Involve Pharma Marketing Early in Drug Development

By Richard Tsai

In 2009, PricewaterhouseCooper published a paper predicting the landscape of pharma marketing in the decade to come titled “Pharma 2020: Marketing the Future – Which Path Will You Take?” What were they expecting then, and how does it compare with today’s remarkable and fluid pharma reality?

One of the predictions was, “By 2020, pay-for-performance will be the norm in many countries.”1 In 2009, it was a simple matter; if the patient received a prescription, there would be payment. The authors anticipated that health outcomes would become the key variable in valuing medications. Does the medication work, is it safe, does it perform better in some populations than others? Payment would be directly linked to performance.

As the authors put it: “…as the balance of power shifts from Pharma to healthcare payers and patients, the definition of what constitutes a ‘good’ medicine will expand.”1 Obviously, FDA approval would be required, but the worth of a medication would also rest on outcomes in a real world context. It was already known that many drugs performed better in a clinical trial context than in the context of daily life; the paper cites the findings that statins work to restore cholesterol to healthy levels, but that, by the 5th year, only 13% of patients are taking them as prescribed.1

The authors expected that, to succeed in 2020, pharmaceutical companies would have to (among other things): “Recognise the interdependence of the pharmaceutical and healthcare value chains; Ensure that they invest in developing medicines the market really wants,” and “Form a web of alliances to offer supporting services.”1 That is, they have to demonstrate actual value outside of clinical trials, which involves an entire ecosystem of HCP, patient, and payer policies, well beyond the action of the molecule. In these respects, their ten-year visions were valid.

Moving patient influence into development

But while the PriceWaterhouse article made the apt prediction that the patient experience would matter as part of a determination of value, the patient wasn’t expected to be the stakeholder with the largest influence on whether or not a product was innovative (and remained valuable) until post-release.

That’s where their predictions missed the mark. By 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act required the FDA to prepare methods for adding patient evaluation of performance to the drug approval process. That is, pharma would have to convince the FDA of the value of a treatment to the patients long before going on to acquire market acceptance. This framework is under development through the FDA’s Patient Focused Drug Development program.

The biggest anticipated shift, then, was toward the patient as a primary stakeholder and influencer for product success, but at the wrong point in development.

Late last year, Syneos Health published a report about the top health trends for 2020. One of the top trends is “Patient Value” — how much does the patient value what pharma is offering? How easily does it integrate into their lives?

According to Syneos, “The voice of the patient has never been louder and its impact never greater.”2

The report says that the most successful industry stakeholders are involving patients at all stages of development, starting with clinical teams “engaging patients around endpoints and experiences.”

Involve marketing team from the beginning

The report points out the marketing advantages that occur when commercial is also involved right from the start. Commercial can “[l]earn about the patient experience within the clinical trial to inform and influence commercial launch strategy and patient support innovation,” and enables commercial to “build health platforms and new ways to put stakeholders first.”2

Successful commercial teams, according to the Syneos report, are finding ways to make processes easier for patients instead of creating platforms that patients have to adapt to. The drug being tested becomes a product that is delivered within a healthcare ecosystem. Companies looking for opportunities to change are:

…sleuthing for ways to remove friction from the patient experience. They’re asking: how can we make it easier to work with our brand or site? Often, the patient answer is simple: just make it easier. So leading companies are working to uncover every point of friction that slows customers down or frustrates their interactions.2

The key to success in 2020 is making the patient voice a part of every level of product development — R&D through post-release. In that process, marketing needs to be involved, learning from patients during clinical research as well as after. That means that companies need ready and continuous access to the voices, opinions, and experiences of real patients.

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1 Pharma 2020: Marketing the future – Which path will you take?

22020 Health Trends. Syneos Health Insights Hub. 2019. Link available at