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Smart Thinking blog

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

Launch leaders' blog part 2

What does the launch environment look like in the ‘next normal’?

If you're leading or working on a launch – whether it’s a new indication, formulation or a completely new molecule and brand – you may be thinking carefully about what you are able to do both pre-launch and post-launch as the months progress in 2020 and 2021.

It has never been more important to create different launch scenarios with supporting strategies and tactics. We have talked a lot about ‘agility’ but now is the time to truly implement this.

As a specialist in pharma/biotech launch, I feel so proud to be working at the forefront of the industry’s new medicines, but I appreciate it’s a super tough environment to launch into.

Some companies are moving forward boldly with their launches, using a strong digital engagement strategy – usually with heavy early investment across key stakeholder groups. Some are delaying or are being delayed from a clinical trial, regulatory, access or internal operational perspective.

Taking a look at what’s been happening in our industry over recent weeks and months, here are some encouraging reports and pieces of analysis from across our industry:

  • Digital channels have had a massive boost for 1:1 interactions, group sessions and of course email (with an increase of 482%, according to Veeva), website, webinars
    and much more – our IT teams have been busy! But other reports show that physician satisfaction with some of these channels is low
  • Face-to-face interactions are making a comeback (after live events decreased by 41%, according to Veeva) but this is highly dependent on which country you are working in and of course may change with any future second wave of COVID-19.

In my work with launch teams across the industry, teams are keen to understand the tactical options and best practices for pre-launch and post-launch in the current environment. Of course, this depends on the current government guidelines and the therapy areas they operate in.

It’s been really exciting to see how different teams across the industry have ‘flipped’, ‘pivoted’, ‘flexed’ and ‘adapted’ their launch strategies and tactics to the current world we are operating in – keeping the patient and physician at the centre of their thinking. It will be great to see examples of this agility in the coming months as we share best practices and build new skills in virtual working.

So more than ever, it’s worth looking at the latest economic and health statistics to help you make some clear assumptions for your launch: in classical terms, a base case, the upside and the downside. Global economic forecasters warn of a full global recession, and health forecasters warn of a second wave, or multiple minor waves, that may impact healthcare systems in the coming months. There appear to be three key potential scenarios to consider for your launch (New York Times, This is the future of the pandemic, 8 May 2020):

1. Peaks and valleys in 2020-21 – minor ups and downs, some having a major impact on regions/countries

2. Fall/Winter burn 2020-2021 – major impact during the winter period in many countries

3. Slow burn – minor ups and downs during 2020 and 2021.

Scenario 1 is a mixed bag in which ‘next normal’ operations will need to be carefully orchestrated according to the timing and region and will therefore be dependent on virtual/digital interactions for continuity. Scenario 2 is a more seasonal scenario, and the key question here is how to manage a future lockdown environment. Scenario 3 consists of minor ups and downs with minimal impact on normal operations.

It’s worth taking these three scenarios and translating them to your country and therapeutic area, as there is such a difference depending on the area you are involved in, ranging, for example, from oncology or severe asthma to fungal nail ointments. Most importantly, as a launch team define and align on the key assumptions for your scenarios and be ready to leap into another scenario if needed.

So, if you’re in the middle of creating a global or local launch plan, it may need to look quite different from previous launches, in both structure and content – showing the impact of COVID-19, your scenarios and assumptions, as well as the capabilities and internal ways of working that are needed to be successful. This is no small ‘ask’ for large pharma companies that are used to operating in a more stable environment.

And finally, while times may feel tough and we may feel ‘cooped up’ in our virtual working environment, what better way to refresh our insights and thinking than by trawling online patient and physician community discussions to see what’s changing. For example, patients are embracing telemedicine, internet sources and online pharmacy now more than ever and, as launch leaders, we need to do the same.

Stephanie Hall is MD of the award-winning brand planning healthcare consultancy Uptake Strategies

Stephanie Hall is MD of the award-winning brand planning healthcare consultancy Uptake Strategies

28th August 2020

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