By Leana Katz, SVP, Spherico, a division of GSW, powered by Syneos Health and
Catherine Eschenbach, SVP, GENICOS, powered by Syneos Health

A lot of drug manufacturers tend to think of launch day as a single point in time – the finish line at the end of all the hard work that went into R&D, and a starting line for seeing that hard work and effort pay off in terms of sales. But, like any marathon, you’re not going to get to the finish line – or indeed, even the starting line for your race – without lots of thoughtful learning, planning and prep work beforehand. Based on the cumulative years of expertise across GENICOS and Spherico, here are our best tips to help you ensure that your organization is race-day ready when it comes to launching a new therapy.  

Expect the Unexpected
This may sound cliché, but the reality of drug development is that things don’t always go according to plan.  

Case in point: January 20, 2020. The first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the US in Seattle, Washington. Supply chain delays and raw supply shortages strained manufacturing efforts. Lockdowns made clinical trial participation difficult or impossible. Physicians across all disciplines were reallocated to care for COVID-19 patients, pulling them away from their roles as primary investigators and trial site managers. Hospitalization rates and healthcare worker shortages surged as more and more people fell ill with COVID, upending our entire healthcare system.  

The learning for drug manufacturers is that no matter how much you prepare, there will always be factors outside your control. Yet despite these challenges, having a solid understanding of your value prop, your audience, and your launch communication plan will help ensure that the marathon effort of bringing a drug to market goes as smoothly as possible.

Know Your Value Prop
Being aware of your market position well in advance of approval (as early as phase 1) means that you know why you’re investing in your therapeutic candidate, who it will help, and how it will help them.
What will your product offer that nothing else on the market does? Better safety or efficacy? Is it a first-line therapy or a combination drug? How many competitor therapies are on the market and in development? Know your story, where you fit in the market, and what differentiators you can hang your hat on.

So much of a drug candidate’s value prop comes down to unmet need. For patients, the unmet need may be about tolerable side effects or method of delivery. For physicians, it may be the safety profile and risk of adverse events. For payers, it’s going to come down to the cost effectiveness of the new treatment. An effective value prop defines value for your brand.  

Know Your Audience
Understanding your audience is perhaps the most crucial element to ensure post-market success – and that work should begin long before launch.  

One way to do this is to talk directly to the stakeholders you’re trying to reach (e.g., patients, payers, or healthcare professionals). For example, understanding the needs and mindset of the patient community may involve tactics such as patient advisory boards, surveys, social listening, and more. You can do similar work to engage with any key audience. Ask questions to ensure that everything from your marketing to your method of drug delivery is going to resonate with your potential customers. And when you hear their feedback, remember to listen and apply it.  

Another great way to reach the patient audience is to partner with advocacy groups. They already have a direct line to your patient population and have earned their trust. What advocacy organizations need from drug manufacturers most is funding, of course, but you can get creative in ways to bring those partnerships to life. Reach out to the advocacy organizations in your therapeutic area and ask them what their dreams are for their patient community. Then, help them make those dreams a reality.  

Plan, Align, and Communicate
Advanced planning and cohesive alignment are critical for a successful drug launch, yet can be difficult to do well.  

You can begin by aligning your messaging and your communications plan to your business and strategic goals. Make sure you know the “why” behind every comms tactic, from press releases to media appearances to webinars. Be sure leadership has clear objectives and a clear strategy in place, and make sure your messages and your plan tie directly to that strategy.

Next, be realistic about planning and timelines. Messages take time to draft, tactics take time to execute, and it all takes time to approve. Set time well in advance of launch to decide who the key internal reviewers on launch materials are, what they’re reviewing for (legal compliance, scientific accuracy, consistency of message with company narrative, etc.), in which order they’ll review, and how long the entire process will take. Run through the plan early and often, and make sure everyone understands their role.

It's also important to ensure everyone knows which teams are creating which messages, and that those people communicate with one another to avoid duplication of work. Additionally, be sure your communications team is working closely with leadership to plan for messaging around the hard conversations like cost and access.  

Finally, once your messaging is ready, ensure everyone knows it and can speak to it cohesively and consistently, regardless of their job description. In this case, it’s far better to over-prepare than under-prepare. Also consider internal launch events where you can share messaging with your team to help employees understand the “why” and celebrate their contributions to this important milestone.  

Flexibility is Key
With so much to consider, it’s important to be both flexible and nimble in the months leading up to launch. Remain aware of the market, the political landscape, and what your competitors are doing. Trust your team, plan ahead and always stay connected to your patients.  

As with running a marathon, once you’ve put in the work and the training, all that’s left to do is live in the moment, adapt to the conditions you’re facing, and take it one step at a time.

About the Author:

Syneos Health Communications is a portfolio of innovative health-first, health-only advertising, branding, creative, medical communications, market access, and public relations agencies – powered by a global network of clinical and commercial minds across Syneos Health that are engaged at every point of influence in health.