Successful Drug Launches in a Digital-Forward Market: Q&A with Bridget Seay, Executive Director of Customer Experience & Commercial Consulting, epocrates

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Bridget Seay of epocrates delves into drug launches in a digital-forward market, exploring how pharmaceutical companies can navigate complex patient journeys, strike a balance between traditional and digital marketing tactics, and ethically engage with healthcare professionals and empowered patients amidst ever-changing regulations.

In today's fast-paced, digital-forward market, launching a new drug is a multifaceted challenge that pharmaceutical companies must navigate with precision and agility. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve in response to technology and patient empowerment, how can pharmaceutical companies adapt and thrive?

To shed light on these key considerations, senior editor Fran Pollaro talked with Bridget Seay, executive director of customer experience & commercial consulting. Seay provides actionable insights for pharmaceutical companies preparing to launch a new drug in our digitally advanced era.


Pharm Exec: What are some of the biggest challenges pharmaceutical companies face when launching a new drug into the market?

Navigating a new drug launch can be quite difficult for pharmaceutical companies, especially in today's increasingly competitive and digitally driven landscape. While the pandemic has transitioned to an endemic phase, the shift from in-person to virtual that was necessitated by COVID-19 is here to stay, and pharma marketers must accept a permanent reality of having limited face-to-face interactions with healthcare professionals (HCPs). The overnight increase in dependency on digital marketing, further crowded an already clogged channel to reach HCPs, requiring new brands to strive even harder to break through and connect with them.

Another challenge is that patient journeys are continuing to grow more complex with the rise of chronic conditions, meaning potentially more doctors involved in a patient’s care plan and more medication interactions to consider. These complexities increase the amount of personalization required, which can be more time- and resource-intensive for pharma marketers.


Pharm Exec: How can brand teams ensure they are using the right balance of traditional vs. digital tactics in their marketing efforts?

Bridget Seay: In today's market, drug launch campaigns, powered by data and emerging technologies, leverage omnichannel promotion whenever possible. To ensure the right balance between traditional and digital tactics, brand teams work to prioritize the needs of HCPs and consider how to best support the target audience's experience first and foremost. Understanding their content consumption preferences and delivering content through their preferred channels is crucial to maximize experiences that could impact the brand's relationship with HCPs.

As digital engagement opportunities continue to evolve, it's important to adapt the approach of the different phases of the campaign and the ever-changing landscape. For example, an in-person rep visit, which still occur on occasion, may need need to be followed up with a non-personal promotion or another digital. Adaptation is needed in fully digital campaigns as well. During the launch phase, creating broad awareness can be achieved through quick-to-market display advertisements. Following this, the campaign should focus on personalized messaging, providing relevant information to educate HCPs with practical tools for patient selection, treatment changes, and onboarding.


Pharm Exec: Which stakeholders should be prioritized in a successful digital launch strategy?

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Bridget Seay: In a successful digital launch strategy, two key stakeholders should be prioritized: HCPs and patients.

With the shift towards specialized or novel therapeutics, HCPs increasingly need to seek guidance on how to adapt to changes in the patient’s journey to care. Pharmaceutical companies can and do make efforts to play a key role in the dissemination of that critical information.

However, recent research by Indegene suggests that a significant proportion of physicians, ranging from 23 to 50 percent, were dissatisfied with the quality of pharma's digital interactions across different media channels during the pandemic. HCPs prefer different channels at different times for different reasons, so it’s crucial to know and understand their varying needs. Identifying the tools they rely on for making clinical decisions is essential for effectively communicating a launch brand's value proposition.

A hybrid approach, combining traditional and digital interactions with trusted partners, allows marketers to learn about the tools their target HCPs prefer and adapt their strategies accordingly. Additionally, the timing of your message in those tools is important as converting a potential prescriber requires the PCP to be in a relevant setting, therefore late afternoons and evenings when they’re likely spending time with family is not ideal.

When it comes to patients, a successful digital launch strategy should prioritize patients' experience from diagnosis to coverage and adherence. Patient access programs should be an integral part of the launch campaign rather than an afterthought. Additionally, as patients start to take a more active role in their healthcare decisions, marketing campaigns that have a patient-centered approach are more likely to succeed.


Pharm Exec: How has the rise of patient advocacy/empowered patients influenced marketing and launch strategies?

Bridget Seay: As empowered patients increasingly take a more active role in their healthcare decisions, marketing strategies have shifted from solely targeting healthcare providers to engaging with patients directly. This means providing clear information, involving patients in decision-making, and prioritizing their experiences. Additionally, it puts a greater emphasis on the need for primary care physicians (PCPs) to stay up-to-date on the latest available drugs and treatment options so they can provide the best possible care and guidance to their patients. By understanding the patient’s perspective, companies can tailor their messages to better address patients’ concerns and needs, ultimately resulting in a successful marketing campaign.


Pharm Exec: How do you balance regulatory and ethical considerations with creative innovation when designing a successful digital launch strategy? And what are other key considerations when designing a successful digital launch strategy?

Bridget Seay: In such a highly regulated industry, it is important to adhere to FDA advertising guidelines and data privacy laws. This ensures that legal and ethical standards are met. It is crucial to prioritize transparency and authenticity by providing accurate information and avoiding misleading claims or manipulative tactics. To maintain customer trust, it is necessary to implement the proper data privacy and security measures to protect their personal information.

Other considerations include how quickly both the digital marketing and pharma landscapes evolve, which necessitates an agile approach to the launch strategy. Monitoring market trends, customer preferences, and technological advancements enables quick adaptations and adjustments to stay compliant while embracing innovative opportunities. Additionally, collaboration among different teams, like medical affairs, legal counsel, and compliance officers, is key to achieving a balanced approach. By balancing regulatory and ethical considerations with innovative ideas, a digital launch strategy can successfully engage customers, build trust, and make a big impact.


Pharm Exec: How do you approach market segmentation and targeting in the pharmaceutical industry, given the unique role of healthcare professionals as intermediaries?

Bridget Seay: Segmentation is typically based on factors like specialty, practice setting, location, patient population, and prescribing patterns among healthcare professionals, which allows for tailored marketing strategies and messages to address the specific needs and preferences of different segments. Simultaneously, patient segmentation is also essential, considering demographics, disease conditions, treatment history, lifestyle factors, and psychographics. Recognizing the influence of patients on treatment decisions and adherence, personalized communication and targeted interventions can be implemented.


Pharm Exec: Can you provide some anonymous examples of launches that you've seen done well and others that have fallen short?

Bridget Seay: Certainly! A new cholesterol drug faced challenges during its launch due to pushback from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Despite the drug’s efficacy, manufacturers were forced to significantly reduce their prices. However, the pricing adjustments came too late, resulting in a weakened impact on the market. A competitor in the same class took a different approach. They focused on access by offering zero-dollar copays for commercial patients and hired a reimbursement team to support the launch. By prioritizing affordability and access, they saw increasing interest in the drug, with rising lookups on medical platforms and high interest in the pricing section of the drug's monograph.

Another example is a treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that launched five months into the pandemic. The brand team utilized a phased approach, starting with a "Coming Soon" campaign to generate interest and awareness. They waited until a certain level of access was achieved before launching "Now Approved" messaging. Then a full direct-to-consumer (DTC) commercial campaign was implemented. This strategy ensured that patients had access to the new drug, and the campaign was successful.

These examples demonstrate the significance of taking factors such as access, affordability, and market dynamics into account in a launch strategy and highlight how they can positively or negatively impact a campaign.