Tapping new tech helps marketers matchmake rare disease drugs for elusive patients

Rare disease treatments continue to be a hot area for drug developers, with the global market predicted to grow from $161.4 billion in 2020 to more than $547 billion by the start of the next decade.

But rare diseases are just that—rare—so marketing drugs to treat them can be a challenge. 

A mass media campaign to pitch a product that’s relevant to a relatively small group of people dispersed around the globe would be wildly inefficient, not to mention costly. 

Yet finding patients (and their doctors) who might benefit from targeted messaging about a specialty treatment can be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The gold mine of data that’s become available in recent years and technology like artificial intelligence can help, said Chris Paquette, CEO of DeepIntent, a marketing technology company founded by data scientists from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. But he said rare disease drug marketers also need to think differently about how they use the data.

“We need to market to what’s coming, rather than what’s been in the past,” he said.  

Typically, drug marketers have used data to find doctors who frequently prescribe a med and then reached out to them by sending a sales rep or, increasingly during the pandemic, by pushing more promotional content their way digitally.

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But DeepIntent and other tech marketing companies have been using AI to help rare disease drug companies reach doctors proactively, when they’re expected to see patients who might need their treatments.

“We look at a provider’s schedule of appointments coming up with patients through different sets of data that we have access to, and then we marry that back to clinical data about those patients in a privacy-safe way,” he said. 

Engaging patients directly is trickier, of course, but AI and data analytics can help rare disease drug marketers with that, too, said Paquette. The key is “dialing down” the machine learning power of the technology so ads can be targeted without running afoul of HIPAA and invading patients’ privacy. 

So rather than pushing an ad to a specific rare disease patient, DeepIntent's technology identifies groups with shared demographics that make them more likely to have the condition and then targets the ads to that audience, he explained.

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Paquette wouldn’t name specific pharma partners, but said the company works with “nine of the top 10 pharma manufacturers” and helped one rare disease drug maker steer potential patients to its disease management app for hereditary angioedema.

“The idea here is that we want to educate the patient as soon as they’re diagnosed with the condition. If you don’t do that, it’s a missed opportunity,” he said. It’s also helpful for rare disease patients, he said, many of whom go years without being diagnosed or are living without the hope of an effective treatment.

Industry watchers told Fierce Pharma Marketing in a 2022 forecast story last month that they expect more pharma marketers will use AI to advertise to niche audiences this year. Another marketing tech firm, OptimizeRX, has also been helping rare disease drug makers find doctors whose patients may be eligible for their treatments by using AI to find predictive patterns in insurance claims data.