The explosion of new therapies in oncology, and the growing queue of them waiting for FDA approvals, has created an ongoing race to learn, launch and repeat. If you’re a small company—more nimble than the established players—you’ll face the challenge of how to launch your first product in the market. With limited resources, the most common questions that small companies face include, “Where should we invest?” and, “What will get the product to the patients who need it the most?” Even bigger companies are seeking smarter and more efficient means of launching their new products. Some are doing better than others because they’re tailoring their roles according to customer requirements, investing (and collaborating) wisely to maximize limited resources, and preparing for the long run. Here are five key elements that are enabling their success:
- Emerging roles: It’s as if you need to keep innovating your commercial organization’s design to survive against the tide of evolving customer needs. Newer roles are being designed to cater to the differentiated needs of the customer segments. For example, the account’s control over the ecosystem plays an important role in the decision-making process of an oncologist. As such, targeting accounts holistically—covering all of the account stakeholders, including nurses, patient navigators, reimbursement specialists and pharmacists—is becoming more important. Commercial roles such as key account managers have become very common, especially to those who spend most of their time in parent accounts. Roles such as national key account managers have emerged for handling relationships with large group purchasing organizations and specialty pharmacies. Health economics and outcomes researchers, nurses and patient advocates are all taking their place on the roster.
- Expanding higher-value resources: As markets get crowded, a higher level of engagement has become key to standing out in the market. Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are filling in this niche with a broader set of customers than before. Nowadays, the rep-to-MSL ratio has tilted more in favor of MSLs, with 1-to-6 to 1-to-8 becoming the norm. Hence, quality—along with quantity—has become important as well.
- Successful partnerships: Small players can’t afford to commercialize on their own, and the large players can’t innovate on their own. The key for small players could be to find a partner with strong, established relationships who won’t turn into a competitor down the road. A promotional partner also fills in the need of generating market knowledge, expertise or relationships. A successful partnership often displays a mix of science from the smaller player and commercialization horsepower from the larger player. Companies that were smart enough to build partnerships around true synergies and value for the customer have seen great success in the marketplace.
- Portfolio planning: Most products that are in the development phase, or have recently been launched, are expecting upwards of five indications for a single brand. Therefore, playing for the long haul—knowing the value of customers across the indications and engaging them rationally—is the key to success. It’s much easier to add value to a conversation when you can do so across many types of patients.
- Demanding agility over precision: What works today may not work tomorrow. As each product becomes a portfolio in itself (at last count, each of the checkpoint inhibitors was expected to have 10-plus indications), investing in capabilities that are agile and move quickly in a shifting landscape has become crucial. Small companies, in a way, have an advantage: They have the flexibility to move and react quickly, assessing regional performance and tweaking the plan as they go.
The companies that are getting it right are allowing themselves to be led by the patients, putting a lot of effort into knowing their customers and making good bets on where to invest. With a crowded pipeline, the marketplace has very low tolerance for launch errors, so it’s important to get your commercial design right the first time. Focus on recognizing the right roles for your organization according to customer requirements, invest (and collaborate) wisely to maximize limited resources, and prepare for the long run.
Are you ready?