Pharma can no longer rely on traditional sales and marketing to launch new drugs: report

Most pharma drug launches over the past three years have “underperformed expectations” and show the need for a major change in thinking about how to sell and market new meds.

That’s according to a new report, "Empowering the Next-Generation Launch Model," out by life science consultants Trinity Life Sciences, which shows 62% of drug launches between September 2019 and December 2021 “underperformed expectations.”

These launches have not kept up with the “dramatic shifts” in scientific innovation over the last decade, the report found.

“No longer can life sciences companies rely on the traditional sales and marketing approaches to launching new products,” Leslie Orne, president and chief commercial officer of Trinity Life Sciences, said in a statement. “Commercial teams need to be in lockstep with the innovation that is happening on the development side—it is time to re-think and revolutionize the commercial model.”

COVID has also had a clear impact on launches. In terms of timing, the report's focus coincides largely with the start of the pandemic disruption in early 2020. The Trinity team, however, said the pandemic merely “exposed and exacerbated challenges” on the road to launches and that these challenges had been emerging prior to the crisis.

The rate of underperformance can be attributed to many factors, but Trinity found it mainly reflects “a failure to employ innovative strategies to effectively engage patients, providers and payers throughout both clinical development and commercialization.”

The report’s authors say the “ingrained conventional wisdom” indicates the overall success of a drug launch is determined in the six months following approval, something that has in turn shaped stakeholders’ expectations.

Instead, companies should plan more time for initial uptake and develop a go-to-market strategy that recognizes an extended (and more sustainable) early period of sales growth, the report says.

Pharma companies should not be dissuaded from pursuing opportunities that may “require greater patience” in the initial one to two years post-launch to “reap substantial rewards in the many years that follow.” And investors should be prepared to fund a company “well past the initial launch phase” before profitability can be achieved, the report says.

Lastly, companies should prepare a “robust [return on investment] assessment” to prioritize customer targets and right-size a field team, Trinity says.

“This feeds into a forecast that will serve as a reliable foundation for planning commercial activities and that will allow leadership teams to set realistic expectations with investors ahead of launch.”