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“The Secret of Successful Drug Launches”


Pharmaceutical Executive

We love being told secrets especially about something so few know anything about, like how to launch a drug successfully given two-thirds don’t meet expectations.

We love being told secrets especially about something so few know anything about, like how to launch a drug successfully given two-thirds don’t meet expectations. And those new drugs once launched fail to meet prelaunch consensus sales expectations for their first year on the market, and those that fall short typically continue to under-deliver for the next two years.

“The Secret of Successful Drug Launches” is the title of new article in this month’s McKinnsey.com. Their solution? Nothing short of “pharmaceutical companies waking up to recognize the world has changed, which in turns means adjusting their marketing accordingly.” It’s hardly academic given 400 new products are estimated to launch in the next three years, up 146 percent from 2005. So aren’t you dying to know the secret to cracking the code?

Authors Hemant Ahlawat, Giulia Chierchia, and Paul van Arkel analyzed a sample of 60 launches and then sorted out 4 archetypal drugs with four vastly different characteristics and speculated on what would make a winning marketing strategy for each. There is no one secret. Different strokes for different drugs.

Top shelf. These are the drugs (one in four launches)-that have the enviable attributes of addressing a pressing health issue and are highly differentiated from their competitors. Sure winners and high sale volume? Think drugs such as Johnson Examples include Zytiga, Johnson & Johnson’s prostate-cancer treatment, and Januvia, Merck’s drug to lower blood-sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Danger: Complacency can easily set in. And capturing full potential still requires shifting substantial resources from in-line brands to finance the launch. Also whatever you do avoid the “good data trap” by seeking out possible barriers to prescription and focus on capturing the potential as quickly as possible by creating maximum early exposure to the product, closely monitoring launch uptake, and correcting course if necessary.

Nothing special. More than half of upcoming launches are of moderately differentiate products in well-established disease areas, and the priority is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. What’s the edge? The authors suggest going for the patients and positioning that segments as well supplying innovative insights into stakeholder needs and behaviors the competitors are not privy to. As for creating more differentiation, don’t forget product pricing.

Unmet Needs. Accounting for around 15 percent of launches, they’ve got the issue of unmet need nailed. The authors call the “category creators.” Think Gardasil. Before the drug, who ever thought of papillomavirus really? What to do then? Make sure not to underinvest, and be prepared to react and course correctly.

Out of nothing. Perhaps most challenging of all launch are the 8 percent that deliver an undifferentiated product in an un-established disease area. Take steps immediately to secure access for the product and effectively establishing unmet needs.

Take away. After all is said and done, our favorite piece of advice that seems strangely radical develop deep customer insight as a basis for a truly differentiated positioning.

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