Launching a drug in a pandemic

Huge distribution warehouse with boxes on high shelves

QUICK READ: Prescribers are reviewing some of their favorite prescribed drugs and are open to learning about new drugs in terms of efficacy and patient outcomes but you had better be ready to talk about patients beyond the science.

Some may think it’s a bad time to be launching a drug but actually the reverse may be true. Doctors who don’t work in hospitals have the time to engage with drug MLS people virtually and a lot of them are reviewing the drugs that “they tend to prescribe”.

During the month a client of ours had decided to attach a short survey to physicians they detailed. The vast majority, 82%, said that they are reviewing the drugs that prescribe against new entrants and competitors. This was especially true in diabetes, depression, and oncology categories. (n=58)

I’ll admit it’s a small sample but it indicates, to me, a huge opportunity to reach HCP’s with a message about why your product may be better for SOME patients.

The biggest concern about “switching” patients to a new drug or starting them on a newly approved drug is “can the patient afford it?” and “will the side effects scare them away?”.

Today sales and MLS people have to be more than just about the science. They have to talk about the possibility of better outcomes and better compliance. One physician literally wrote a paragraph about a new oncology drug coming in an oral form saying that “I am sure my patients will take this oral drug versus going to an IV infusion center”.

The other bit of information that we’re learning is that HCP’s like virtual detailing when the virtual detail also provides them with links to other information on the drug, it’s competitors and the market. They don’t like it when a drug rep bashes the competition. The best approach seems to be “their drug is good but ours may be better”.

What about patients?

Obviously the searches for online health information around COVID 19has increased dramatically but so have searches for diabetes, prediabetes, depression, anxiety, and general health-related questions.

TV is still a great way to spread the word that a new product has arrived on the scene but what DTC marketers are forgetting is that online health seekers are going to a lot of websites to learn about your drug. What they want to know is what others have to say about using it and how expensive co-pays are.

What this tells me is that for a lot of new drugs DTC marketers need to talk about how the drug has affected patients. The testimonies need to be from the heart and marketers need to “keep it real”.

It’s funny because many years ago online health seekers said they wanted images on product websites of real people not stock art and not with a caption that said “not a real physician”.

DTC marketers should be working with their market research people to “get into the head” of their target audience. I’m not talking about drug compassions or how they feel about your message. I am talking about their decision process in determining if a new product is right for them and how they feel about the health condition.

It was recently reported that some people could have gained 17 pounds during the lockdown. Epidemiologists are very concerned about this fearing it could move a prediabetes patient to diabetes. Patients are also concerned and are looking for ways to stay active with a low risk of COVID-19 infection. This is where pharma can help.

In consumer marketing we’re seeing more and more people ask “what’s in it for me” as they trade off national brand for store brands. The same thing is happening in healthcare. People are paying more for healthcare and want to know what your product can do for them beyond just lowering A1C or eliminating some forms of depression. There is a significant gap in this communication from pharma to patients. That needs to change.