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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Creating a brand identity for biosimilars

How to ensure a replicated biologic is seen as more than just a tribute brand
Creating a brand identity for biosimilars

Fast track

  • Biosimilars are drugs that aim to replicate biological treatments
  • The market for biosimilars is expected to grow to $23bn over the next five years
  • Biosimilars should be promoted as brands in their own right
  • A value proposition must steer away from the branded predecessor
  • A key step is to improve understanding of biosimilars among stakeholders, including their safety and reliability

Biosimilars are more than just a one hit wonder – they are here to stay. Last year the global value of biosimilars was over $2.4bn, according to market research specialists Visiongain. Over the next five years they are on track to grow to $23bn, based on an analysis by Frost & Sullivan.

Unlike generics, which are essentially cover versions of old hits (using the same manufacturing processes), biosimilars aim to replicate biologicals, which are highly complex molecules, and they cannot use the same production techniques as the originator. So they are more like tribute bands, imitating the original acts with as much fidelity as possible.

Because of the size of the opportunity there are many biosimilar wannabes waiting in the wings. The most high-profile example is Hospira's Inflectra (infliximab), which is the first biosimilar monoclonal antibody, designed to replicate Remicade. Next in line will be biosimilar versions of big-selling biologics Herceptin, Enbrel, Humira, Avastin and Lantus.

How you feel about biosimilars depends on where you stand. Entrepreneurs see them as a quick route to profit and entry to the lucrative European and US markets. Research-based pharma companies see them as a threat to innovation and fight against them (as Roche did against the Indian company Biocon, which produced a biosimilar version of Herceptin). Pragmatic companies play both sides, like Sandoz, Merck, and most recently Pfizer, which has launched a 'value' business unit dedicated to generics and biosimilars alongside its core R&D-based business. 

Despite the predicted impact of biosimilars, awareness among prescribers is low. Only 8 per cent of EU physicians spontaneously mentioned biosimilars as products in development in a recent survey by Therapy Watch, and only 35 per cent said they would definitely consider prescribing them.

Same song, different meaning?
Defending a biologic brand against biosimilar competition is a job best left to the lawyers. But launching a biosimilar brand presents special challenges for both manufacturers and agencies. That's because the aim of branding is to establish a difference for your product, to make it stand out from the crowd - whereas biosimilars need to demonstrate equivalence to the reference product in terms of activity, efficacy and safety. They need to be seen as indistinguishable in all but name. Nor do biosimilars have the significant price advantage offered by generics; most will cost only 10-30 per cent less than the reference brand.

However, biosimilars do offer benefits beyond lower pricing. Because 15 or more years may have elapsed since the original biologic was developed, manufacturing techniques have improved, which may result in a purer, higher-quality product. Biosimilar manufacturers also have the option of including improved delivery systems or added-value features such as pre-filled syringes and patient-friendly packaging. So like the best tribute acts, they may not look the same as the original but they may well perform better.

Respect due

How can we promote biosimilars effectively? What they need, in the words of Aretha Franklin, is a little respect. Most people are unaware that Aretha's greatest hit, 'Respect' was a cover version.  The track was originally written and performed by Otis Redding, but thanks to Aretha's individual performance and some great marketing, the song is eternally hers.

This is an approach marketers could take when promoting biosimilars. It's important to promote biosimilars as brands in their own right, not generic copies. Though biosimilars have to match the reference product in terms of quality and performance, it's essential to highlight any additional benefits they offer. 

Building a value proposition may involve steering away from the branded predecessor and promoting the biosimilar as something new with distinctive supplementary features or services (such as state-of-the-art production values). This may become a legal necessity in future, with more companies calling for references to their original brands to be removed from communications.

There's too much confusion
There's lots of confusion surrounding biosimilars, but as Hendrix (or should that be Dylan?) sang in 'All Along The Watchtower', “There must be some kind of way out of here”. 

As there is so little knowledge of biosimilars, a key step is to improve understanding among all stakeholders – not just prescribers but payers, pharmacists, physicians and patient groups, They need to be made aware of the general benefits of biosimilars first, and subsequently, the benefits of individual biosimilar brands. This can be achieved through various channels including placed articles, corporate advertising, social media and patient support programmes.

Prescribers and payers particularly need to know about the safety and reliability of these products and the companies producing them. Trust can be boosted using the established corporate brand in the case of big pharma-produced biosimilars, or building a reassuring image for new or lesser-known pharma or biotech companies, in addition to developing the product message.

Nothing compares
When Sinéad O'Connor plucked 'Nothing Compares 2 U' from obscure Prince-protégé-band The Family, she didn't just replicate this rendition. Instead she started from scratch, finding the essence of the track and imprinting it with her own unique style and production. Similarly, when producing a campaign for a biosimilar product, marketers should develop a unique selling proposition and a brand identity based on the benefits of the product and the values of the company.  

It's these characteristics, together with cost savings, that give customers a reason to prescribe. Creating a brand with clear benefits will differentiate the biosimilar over the original as well as any rival biosimilars vying for a chart position. Giving biosimilars a distinctive identity will showcase their star potential and keep customers turned on and tuned in.

Article by
Reg Manser

chief creative officer of Life Healthcare Communications, was covering an original composition by Martin New. Email him

5th June 2014

From: Marketing

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