Less selling, more science can best help doctors navigate complex new cancer treatments, report suggests

The future of cancer drug marketing will be about helping oncologists understand the complexities of precision medicine and how new advances in targeted therapies can help their specific patients.

That means drug companies will need to focus less on the selling and more on the science. And they’ll need real-world data to prove their drugs work as well in the “messy setting of everyday life” as they do in the clinic, a new Accenture survey of 120 oncologists in the U.S. and Germany suggests.

“The clinical trials that are the basis for your promotional materials—those are just your ticket to play,” said André Dahinden, a managing director of global precision oncology in Accenture’s Life Sciences division. Oncologists are asking, “What do these medicines really do in reality?”

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The report found 65% of oncologists want pharma reps to be able to discuss real-world data with them; more than half (51%) said they “will need more discussion” on real-world data from reps in the future.

The report also suggests machine-assisted decision-making, where technology is employed to match patients with suitable treatments, will increasingly trump sales reps when it comes to doctors' cancer drug decisions.

When asked what will shape treatment decisions 10 years from now, 66% of oncologists picked “technology-driven recommendations based on data,” more than scientific societies (57%), discussions with peers and key opinion leaders (26%) and interactions with sales reps (23%).

“I think that’s very remarkable and has very big implications for pharmaceutical companies,” said Dahinden.

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When it comes to how oncologists want to get their information, 90% chose either face-to-face or virtual meetings with pharma—with the preferred format depending on the reason for the meeting. And, unless they're discussing a specific patient, they overwhelmingly prefer to meet in groups.

Smartphone- or tablet-based apps also ranked highly, with 88% of oncologists preferring those channels, while the least-preferred channels were websites (56%), print (35%) and out-of-office meetings like medical congresses (27%).

Based on the survey, the report suggests pharma companies should think about adding science-savvy employees to their customer-facing teams as well as creating a network of experts and peers with varying levels of expertise that doctors can tap for information.

With the number of cancer drugs and drug combinations growing exponentially, it’s less likely a single sales rep can answer all of a doctor’s questions, said Dahinden. The need for more scientific guidance is especially true for community practice oncologists, who are working outside the realm of specialized cancer centers, he added.

Dahinden calls it “ecosystem solutioning" versus a marketed-oriented approach where the best-promoted brand wins.

“You’re enabling [doctors] to apply precision oncology rather than just pushing medicines promotionally.”