Novartis leans into digital for mid-pandemic lung cancer launch

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Novartis was already digitizing its sales and marketing. But the outbreak—coupled with a recent OK for targeted lung cancer med Tabrecta—has the company hitting fast forward.

“We were already on a journey in terms of our commercial model where digital and other channels and virtual detailing were becoming a bigger part of our mix,” Ameet Mallik, executive vice president at Novartis Oncology U.S., said.

And the Swiss drugmaker will be leaning on those channels after last week’s Tabrecta approval in patients with MET exon 14 skipping mutations. The Big Pharma is planning an omnichannel digital launch that’s “very sensitive of the world we’re going through and the extra burden that’s put on physicians and patients” as the pandemic continues, Mallik said.

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With that in mind, the rollout—which “won’t be traditional”—will be more of a “soft launch,” at least at the beginning. Novartis plans to reach out by email to alert doctors to the new therapy and give them the option to opt in to receive more info.

The company will also feature information on a beefed-up physician website, where doctors will be able to “get much more than they could typically get.” There, they can request a sales rep contact, too.

“Initially, it will be a light touch, but over time it will get more proactive,” Mallik said of the launch.

While the pandemic will obviously affect Novartis’ plans, that impact won’t necessarily be negative. The way Mallik sees it, there are some downsides to in-person detailing that won’t be an issue this time around.

“We want to make sure we’re engaging at the time physicians actually want, in the way they want, with the content they want, and you can’t always do that face to face,” he said. Now, “we have an opportunity with this product to really move fully there.”