One of the most important moments in the pharmaceutical industry is a drug launch. A well-executed drug launch paves the way for a successful long-term product lifecycle. Conversely, a poorly-executed market launch can be the reason a brand struggles to gain momentum and meet market expectations. Unfortunately, the latter has become all too common: research shows that a staggering forty percent of medications approved between 2004 and 2016 missed Wall Street’s prelaunch forecasts by a margin of 20% in the first two years after launch (1).
Importantly, more than 80 drugs are slated to launch in 2022. With so much on the line, how should these brands ensure a successful launch?
1. Build deep market expertise and create a differentiated position
Brand managers know the importance of gaining a deep understanding of the market in which they plan to launch their drug. Specifically, it is critical for a brand to analyze competitive pricing dynamics in the market prior to launch. By analyzing the current standard of care as a starting point, the launch brand can effectively strategize how to differentiate from competitors. The launch brand must also consider how prescribers and payers will value their new treatment. How will the introduction of their new drug change prescribers’ behaviors when providing care? The launch brand must determine whether the key differentiators of their new drug might reshape the price landscape.
Remember – other competitive drugs may also be launching in the same market. The launch brand must have a clear understanding of other manufacturers who may be entering their therapeutic category. Launch brands can and should track key competitive information such as clinical trial status, proposed indications, and the projected approval timeline. Without this analysis, launch brands will have an outdated and potentially ineffective launch plan.
Finally, the launch brand must understand how payers operate within their therapeutic category. Brands should research the pitfalls and successes of recent competitor launches in their category and track how payers adopted similar brands in other categories. Launch brands must conduct thorough reimbursement research and build an operational plan to achieve favorable coverage with key payers. If a brand is launching a novel therapy, they must research what differentiates this drug from standard care and how payers will value these differentiating elements.
2. Create an innovative access and affordability program
In some cases, it can take many months for payers to make a coverage decision for a newly launched drug. The time to complete this process can prevent the drug from widespread adoption. However, while payers make formulary coverage decisions, brands can ensure patients have immediate access to the drug by leveraging sophisticated affordability programs.
A strong patient access program not only helps brands get patients on therapy before insurance provides coverage, but as more patients adopt the treatment, the brand can improve their case for payer coverage.
When creating patient access programs, brands must plan for various obstacles throughout the launch. To prepare for access hurdles that may arise, brands should conduct scenario-planning and create robust forecasts with trustworthy data. In addition, sensitivity analyses in the forecasts can help plan for varying coverage, total prescription sales, and pricing scenarios, helping to optimize patient adoption and gross-to-nets.
3. Communicate to patients and healthcare providers
To ensure a successful drug launch, the brand must be able to reach healthcare providers (HCPs) and educate them on the drug. To feel confident in prescribing a drug to patients, providers must believe in the clinical data and know that the medication is affordable and accessible. Many brands leverage sales reps to educate providers on the medication and its place in treatment plans. With competing demands on providers’ time and the onset of COVID-19, the ability of sales reps to gain in-person interactions has become a significant challenge.
As a result, brands have found alternative channels to educate HCPs on their drug. To fill the gap, many launch brands use messaging tools to connect directly with HCPs to share clinical data, dosage information, coverage updates, and more. For the best results, brands can identify high-volume prescribers for a competitor’s drug using market data or data from a copay program.
In addition to HCPs, it’s critical to communicate directly with patients to ensure adoption following launch. By leveraging engagement and messaging tools that reach patients throughout the product’s lifecycle, brands can increase compliance and adherence. In fact, inadequate communication can account for 55% of medication non-adherence. To effectively message to patients, brands should customize their messaging to match the patient’s needs. For example, brands can target patients with messages that provide educational resources about their diagnosis or remind the patient about a refill.
To achieve the strategies above, brands must have strong data capabilities
Various elements can be out of a brand’s control during a drug launch – such as manufacturing or supply hindrances, like COVID-19 supply chain delays. Robust data sets can support a drug launch as the market changes. Following the steps above and securing access to competitive landscape data, price elasticity analyses, and granular adherence data (segmented by provider, pharmacy, and territory) can ensure a successful market launch for brands to stay competitive throughout the product lifecycle.