Changing – The Key Differentiator To Boost Pharma Market Share

Health problems, affecting populations of any country, are many. So are the issues related to the delivery of effective health care solution, that most patients would consider satisfying and meaningful. From this perspective, prevention, treatment and effectively managing any disease is basically a problem-solving situation, for all, as we see around.

Interestingly, an ailment, per se, may not necessarily be the only problem that needs to be solved by a doctor, hospital or a pharma company with its drugs. Other associated factors, playing a key role in the process of patients’ search for a meaningful solution – could often post to be tougher barriers in finding the solution. Therefore, patients’ problem during any disease treatment process, is much more than the disease or availability of required drugs.

Consequently, it is very important for all, especially the pharma marketers, to properly understand what these specific influencing factors are, for each patient-groups or types, if not each patient. Obviously, it would call for generation of relevant data to precisely define the problem, or a set of problems, as the patients feel and envisage. Conversely, these problems should not be defined by the company, based mostly on gut feel, just as it’s so difficult to fathom how another person would feel in a distressing situation. Thus, the need to chart a strategic roadmap to provide a solution to those problems will arise only thereafter.

In pharma context, there are several critical elements in this problem-solving process. However, in this article, I shall focus only on two areas. As these could provide a cutting edge, if used in creative ways by drug manufacturers in arresting patients’ and other stakeholders’ attention on this crucial process.

Three critical elements to the problem-solving process:

Among several others, I reckon, the following three elements would play critical roles in the problem-solving process that is specific to the pharma industry:

  • The mindset to follow the problem-solving approach with all sincerity.
  • Communicate the problem-solving process in a creative way to patients and others.
  • Walk the talk, earning patients’ delight and enhancing the corporate reputation.

Since, the third element, although very important, is involved with the strategic roadmap of the organization, let me discuss here the first two elements to justify the need for this stratagem.

The key differentiators are changing:

A clear shift is underway that will influence what drug will be prescribed and the treatment process that individual patients would prefer.

Not so long ago, and to a large extent even today, one of the key differentiators to sell high price patented products used to be the narrative of ‘billions of dollars’ of investments that go behind time-intensive and high-risk R&D. Nevertheless, this age-old recital now finds lesser and lesser number of takers, largely within patient groups.

Alongside, run several other product-centric differentiators, such as claims and counterclaims on technological and clinical superiority, or how a new drug prolongs life of some cancer patients by a few months over other drugs. These are the old workhorse of differentiators, which are just not enough to increase brand market share, in today’s fast-changing environment.

Brand differentiating factors should reach much beyond the product:

As more patients are getting increasingly interested in their personal health interests and rights, the differentiating factors should reach much beyond products. Some drug companies are already sensing that more patients have started looking for a desired and effective solution, whenever they face a health-related problem. Accordingly, the ability of a pharma player to provide a custom-made solution, as it were, to patients, is emerging as a crucial differentiating factor. This has immense potential to boost the brand market share faster.

Let me underscore, yet again, that this change is surfacing due to changing demands of patients in this area. Thus, soon pharma companies would require shifting their focus from product-centric brand differentiation to patient-centric ones, with problem-solving offerings for patients in creative ways.

Communicate the problem-solving offerings in creative ways to patients:

That the core purpose of pharma business is to prevent, cure or effectively manage illness, is known to many. However, that doesn’t explain one critical parameter that patients now value most. This is, how a drug company provides effective solution to specific health problems of individuals – making the company’s product and services most meaningful to him or her.

Encouragingly, some top pharma advertising companies dealing with pharma, healthcare and wellness products, have started advising so, to their respective clients, as reported by Fierce Pharma on June 17, 2019.

One such ad agency honcho said: “The reality is that pharma and health are closer to doing good anyway, that’s just part of what they do.  Looking for opportunities to serve the patient in a creative way is what we need to do in pharma as well, not just, ‘let’s go and sell this drug.’ Admitting the current issues with most pharma players, he further articulated: “But there’s a huge trust gap because people think pharma companies are just out to make money. The more they can do that supports their customer base, which is patients, the more quickly we’ll erode that.”

As reported in the same article, this advice was given to the pharma industry at the Cannes Pharma Lions Awards function on June 17, 2019. It is one of those top award functions, where one gets to know about the best creative communications of pharma and health care companies, designed to facilitate understanding and awareness on various health problem-solving processes for patients.

