ASCO's hot marketing topics: Real-world data, competition and differentiation, analyst says

ASCO 2019 sign outside McCormick Place
ASCO isn't just data crunching and drug hopeful presentations. Attendees also talk cancer drug market opportunities and challenges. (Amirah Al Idrus)

It's all about the clinical data at ASCO, right? The headlines might suggest that's so, but oncologists and pharma types are talking about more than that in the hallways and over drinks—and pharma marketers might have wanted to eavesdrop.

The buzz has been around real-world data, competitive overload, and differentiation in the more-crowded-than-ever next-gen immuno-oncology field, according to ZS analyst and principal Jon Roffman who’s been canvassing trends at the meeting.

Doctors want real-world data, but they want it from multiple sources and pooled together for easy analysis. Data from beyond their own health systems, for instance, that would help inform off-label use and tweak prescribing practices, he said. Hospital systems and networks often maintain real-world databases, but they're generally siloed and not shareable.

“For pharma companies, when customers are dealing with patients who may not perfectly fit the protocol of a study or may not be able to tolerate the dosing or regimen that’s been approved, enabling doctors with access to medical information derived from real-world data that will help them make decisions that are right for each of their patients, is an unmet need,” Roffman said.

The other potential upside for pharma in real-world data is its potential use for new indications. Pfizer's breast cancer drug Ibrance, for instance, recently nabbed an additional FDA approval to treat men, based mainly on real-world evidence.

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Then there's the challenge of comparing and contrasting multiple drugs in the same class—and with many pipelines filled with similar drugs, that problem will only continue. More than 1,000 CAR-T or cell therapies are now in development, with about half targeting CD-19, Roffman said.

So, it's not surprising talk also centered on competition and differentiation. While clinical data is one way to differentiate, Roffman said, the sometimes-subtle differences among treatments and the sheer number of in-class potential therapies are pushing drugmakers to think about other ways to make products stand out. 

Stepping up on services can help, he said, namely, creating seamless experiences with clear guidelines, good physician communication and patient support. The message for drugmakers? Bringing a therapy to market only gets you part of the way there—showing and proving your product is different is now necessary to maximize uptake.

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Overall, the change Roffman notes over the past year years attending ASCO is the shift from discussing how immunotherapies work to how to identify and predict which drugs will work best for which patients.

“While we’ve done a good job convincing the marketplace that immunotherapies work, there’s probably a lot that manufacturers can do to still help them predict which patients it’s going to work in better. That’s where a lot of the interest and excitement is,” Roffman said.