Launching a New Drug During a Pandemic? Successful Launches Included a Rapid Pivot to Social Media

By Paul Nash

How has the pandemic affected pharmaceutical product launches? Experts say that social media and research have been the key factors for this year’s successful launches.

In a webcast on the PharmaVoice Webcast Network, “The State of Product Launch During and Post COVID-19,” speakers Maya Desai, Director at Guidehouse; Lead Launch COE, Eduardo Schur, Partner and life sciences global practice lead, Guidehouse; and Justin Zamirowski, Chief Commercial Officer, Better Therapeutics, described key results from their studies into recent pharmaceutical product launches. One result: market preparation was more important than an early launch. Much of that market prep occurred online — including research.

In an overview of the current landscape, Maya Desai explained that, in spite of all the pandemic challenges, the pharmaceutical industry experienced some benefits. Pharma’s overall reputation improved, as did its regulatory success. “There is a possibility that this year regulatory approvals will reach an all time high.” Eduardo Schur added, “Pharma’s reputation has done well based on a flexible and agile response to the crisis. Agility and flexibility are critical to succeed in those situations.”

COVID-19 has impacted how companies are launching new products. Justin Zamirowski provided results from a Guidehouse study of 25 first-to-launch pharmaceutical companies and products from 2016-2018, and followed more recent launches to see which trends succeeded and held into 2019 and 2020. When the pandemic emerged as a challenge to traditional sales and market development practices, some companies pivoted to online pre-launch investment, including patient awareness campaigns and market research.

Those product launches that spent more on premarket, including having real-time survey methods ready to address market responses on the fly, had better results. Those products achieved profitability to a greater extent and faster than those that delayed investments until launch. The study itself says companies need to give themselves the “time to fully research, analyze and understand the product market – including critical barriers to adoption that must be overcome – and set strategies for commercialization… and [to put] mechanisms in place to collect data in real time post-launch to monitor progress and act on new insights and nurture your product’s trajectory.” Inspire’s technology offers the ability to understand what patients want from a treatment and to test market responses with the agility these experts say was crucial to market success.

Eduardo Schur reviewed several of these new standout product launches from this year. One example is Tepezza, manufactured by Horizon Therapeutics. Horizon made an immediate shift to virtual outreach as the pandemic hit. Their pre-launch awareness activities in 2019 included educating patients about thyroid eye disease and the urgency of treatment; they acquired early adopters and identified the target patient population early on. This advance work created a robust environment for launch as the pandemic evolved. Inspire’s tools enable companies to find just what is important to patients with any given disease while messaging is being developed, as well as what patients and caregivers are communicating to each other about a product post-launch.

“COVID represented a unique opportunity for all of us to rethink our commercial model which largely has not changed over the past decade,” Zamirowski said. Many companies have turned to “an expanded digital advertisement space” to take advantage of the shift to virtual.

Schur pointed out the additional opportunities for data-gathering online, including RWE:

There are lots of very interesting data we are now able to collect… including outcomes data. We’ve developed the most incredible experiment now from actually having people staying at home with different diseases, different comorbidities. If we can collect that data and actually match with some of the diseases and therapeutics that are being used — I think we are going to learn so much in years to come. …we never had opportunities to get that information.

This is not a “someday” scenario — this is the kind of data gathering, research and analysis that is available at Inspire today.

Schur said that the pivot to online affected all aspects of pharmaceutical marketing and research, affecting traditional marketing surveys as well. An example he gave is an “ATU now” capability, the kind of “pulse” survey Inspire is able to rapidly field. “Here’s another example of data being generated but using technology to get better pulses on the marketplace versus your traditional way that we’ve done research… it’s real world insights that can be channeled into RWE.”

The urgent needs of the pandemic shifted pharmaceutical marketing into digital dependence, from clinical trials to sales to pre-launch research and online commercialization — a change that had long been promised but was slow in coming until 2020. All of the experts from the webinar concluded that pre-launch market preparation that included investment in market research and analysis and an emphasis on online strategies contributed to a successful launch for first-to-market companies.

If pre-launch research of target patients, an online focus, agility and real-time market feedback support robust product launches in this new environment, then Inspire is ahead of the curve — this company is already in touch with disease-specific communities and already offering fast turn around feedback technologies that are ideal for informing an agile and flexible launch.

Read about a product launch enhanced by research conducted with Inspire members.

Download this case study, “Caregivers of Patients with Rare Disorders Provide Essential Marketing Answers”

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1Desai, M., et al. “Research Reveals New Launch Standards for First-to-Launch Pharma and Biotech Companies in the U.S.”, June 26, 2020.