How Today’s Specialty Medicines are Driving the Future of Engagement


The rise of niche therapies is shaping a more tailored engagement model, driven by data and AI, writes Florian Schnappauf, vice president of enterprise commercial strategy at Veeva Europe.


Last year, orphan drugs accounted for more than a third of Europe’s new drug approvals, and the number of gene therapies more than doubled. Launches with specialty care indications are swelling drug pipelines, highlighting the need for early diagnosis and customised treatment plans.

Because patient populations for these medicines are smaller, healthcare professionals (HCPs) are also looking for more in-depth, timely information about specialised therapies. Biopharmas need to tailor their engagement strategy further to connect HCPs with the timely resources they need most.

Field teams that use technology and data-driven insights are able to reach customers in a more personalised way. Precision data is helping pinpoint the path forward to engage key communities and understand market potential ahead of launch. Advances in technology from on-demand digital channels to artificial intelligence (AI) are also helping bring niche therapies to market faster. Leveraging new ways to educate the right HCPs in a timely way will be key to delivering better patient outcomes.


Data and insights power precision engagement

For many conditions, especially complex and rare diseases, there isn’t one path to treatment. Patients typically see multiple providers across varied settings. By identifying and building relationships with key experts, digital opinion leaders, and community leaders before launch, field teams can drive greater awareness and education.

Access to key experts’ clinical and academic interests can help identify and educate the appropriate HCPs and key opinion leaders (KOLs) for a given therapy. Insight into their scientific activities across digital and scientific channels, like research, clinical trials, and congress attendance, provides a better understanding of where and how they engage with their community. Field teams can then focus conversations with specific leaders that help rare disease patients understand new treatments to drive better health outcomes.

With so few patients for a given product, biopharmas focused on these types of therapies also need to understand market access and prioritise field activity by HCP type, primary centre, and specialty. Once they understand the full ecosystem surrounding a treatment, field teams can tailor their launch plans and initiate valuable relationships with the right HCPs sooner.

End-to-end patient data can also be used to map the most common patient pathways from diagnosis to treatment. The old way of tracking down traditional prescriptions from pharmacies doesn’t work for complex therapies that are administered in hospital settings or rare diseases that don’t present definitive symptoms of a specific condition. To prioritise their engagement activities, biopharmas need to know which HCPs have the most appropriate patient visits and prescribing patterns that match the condition of the medicine.


A new state of on-demand engagement

Technology continues to impact the sector’s relationships with HCPs. Digital engagement has proven to be an effective complement to in-person meetings, helping field teams drive relevant and focused interactions. With more time in front of HCPs, field teams can effectively share complex, in-depth information on new specialty or rare disease therapies.

HCPs now rely on biopharmas to provide this content using compliant instant messaging, as well as video and email. Through these channels HCPs can reach out  directly to field teams with urgent questions or to request specific information. This pull model allows HCPs to engage through their preferred channels when it’s most convenient with the individuals they trust.

Interactions between biopharmas and HCPs are moving to a more service-centric model, as hybrid sales teams adjust to more varied and frequent communication.. This will evolve into a digital hub for effective case processing, content sharing, and call management, establishing an open and compliant line of communication for reps to serve as a resource.

Two-way communication will be part of the engagement mix moving forward. And the most successful field teams will build deep in-person and digital connections that ensure they are sought after and easy to reach, even when they’re not physically present.


Embracing AI for life sciences

Beyond the data, analytics, and communications tools, it’s no question that AI and natural language processing can play a unique role across drug development, manufacturing, and commercialisation. They have the potential to transform the way field teams engage with HCPs and help match targeted therapies to the right patients.

Getting AI right for a highly regulated sector means developing focused applications where the technology and use case is the correct fit. With the right ecosystem, biopharmas can use patient-first data to answer specific questions tied to their business needs. AI can serve field teams by quickly surfacing the information they need for relevant and timely conversations with customers.

Imagine a scenario where a customer relationship management (CRM) chatbot helps field teams to analyse volumes of data in real time, like a ChatGPT for biopharma. AI can equip field teams with deeper insights into their customers and key stakeholders in their wider ecosystem—for example, understanding a doctor’s patient population and patterns in treatment when preparing for a call. This could make a significant difference in specialty medicines by enabling reps to be even more effective in answering complex business questions and delivering HCPs key insights when they need it—all without sacrificing accuracy and compliance.


No margin for error

Biopharmas bringing complex therapies to market need to start with integrated data and real-time intelligence designed for their unique products, field strategy, and operations. In doing so, brands can gain accurate insights that open new possibilities and help reach HCPs more effectively.

Advances in two-way communication and AI also signal a shift in how the industry can address different needs across the entire value chain. Embracing these innovations responsibly and effectively will lead to more targeted education, improved conversations, and HCPs receiving precise information tailored to the patients they treat.

By leveraging a modern, data-driven engagement approach, field teams will shape a new future of customer relationships in life sciences. One that proactively meets HCP needs, all the while providing the depth and accuracy required to best support patients.

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