shutterstock_158177018.jpgDave Cohen co-authored this blog post with Sarah Hamilton. 

With more than 650 new agents in development, oncology has been center stage for many pharmaceutical companies in recent years. Although unmet need remains high for many tumor types, this sizeable pipeline investment is expected to bring tremendous new promise to patients as drugs start hitting the market. Along with that promise, we suspect that it also will bring several commercial challenges for companies that are seeking to successfully launch an oncology asset into this new environment. 

It’s harder than ever to successfully launch in oncology today. While we all find comfort in looking to past examples, new oncology drugs may not be able to find success in the same ways that older drugs did. Here’s why: 

  1. Few greenfields left in oncology: Based on data from EvaluatePharma, pharmaceutical spending on oncology pipeline assets is expected to more than double between 2014 and 2020, resulting in crowded spaces with many drugs in development across different tumor types. In this increasingly competitive space, pharmaceutical companies can find themselves targeting specific patient types within broader patient populations or pursuing approvals in rarer tumor types with lower competition but a more limited patient set. Companies are finding it increasingly challenging to maximize an asset’s value across multiple smaller indications. 
  1. Diminished first-mover advantage: Related to the increased competitive landscape is a diminished first-mover advantage. The time it takes to reach peak sales is falling as competitive pressures mount, and being first to market no longer is a prerequisite for success. From a regulatory standpoint, opportunities for faster approval are opening up, acting as a double-edged sword by giving companies the opportunity to get to market faster but also enabling follow-up competitors to be approved more quickly as well. 

So how can a pharmaceutical company preparing to launch in oncology adapt to this changing launch environment? One approach is to build on the traditional view of treating a launch as a single event. As commercial viability of oncology products increasingly relies on approval in multiple settings, it’s more important than ever to plan for multiple launches, often in short succession through a more nimble, continuous launch model. This approach places greater emphasis on the launch road map for the brand in the drug’s first three to five years rather than the specific resource intensity associated with the initial launch. Instead, the continuous launch mindset allows pharmaceutical companies to connect strategy and resourcing across the future indications that they’re pursuing while planning appropriately to the scale and importance of the initial indication. 

One example of how this approach can be implemented is through a roving launch team (or a team member) that works across indications and products to ensure that previous launch learnings are carried over and conveyed for the next launch. The increased competition across the oncology space also highlights the need—now more than ever—for launch teams to think through competitive scenario planning exercises to prepare for different alternatives that could be faced at launch.  

Companies that adapt to this more flexible launch model will be better prepared for the reality of launching a drug within today’s fast-paced oncology environment. 


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Topics: go-to-market strategy, oncology, pharmaceuticals, Dave Cohen, continuous launch, Sarah Hamilton, always be launching