Pharmaceutical and biotech reps

February 1, 2002
Vince Peters

Pharmaceutical Representative

Managing the challenges of a new field.

The emergence of many new biotechnology products and companies has made it necessary for pharmaceutical sales reps to take on the role of selling biotech products. There are differences, however, in the process of selling these products, and you need to know what they are.

This article will explore the following differences and provide an explanation of each:

•Â Cost.

•Â New technology.

•Â VIP/opinion leader customer base.

•Â Training.

•Â Team selling and medical science liaisons.

•Â Restricted and limited formularies.

You may say, "these aren't really differences; we deal with these issues every day." Let's take a look.

Product cost

The cost of products is an issue that all reps face every day. Everyone is looking to keep costs down in our healthcare system. The costs of biotechnology products are considerably higher than those of traditional pharmaceutical products. Why are biotechnology products so much more expensive? There is a variety of reasons, ranging from research to manufacturing. Research costs for all products these days are very high, but the manufacture of biotech products poses other cost issues. Biotechnology products are more complex to manufacture, involve more time and are more sensitive (meaning that batches are often unusable, so they are much more difficult to manufacture). All of these issues add up to increased costs. Manufacturing issues are an important concern; you need to be aware of them if you are questioned by your physicians.

New technology

The newness of these products can also be a challenge for sales reps. While in many cases the new technology can be a real selling point for believers, other doctors may look upon these new products with skepticism.

Another drawback of new technology is that these products are often so new that there are not much clinical data available yet. The effective promotion of biotechnology products requires good clinical data and science.

VIP/opinion leader customer base

When selling biotechnology products, you will very often deal with the top scientific people in the field. This is just as much a liability as it is an asset. First of all, getting time with these doctors is very difficult due to their busy schedules. Secondly, you have to be very knowledgeable, not only about your product, but also about the whole disease therapy area.

Training for biotech

The training required to sell biotechnology products is much the same as training to sell pharmaceutical products, but more in-depth. A lot more science is involved in selling biotechnology products, and reps need to have exceptional knowledge of anatomy and physiology, disease states, treatment modalities and products. Selling biotechnology products requires extensive knowledge of clinical studies; you learn to become an avid reader. Biotechnology sales reps need to be constantly up on the latest clinical studies and spend lots of time surfing the Web for information.

In addition to the traditional computer-based training programs that all reps use to gain product knowledge, biotechnology reps need to attend preceptorship programs.

Preceptorship programs at major learning institutions provide biotechnology reps the exposure they need to the top scientists in the disease area and the latest treatment technology available. The preceptorship program provides a more in-depth training scenario, not only with top medical specialists, but with patients too. There is no other training equivalent to the preceptorship program.

Team selling

Biotechnology sales reps are more involved in team selling than their traditional pharmaceutical counterparts. Biotechnology reps should work very closely with the company's medical science liaisons in the promotion of biotech products. A partnership between the biotechnology sales rep and the MSL creates a two-pronged attack to persuade medical professionals. The MSL's in-depth scientific knowledge makes him or her a valuable ally to the medical professionals, and brings an added level of scientific expertise into the picture. Medical science liaisons are involved in a wide variety of functions and play many roles. Their major focus is on opinion leaders, and may even involve organizing activities such as symposia and focus groups. In many instances, MSLs develop training programs and continuing education programs. While a lot of their time and energy is devoted to scientific literature search and support activities, medical science liaisons provide a higher level of disease state knowledge than reps. Reps can work with MSLs to develop and cultivate relationships with top opinion leaders.

Working with the MSL provides added value to the medical professionals, and added prestige for the biotechnology rep.

Restricted and limited formularies

Restricted and limited formularies are an issue faced by all sales reps, but for those selling biotechnology products, they become even more of a concern. Due to the high cost of these products, institutions are especially hesitant to approve them or have them on formulary. Since these products are used by only a small number of physicians, the usage will be limited and possibly slower, and the pharmacy will have expensive stock on its shelf. The selling of biotechnology products, like all pharmaceutical products, is challenging. However, the differences and challenges specific to biotechnology must be managed if we are to find success with these new and existing products. PR

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