An interesting platform to know about pharma’s problem-solving offerings:

One of the well-respected platforms where one can witness creative and innovative communications in the pharma industry, is during Cannes Pharma Lions Awards. This ‘is considered the largest gathering of the advertising and thecreative communications industry. The five-day festival, incorporating the awarding of the Lions awards, is held yearly at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes, France.’

New age creative pharma communication, bringing science and innovation to life, compete in the Pharma Lions award functions. These facilitate not only disease awareness – both mitigation or management, diagnosis and patient’s-need-based prescriptions, but also add value while engaging with healthcare professional and patients, more effectively.

Some of the entries vindicate that creativity in pharma communications has started moving ahead and faster than expected, with special focus on patients’ problem-solving. As an illustration, let me cite the example of top Pharma Lions Winner at Cannes 2019.

GlaxoSmithKline GSK) and its ad agency McCann Health picked up this coveted award in pharma advertising with a mobile application called Breath of Life. This is a diagnostic tool for COPD developed for GSKand is aimed at raising awareness and increasing diagnoses of the disease in China. COPD affects an estimated 100m adults in China, but only around 7 percent is properly diagnosed, as the report highlights.

Now, an example from the wellness area:

This specific approach for a Vitamin D fortified dairy product, is also equally innovative, as quoted in the above Fierce Pharma article. Many may be aware that Vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon in India – 80 percent of children in Delhi, reportedly, suffer from this deficiency. The manufacturing company launched its campaign in schools to move the traditional, outdoor morning assembly to noon, when brief sun exposure could have a big effect on vitamin D levels. The campaign invited schools to a launch event, providing a solution to the problem of Vitamin D deficiency in children. The idea clicked with excellent media coverage.

As the ad agency said: “We didn’t make a TV commercial or run print ads. We looked at a problem and how we could solve it and showed that the brand cares about kids.” Nevertheless, he added, make no mistake, it was also an ad, which made parents want to buy the brand.

India and Cannes Lions Awards in health and pharma categories:

The good news is, Indian companies are also participating to showcase their creative communication skills, in problem-solving areas of health, wellness and pharma domain. Although, one doesn’t find the names of any large domestic pharma players in the list,  India had put up a good show by bagging a total of four awards, including a gold, two silvers and a bronze in the health and pharma categories on Day 1 of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, in 2018.

In the years ahead, one hopes that Indian drug manufacturers will show greater interest in this area, to sharpen their critical differentiating tool in disease awareness, brand marketing focused on problem-solving for patients, who search for an appropriate solution while addressing a disease condition.

Is pharma in search of a different approach?

Instances, such as, Cannes Pharma Lions Award, indicate that an increasing number of pharma players have, at least, started recognizing that old ways of differentiating brands, would no longer fetch desired outcomes, as patients’ mindsets are changing – fast. Patients’ outlook for prevention, treatment and managing chronic ailments are also changing – empowered by a plethora of unlimited free information – as and when they require.

Accordingly, drug companies who are partnering with creative pharma ad agencies are being persuaded more to look for a radically different approach to be on the same page with their customers. It also requires the top management mindset to be in sync with this fundamental change, inviting full commitment from all. The new communication package, then becomes a fine blend of top-class creative inputs and modern technology platforms for delivery. The core purpose is to effectively connect with patients, doctors, hospitals and governments, being an integral part of their problem-solving process in health care.


The article titled, ‘Solving Problems Is More Important Than Selling Your Differentiators,’ published in Forbes on June 14, 2018, highlighted a very important point. It wrote, if a company keeps zeroing in on its traditional brand differentiator, as discussed above, the business is likely to miss out on potential new customers and the revenue they could bring with them.It then elaborated: ‘The real trick to getting noticed comes down to shifting your focus. It’s not about you. And it’s definitely not about you versus them. It’s all about solving problems and evoking the right emotions.’

The short list of Cannes Pharma Lions Awards, signals that this process has just begun, but yet to gain a critical mass within the industry. In this area, as yet another head honcho puts it: “Given the shortlist for the Innovation Lions, you can already see a trend where agencies have focused on making work that impacts patient lives on a day-to-day basis, through more meaningful use of technology for practical and life-changing purposes.”

Thus, it is important for new age pharma marketers to note that their business environment is changing – faster than ever before. The traditional brand differentiators, however much honed, may not fetch desired increase in the market share, in the future.

