Kudos to Mark Tosh at the Medivo blog “Beyond The Pill” (http://pharmainsights.medivo.com/) who calls out a must-read: McKinsey’s paper on pharma drug launches. Thanks, Mark for your analysis! And thank you, McKinsey Team for crafting an excellent piece. But let’s build on what they wrote. Mistakenly, I had thought the focus was going to be on “how to launch”; they focused instead on the different types of launches (based on strong data) not how to launch. We will get to that. Check out this chart of launch performances on McKinsey.com/insights, publications for late March. This report broke their framework into four main insights:
- Go for gold. Roughly one in four launches involves drugs that are strongly differentiated from competing products and treat diseases with a high perceived burden. Examples include Zytiga, Johnson & Johnson’s prostate-cancer treatment, and Januvia, Merck’s drug to lower blood-sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Such launches run a substantial risk of companies believing that the product’s high quality guarantees high sales volume. Capturing their full potential still requires shifting substantial resources from in-line brands to finance the launch. Companies must avoid the “good data trap” by seeking out possible barriers to prescription and focus on capturing the potential as quickly as possible by creating maximum early exposure to the product, closely monitoring launch uptake, and correcting course if necessary.
- Stand out from the crowd. At the other extreme, more than half of upcoming launches are of moderately differentiated products in well-established disease areas, and the priority is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. These launches must find or create an edge that will allow the drug to be positioned effectively for particular patient segments and create clear differentiation from existing competitors. This requires innovative approaches to unveil insights into stakeholder needs and behaviors that competitors do not have. Finally, product pricing is another means for creating differentiation.
- Category creator. For roughly 15 percent of launches, the priority will be to establish unmet needs effectively to ensure access to a well-differentiated treatment for a targeted population. We call these launches “category creators.” Gardasil, launched in the unestablished human papillomavirus market, is an example. Companies must ensure they quickly understand the market’s unmet needs, make sure they don’t underinvest, and be prepared to react and course correct.
- Market shaper. The remaining 8 percent of launches will face the substantial challenge of launching an undifferentiated product in an unestablished disease area. Once the decision to market such a product has been made, the priority for these market-shaping launches will lie in securing access for the product and effectively establishing unmet needs.
That is the core of the articles synopsis. Many insights and themes emerge. But I think the most shocking fact is in the pie chart: 40% of launches fall below forecast, never recover and keep dropping…anything in orange would scare me as a Brand Director. No matter what type of launch you have of the four named above, you might still be in that 40% and Down Club. I have seen a lot of product launches. By-the-pharma-playbook, DTC-heavy, the multi-channel dance, obsessed with audience needs, hyper-targeted orphan campaigns, or doing something breakthrough to make noise. When you look at two specific, incredibly complex categories like diabetes or oncology you see that rules of how to launch are more a mashup of the four categories listed above. Given the evolution of the science involved, you have a nearly blank Road Map. In both categories, the explosion of science and different treatments just seem to pile on top of each other — how do patients and doctors keep it all straight? How does one PD-1 work for melanoma versus another? Invokana versus Victoza for glucose control? Well, if you are doing me-too marketing, if it feels non-authentic and you have not hit all the points of differentiation based on insight, then you will fall into the “noise” category of what might be a unique product with a message not getting through. McKinsey has an interesting conclusion — they basically advise not to try and get everything right for a launch, but focus on what you do best and really stress those strategies/strengths. They advise compromise, but I would look back at that orange part of the chart and say: go for authenticity, differentiation, pricing and the empowerment of science to drives sales and more cogent conversations between doctor and patient. And as Mark Tosh would advise, go “Beyond The Pill” in serving the needs of all stakeholders. I leave you an example of what was a “Go for the Gold” but had at least 2-3 launches to get it right: Gilenya, the first oral for MS. Now that was big! But the drug had a REMS profile and some bad press and mediocre creative before it’s competitor, Tecfidera came along. Now, Gilenya has an amazing online presence…but is it too late? In 2013, Gilenya did over $500 million in sales; Tecfidera did over $800 million. I wonder if Gilenya is in the orange chart but using very strong patient community engagement to drive patient-driven demand.