Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Reaching patients and HCPs during the pandemic

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to drug launches, but some pharma companies avoided costly delays by quickly pivoting to digital channels

While several major drug launches were stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, some pharma companies were able to pivot almost entirely to virtual launches and not only avoid delays, but give physicians confidence to prescribe new therapies despite face-to-face visits remaining low and congresses remaining off the table.

Digital speaker events, physician engagement and patient information and education tools are just a handful of examples of how tech was used to ensure launches went ahead and new treatments would have the best chance of reaching the patients that need them.

There is a general consensus that the future of drug launches will be more reliant on digital. But who has successfully pulled off a digital launch?

Successful digital launches

Esperion planned to launch its lipid-lowering agent, Nexletol (bempedoic acid), in March 2020 before releasing the combination therapy, Nexlizet (bempedoic acid/ezetimibe), in July.

When the pandemic hit, Esperion decided to push ahead with the March 2020 launch of Nexletol and build on the company’s existing digital infrastructure.

The work that went into developing the digital tool necessary for the launch paid off in April 2020, when the company held a virtual speaker series ahead of the launch of Nexlizet, and Esperion was even able to accelerate the launch of the therapy by one month.

While Horizon was fortunate enough to launch its bulging eye drug, Tepezza, in January 2020, the pandemic still hit at a critical time for any new drug. The ability to assure physicians and patients of a drug’s safety and efficacy early on can be a defining factor in both short-term and long-term adoption.

Horizon already had digital promotional materials at the ready, and that foresight helped the company to mitigate the damage caused by COVID-19. Since the launch, Horizon has revised its projected sales of Tepezza from $30m-$40m to around $200m.

Clarus Therapeutics pushed through with the launch of its testosterone replacement tablet, Jatenzo, despite the disruption caused by COVID-19. The team adapted to the pandemic by focusing on the use of digital tools and highlighting the benefits that digital offers to healthcare professionals (HCPs).

When UroGen received FDA approval for Jelmyto (mitomycin gel) in April 2020, the drug became the first therapy approved to treat low-grade upper tract urothelial cancer (UTUC). Jelmyto is a non- surgical treatment, making it a safer option for UTUC patients, most of whom are 70 years old and above.

With Jelmyto addressing an important and unmet medical need, UroGen was determined to avoid delaying the planned launch on 1 July 2020. The company did so by committing to a virtual launch and dedicating resources to digital engagement tools for physicians and some analysts estimate sales will reach $375 million per year.

Sunovion began commercial activities for Kynmobi (apomorphine HCI), a treatment for the acute, intermittent treatment of ‘off’ episodes in patients with Parkinson’s disease at the end of September 2020.

While Sunovion had the benefit of launching Kynmobi a little later in the year, rather than in the chaotic months at the start of the pandemic, it was still necessary to execute a successful virtual launch if it is going to compete with drugs such as Inbrija (Acorda Therapeutics), Nourianz (Kyowa Kirin), and Ongentys (Neurocrine Biosciences).

To do so, Sunovion is focusing on virtual physician engagement, virtual peer-to- peer training for doctors and digital educational programmes for patients and caregivers to help Kynmobi get off to a strong start.

What about patients?

COVID-19 has forced pharma companies to adapt their communication channels like never before. While some companies, particularly the smaller ones, were able to quickly pivot to virtual launches and avoid launch delays, others were caught off guard and were unable to react as quickly.

The effects of COVID-19 will be long-lasting and, in many ways, permanent. It is an inflection point for the use of digital tools within the pharmaceutical industry.

For pharma companies big and small, it is crucial to build the skill set and digital infrastructure to compete in this new environment – and eventually win.

Digital-first HCPs

With HCPs going digital, an entirely new playing field has opened up for pharma companies to not just promote, but actually enable outcomes. Digital- first HCPs will not just communicate digitally with MSLs, but increasingly also with patients. They need tools that support and guide patients in a remote or – post-pandemic – hybrid world.

Drug launches are a prime example of where pharma companies, by providing such tools, can create a win-win-win for patients, HCPs and themselves, by addressing concerns about the real- world tolerability of new drugs.

Similarly, pharma companies can win by providing tools that reduce barriers to aspects such as remote on-boarding and patient education. Self-administered injectables, such as Novo Nordisk’s recently approved therapy for adult growth hormone deficiency (GHD), Sogroya (somapacitan), and Novartis’ much-hyped MS treatment, Kesimpta (ofatumumab), will be tested in this respect.

Will their digital educational tools and virtual patient training be strong enough to convince HCPs to prescribe them remotely?

Only time will tell, but for those drugs and many others, getting the launch and early days right can be a critical factor in long-term success.

The success or failure of new drugs

There are many factors that influence the success or failure of new drugs. In an unprecedented time of social distancing caused by a virus to which many of those needing these new drugs are particularly vulnerable, pharma companies’ digital skill sets has never been so crucial.

It is fundamental in providing physicians with the most important safety and efficacy information, in providing patients with support, educational materials and training resources, and in facilitating patients and doctors working together under this ‘new normal’.

And while we all wait for COVID-19 to be a thing of the past, it is hard to imagine things ever returning back to the way they once were.

Pharma companies must use digital tools to get new drugs onto the market and provide physicians and patients with everything they require to ensure those drugs can succeed in the new paradigm.

Dan Brown is a digital healthcare journalist at smartpatient

24th February 2021

Dan Brown is a digital healthcare journalist at smartpatient

24th February 2021

From: Marketing



Career advice

No results were found

Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company

Hello. We are the Total Health creative agency. It’s our collective mix of talent that gets us to truly different...