The new crucial differentiator in this area, isthe ability of a pharma player to conceive, design, provide and effectively communicate, virtually a custom-made disease treatment solution to patients. Equally important is the skill to communicate this ‘problem-solving process’ to the target audience in creative ways, for top of mind recall, at least, the company’s name. In turn, it would also facilitate the prescriber choosing a company’s brand, that rings a bell to the patient. And that’s the new way for pharma marketers to boost their brand market share, faster.

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.


Pharmaceutical innovation and Public Health Interest: Ways to achieving the dual objectives

Healthcare industry in general and the pharmaceutical sector in particular have been experiencing  a plethora of innovations not only to cure and effectively manage ailments to improve the quality of life, but also to help increasing overall disease-free life expectancy of the population with various types of treatment and disease management options. Unfortunately despite all these, over half the global population is still denied of basic healthcare needs and support.

A 2011 official estimate of the current world population reads as 6.93 billion. Out of which over three billion live with a subsistence of less than US$ 2 per day. Another billion population is surviving on even less than US$ 1 per day. According to published reports around 18 million people die from poverty-related causes across the world, every year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that over a billion population of the world still suffer from neglected tropical diseases.

On February 3, 2012, quoting a ‘World Bank and PwC report’, ‘The Economic Times’ reported that “70% of Indians spend all their income on healthcare and buying drugs.”

In a situation like this, challenges that the governments and the civil society are facing in many developing and to some extent even in some developed countries (although for different reasons), are multi-factoral. It has been well established that the humongous global healthcare challenges are mostly of economic origin.

In such a scenario, ongoing heated debate on innovation, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and public health interest keeps gaining momentum all over the globe and has still remained unabated.

Argumentative Indians have also got caught in this raging debate. I reckon rightly so, as India is not only the largest democracy of the world contributing 16.7% of the global population, it is also afflicted with 21% of the global burden of disease. Thus, the reason for similar heated debate in our country is indeed no brainer to any one.

Thorny issues:

One of the thorny issues in this debate is the belief that huge R&D budgets of the global pharmaceutical companies are worked out without any consideration of relative value of such investments to the vast majority of population in our society, across the world. These thought leaders argue, as the poor cannot pay for the expensive innovative drugs, they are mostly denied of the fruits of pharmaceutical innovation in their battle against diseases.

These experts also say that safeguards built into the patent system in form of compulsory licenses are not usually broad enough to improve access to innovative medicines to a larger section of the society, whenever required.

In addition, they point out that wide scope of patent grants in areas of early fundamental research, quite often is strategically leveraged by the patentee to block further R&D in related areas without significant commercial considerations to them. Such a situation comes in the way of affordable innovative drug development for public health interest, when need arises.

Inadequate access to medicines in India:

The key issue in the country is even more complicated. Inadequate or lack of access to modern medicines reportedly impacts around 50% of our population. It is intriguing to fathom, why has the nation not been able to effectively address the challenge of access to relatively affordable high quality generic medicines to the deprived population of the society over a period of so many decades?

Thus IPR in no way be considered as the reason for poor access, at least, to generic medicines, especially in India. Neither, it is the reason for inadequate availability of affordable essential medicines for the diseases of the poor.

The key reason, as is widely believed, is inadequate focus on the deprived population to address their public health concerns by the government.

Pharmaceutical innovation and the burden of disease:

A study  titled, ‘Pharmaceutical innovation and the burden of disease in developing and developed countries’ of Columbia University and National Bureau of Economic Research, to ascertain the relationship across diseases between pharmaceutical innovation and the burden of disease both in the developed and developing countries, reported that pharmaceutical innovation is positively related to the burden of disease in the developed countries but not so in the developing countries.

The most plausible explanation for the lack of a relationship between the burden of disease in the developing countries and pharmaceutical innovation, as pointed out by the study, is weak incentives for firms to develop medicines for the diseases of the poor.

A healthy debate:

Many experts argue that greater focus on the development of new drugs for the diseases of the poor, should not be considered as the best way to address and eradicate such diseases in the developing countries. On the contrary, strengthening basic healthcare infrastructure along with education and the means of transportation from one place to the other could improve general health of the population of the developing world quite dramatically.

