We have entered into a new era of innovation in medical science where ‘one size fits all’ type of treatment is making a sizeable space for a new ‘made-to-measure’ variety of the same. Such medicines are being developed particularly for life-threatening and rare diseases, where individual genetic differences in patients play a key role in the choice of therapy.
The marketers of such drugs, at the same time, will need to make sure that the right sets of messages are delivered to the right person, in the right way and at the right time, for brand success. This isn’t a piece of cake, as it will be akin to finding out a needle from a haystack. It would call for craftily ferreting out from an enormous database, both the patients’ and the prescribers detail profile virtually in each stage of the treatment process.
Such information would form the bedrock for effective brand value creation and its delivery, to achieve best possible business results and also patient outcomes. Thus, ‘made-to-measure’ marketing would be a whole new ball game for many pharma marketers – a completely different situation that, very often, they know little about.
In this article, I shall dwell on this subject. Let me begin with a brief description of the emerging ‘made-to-measure’ variety of treatments.
There are many serious and life-threatening disease conditions where ‘One Size Fits All’ sort of treatment approach doesn’t work too well. One such dreaded disease is cancer. Conventionally, following standard treatment guidelines, doctors generally opt for similar treatment for patients suffering from the same type and stage of cancer. Interestingly, it has been conclusively established over a period of time that this approach often yields different outcomes to different patients.
With the progress of genetic science, the researchers have unraveled this mystery from the genetic difference of patients. This understanding heralded the dawn of a new era of targeted or ‘made-to-measure’ drug therapies. These are called “personalized medicine” or “precision medicine”. According to the National Research Council, “personalized medicine” is an older term with a meaning similar to “precision medicine.”
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), understanding a patient’s genetic makeup and ascertaining how certain gene changes during cancerous tumor growth, doctors can now choose more effective treatment options for each patient. In other words, based on genetic test results, oncologists can now opt for a customize treatment, based on each patient’s specific needs. Such drugs can block or turn off the signals that tell malignant cells to grow and divide, keep cells from living longer than normal, or kill the cancer cells altogether.
Moreover, by performing genetic tests both on the cancer and normal cells, doctors can also:
- Find out the chances of a person developing cancer and selecting the screening strategies to lower the risk
- Match patients with treatments that are likely to be more effective and cause fewer side effects
- Predict the risk of recurrence, which means the return of cancer
The new era began in 1998:
The era of ‘personalized medicine’ for cancer, in all practical purposes, commenced in 1998, when the US-FDA approved the targeted therapy, Herceptin (trastuzumab). Breast cancer patients having high levels of a biomarker, known as “HER-2,” are more likely to be susceptible to this drug.
Since then, the development of targeted therapies has grown rapidly. As reported by the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC), published on January 31, 2018, one in every 4 drugs approved by the US-FDA over the past 4 years was a personalized medicine, and the agency approved a record-breaking 16 personalized therapy in 2017. The same year, US-FDA also approved the first biosimilar of a personalized medicine - trastuzumab-dkst (Ogivri) for HER-2-positive breast cancer patients. This biosimilar was developed with Herceptin as its reference.
The February 2018 report of Research and Markets titled, ‘Personalized Medicine – Scientific and Commercial Aspects’ says, the aim of ‘personalized medicine’ is to match the right drug to the right patient and, in some cases, even to design the appropriate treatment for a patient according to his/her genotype. I deliberated on genotype-based treatment in my article titled, ‘A Disruptive Innovation to Fight and Cure Intractable Diseases’, published in this blog on October 30, 2017.
At this point, let me hasten to add that the development of personalized medicine raises some ethical issues, as well. Currently, this debate is mostly limited to the area of genetic testing.
An article published on March 23, 2015 in the ‘FDA Voice’ of the US-FDA states, since the 1990s, the agency is also working on personalized drug dosing. This is because individuals differ in how they eliminate a drug. Some eliminate it much more slowly than most other people, and thus are susceptible to overdosing, while others eliminate it much faster, and may not get the desired therapeutic effect. There are biomarkers to identify people who may have these unusual results. Personalized drug dosing makes sure that drug efficacy for such patients are not compromised, or they are not at high risk of any severe side effects.
Marketing ‘personalized medicine’ a whole new ball game:
All this vindicates that ‘personalized medicine’ is not just a flash in the pan. With each passing year, it’s moving ahead at a brisk pace. In this emerging scenario, what happens to marketing of these drugs? Will the marketing of ‘personalized medicine’ remain just the same as the conventional one, or it warrants radically different cerebral inputs?
The opportunities for personalization in pharma marketing are immense. ‘Personalized medicines’ offer a greater scope in leveraging its potential that is yet to be fathomed, meaningfully. Broadly, this will mean targeting customers or potential consumers even at the individual level, to add greater differential value.
This, in turn, will involve making the marketing content, the message format and choosing the effective value delivery platforms, virtually ‘made-to-measure’ for the target audience. Marketing interaction of this ilk, has proven to offer a cutting-edge experience to the target groups with greater outcomes, in tandem, yielding superior financial results to the concerned pharma players.
On December 18, 2017, Cambridge BioMarketing – one of the world’s leading rare disease agency highlighted, as personalized medicine continues to take hold, it will be more important than ever for healthcare companies to incorporate the ‘hyperpersonalized’ experience in marketing and communications. Patients’ voice has already started becoming more important than ever before, in various facets of pharma business. In 2018, one may expect to witness more pharma companies tapping the experts who can help explain the life-changing benefits of a treatment for the patient, effectively – the report predicted.
Moving forward, patients embarking on new treatments will be better empowered to take charge of their well-being. Physicians and nurses will also be better connected to their patients, along with other care providers, with the support of enhanced digital connections and mobile apps. Interestingly, one can find it happening in several developed countries, especially, in areas like rare diseases, where ‘personalized medicines’ will be used more – underscored this agency.
On January 22, 2018, quoting the same Cambridge BioMarketing, FiercePharma also reported, more ‘personalized medicines’ also mean more ‘personalized marketing’ – and the ‘hyperpersonalization’ trend goes to extremes. Crunching data gathered from multiple sources, such drug marketers need to identify small groups that could be receptive to specific messaging. Advanced data and analytics, would facilitate the marketers to whittle down their targets and tailor messages to consumer audiences, sometimes as small as one person – the report asserted.
As the February 2018 report of ‘Research and Markets’ highlights, increase in efficacy and safety of treatment by individualizing it, has benefitted in financial terms too. Available information indicates that ‘personalized medicine’ will ultimately be cost-effective in healthcare systems. This would also eliminate the need for various assumptions in the process of diagnosing a disease.
Thus, conventional pharma marketing based on the mostly segmentation strategy used for blockbuster molecules may not work for a ‘personalized medicine’. Instead, ‘personalized marketing, focused on smaller and exclusive markets – identified based on robust research and analytical data, will be the name of the new game for business excellence in this specialized area.
Thus, I reckon, as we move ahead, ‘made-to-measure’ marketing will no doubt be one of the key success requirements to make ‘made-to-measure’ medicines’ – a money spinner.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.