes of evidence already accumulated in electronic medical records and registries, waiting to be explored. What place does information gleaned from these sources have in your communication plans? Publishing or presenting this data provides a significant opportunity to educate/engage media and advocacy. And if you combine the data press release with patient stories, you increase your ability to get earned and paid media stories.   

  • Do clinicians know how to combine what’s new with you? “Adding on” is the dominant practice in oncology regimens. Are ways being studied to use your brand in combination with newer, up-and-coming approaches (for example, immune checkpoint inhibitors) that could improve outcomes? One key to boosting your SOV and interest is maintaining a steady flow of communications about how your brand is being studied. For example, new combination approaches can be among key messages you disseminate within a broader franchise-level story. This enables senior leadership to tell that story in embargoed or background briefings with key journalists in the run-up to medical meetings. The result: richer stories around data milestones or potentially stand-alone articles about the company’s vision for oncology moving forward.

  • Have you recently challenged your publication plan to ensure it is up-to-date? For example, new, issue-oriented reviews may continue to set the scene for appropriate use of the product, so it’s useful to reach out to potential authors and editors to ensure you’re accurately included. These are opportunities to renew perceptions of relevance without the expense of new, full-blown Phase IV studies.

  • Is it time to engage a different set of opinion leaders? Many key opinion leaders (KOLs) are revered for their work at the cutting edge of academic medicine. Trouble is, they’re generally interested in the newest and most fascinating developments; it’s hard to keep them focused on your maturing brand. There’s another set of KOLs, however, clinicians turn to because of their broad knowledge, deep clinical experience in community settings, and plain good sense. These are the less intimidating “mavens,” and/or regional and local clinicians that other clinicians feel comfortable approaching informally and rely on when they have questions or encounter challenges. The longer your product is on the market, the greater the importance of this latter group becomes.

  • Is your value proposition still relevant? How should it evolve? Your brand may have launched as a rebel, a challenge to the status quo. Now, you’re the establishment, the standard being challenged by new entrants. New products might be dangling promises of improved efficacy or a different set of adverse effects-as you once did. But “new” also brings “unexpected,” and risk-averse clinicians often sit back while others play the role of guinea pigs. What the new brands can’t offer is the security and familiarity that comes from a track record and anchors brand loyalty. That’s your territory. Your brand has more data to offer, which means more answers to the questions prescribers and patients ask. But does your comms strategy set out to own this value proposition, or is it still stuck in launch mind-set? Unless you’re actively pushing your currently-relevant benefits to the top of clinicians’ minds, you’re letting your competition position you. Sometimes all it takes is for your team to create an attention-getting take on “reminder” advertising to reinforce your today-relevant value. You also package that value story within a larger trend story and create sponsored content in publications like STAT or OncLive.

  •  Have you talked to payers lately? Many marketers breathe a sigh of relief once their product’s approved on formulary... and never talk with payers again. Yet the landscape is constantly shifting, and payers facing dramatically rising costs in oncology may welcome ongoing conversations that show how your brand can help them keep quality high and costs low. Updating HEOR models with changing data keeps you current.

Bottom line: as you continue to innovate with new launches, recognize that there’s often substantial growth potential in your maturing oncology assets. If after asking these ten questions you find there’s truly no up-side to further investment in the brand, it makes perfect sense to pull back from promotion. Even if only one of these opportunities applies, however, it may be premature to pull the plug. Pay the right attention to your maturing “children,” give them the right kind of investment, and they just might grow into productive “adults.”


Wendy Balter, President, Cadent Medical Communications, a Syneos Health company

John Gilbert, National Business Director, Commercial Solutions, Syneos Health

Bob Josefsberg, Executive Vice President, Chamberlain Healthcare Public Relations, a Syneos Health company

Dave Querry, President, Navicor, a Syneos Health company


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