Personalized medicine or personalized marketing?

As the market for specialty drugs—niche or orphan drugs that provide therapy for certain chronic conditions—accelerates, the concept of therapy adherence moves to the forefront of pharmaceutical companies’ growth prospects. Simply stated, to sell more drugs in this market and improve patient outcomes, drug manufacturers must identify personalized marketing messages to ensure that patients follow appropriate therapies and, even more importantly, remain loyal to their products.

Achieving these goals requires a much more precise , patient-centric approach than drug manufacturers have employed in the past, and that in turn requires good data. Most pharmaceutical companies have all the data they need, but they lack the ability to turn it into insight necessary to drive individualized sales and allegiance.

A growing focus on niche and orphan drugs.
According to CuraScript Drug Trend Report 2010, specialty drugs accounted for about 24 percent of the overall pharmaceutical market in 2009, and that percentage is expected to increase to 40 percent in 2014. There are several reasons for this. One is the “cliff” created by expiring patents on many “blockbuster” drugs, requiring manufacturers to shift their development efforts to specialty/biotechnology drugs to fill the gap and provide growth opportunities. At the same time, a prevalence of chronic conditions, increasing prices for specialty drugs, and the success of those drugs in improving quality of life and increasing life expectancies also are driving new focus in this area.

According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (“PhRMA”), there are currently 507 specialty/biotechnology drugs in development—many targeting cancer and infectious diseases, as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes, blood disorders, and cardiovascular and respiratory conditions—up from 63 in 2002. FDA approvals of specialty drugs reinforce this trend. In 2010 the FDA approved twice as many specialty drugs (14) as it did traditional products (just 7).

The key to growth is therapy adherence.
Realizing growth potential in this sector of the market will depend on therapy adherence—that is, the propensity of patients to take the drugs regularly and as prescribed. This can be more challenging than it may seem. There are many factors that can contribute to low patient adherence to therapy:

  • Cost/financial barriers
  • Poor health education/literacy
  • Comorbidities
  • Lifestyle
  • Age
  • Psychological issues
  • Therapy side effects
  • Lack of accountability
  • Lack of support systems/case managers
  • Lack of care coordination
  • Lack of incentives

To maximize adherence and, ultimately, specialty drug sales, a drug manufacturer needs to adopt a customer-centric approach to defining patient-intervention programs that:

  • Uses all of the company’s available data to identify and understand the attributes of a patient population.
  • Determines appropriate interventions for each discrete (and overlapping) population. Not every solution will work for every population, so it is important to determine the best possible combination of solutions for any given person.
  • Considers the marketing impact of the individual.  Technology exists to identify key persons that use social media to influence many others. Create appropriate strategies.
  • Identifies the population with the biggest market share and the highest potential return on investment.
  • Establishes differentiated approaches for each patient groups based on ROI and needs.

Despite having access to unprecedented amounts of data—gathered and processed by today’s more mature tools such as mobile applications and portals—most pharmaceutical companies don’t do this effectively today. A key reason is because data resides in many different databases and applications across the organizations.

Better analytics, better insight, better results.
Business intelligence and analytics tools enable you to pull data from a variety of places to answer key questions, namely: Why are patients adhering to or dropping off therapies? In turn, this can help guide appropriate personalized strategies and interventions. For example, data analysis may reveal that web applications to sign up for patient programs may work for one population, but be worthless to another group that needs a regular call from a friendly nurse.

One useful tool for doing this is a touch-point analysis that identifies all customer interactions relevant to how a patient obtains and uses a prescription. Map the points of interaction, data collection, and conflicts.  From this, determine both data gaps and the variety of interventions—a foundation for better analytics and insight.

In the evolving world of specialty pharmaceuticals, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. You will need the insight to create personalized patient strategies—requiring sound marketing as much as it does sound medicine. Are your analytics capabilities up to the task?

West Monroe Partners combines deep pharmaceutical industry experience with business intelligence and customer experience expertise to create advanced capabilities for supporting specialty drug goals. For more information, please contact Jim Bedford at

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