However, another school of experts think very differently. In their opinion, health infrastructure projects are certainly very essential elements of achieving longer-term health objectives of these countries, but in the near term, millions of unnecessary deaths in the developing countries can be effectively prevented by offering more innovative drugs at affordable prices to this section of the society.

Creation of IGWG by WHO:

Responding to the need of encouraging pharmaceutical innovation without losing focus on public health interest, in 2006 the ‘World Health Organization (WHO)‘ created the ‘Inter-governmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG)‘. The primary focus of IGWG is on promoting sustainable, needs-driven pharmaceutical R&D for the diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries.

‘Reward Fund’ for innovation and access – an idea:

A paper  titled, “Optional reward for new drug for developing countries” published by the Department of Economics, University of Calgary, Institute of Health Economics, proposed an optional reward fund for pharmaceutical innovation aimed at the developing world to the pharmaceutical companies, which would develop new drugs while ensuring their adequate access to the poor. The paper suggests that innovations with very high market value will use the existing patent system, as usual. However, the medicines with high therapeutic value but low market potential would be encouraged to opt for the optional reward system.

It was proposed that the optional reward fund should be created by the governments of the developed countries and charitable institutions to ensure a novel way for access to innovative medicines by the poor.

The positive effects of the debate:

One positive effect of this global debate is that some global pharmaceutical companies like Novartis, GSK and AstraZeneca have initiated their R&D activities for the neglected tropical diseases of the world like, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

Many charitable organizations like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Clinton Foundation are allocating huge amount of funds for this purpose.

On January 30, 2012, on behalf of the research-based pharmaceutical industry, Geneva based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) by a Press Release  announced donations of 14 billion treatments in this decade to support elimination or control of nine key Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

Without creating much adverse impact on pharmaceutical innovation ecosystem of the country, the Government of India is also gradually increasing its resource allocation to address the issue of public health, which is still less than adequate as of now.

All these newer developments and initiatives are definitely ushering in an era of positive change for a grand co-existence of pharmaceutical innovation and public health interest of the country, slow and gradual though, but surely a change for the better.

Innovation helps to improve public health:

In India, various stakeholders of the pharmaceutical industry feel that there is a need to communicate more on how innovation and IPR help rather than hinder public health. Some initiatives have already been taken in this direction with the pioneering ‘patent pool’ initiative of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Europe and ‘Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD)’ by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) of the Government of India.

The pace needs to be accelerated:

The pace of achieving the dual objectives of fostering pharmaceutical innovation without losing focus on public health has to be accelerated, though progress is being slowly made in these areas through various initiatives. Additional efforts are warranted for sustainability of these initiatives, which have not yet gained the status of robust and sustainable work models.

However in India, the government in power should shoulder the key responsibility garnering all resources to develop and implement ‘Universal Health Coverage’ through appropriate innovative healthcare reform measures. Such steps will help achieving the country its national goal of providing affordable healthcare to all.

At the same time, creation of a variant of ‘reward fund’ to encourage smaller pharmaceutical players of India to pursue pharmaceutical innovation needs to be considered expeditiously. This will help encouraging pharmaceutical innovation in a big way within the country.

Address the basic issue of poverty:

It is a well-accepted fact that the price is one of the key determinants to improve access to modern medicines to a vast majority of the population. However, the moot question remains how does one make medicines more affordable by not addressing effectively the basic issue of general poverty in the country? Without appropriately resolving this issue, affordability of medicines will continue remain a vexing problem and a critical issue to address public health in India.


Innovation, as is widely acknowledged, is the wheel of progress of any nation. This wheel should move on… on and on with the fuel of IPR, which is an economic necessity of the innovator to make the innovation sustainable.

In the book titled, ‘Pharmaceutical Innovation: Revolutionizing Human Health‘ the authors have illustrated how science has provided an astonishing array of medicines to effectively cope with human ailments over the last 150 years.

Moreover, pharmaceutical innovation is a very expensive process and grant of patents to the innovators is an incentive of the government to them for making necessary investments towards R&D projects to meet unmet needs of the patients. The system of patent grants also contributes to society significantly by making freely available patented information to other scientists to improve upon the existing innovation through non-infringing means.

Altruism, especially in the arena of public health, may be demanded by many for various considerations. Unfortunately, that is not how the economic model of pharmaceutical innovation and IPR works globally. Accepting this global reality, the civil society should deliberate on how innovation and IPR can best be used, in a sustainable manner for public health interest, especially for the marginalized section of the society.

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.