Unconventional Channels for OTC in Hungary: The Path Less Traveled

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Smaller pharma companies in Hungary are looking to new unconventional methods of OTC promotion to sidestep the country’s somewhat restrictive reimbursement scheme and compete with major players in the market.

Especially in a market where the reimbursement scheme is highly restrictive, OTC has often been seen as a consistent and reliable area for pharmaceutical companies to drive growth, a trend further driven by a worldwide push for more affordable and accessible medicines. For Swedish specialty pharma company Meda, consumer health has been a pivotal medium to level the playing field against a backdrop stiff generic competition and diminishing prices for innovative products. “When I joined Meda in 2008, that was the period when an influx of generics starting entering the market,” recounts the general manager of Meda Hungary Dr. Laszlo Gaspar. “Many originator products were faced with significant generic competition, causing the average prices of drugs, and in turn, total market value for specialty therapeutics to decline by 50 or 60 percent. Needless to say, it was a challenging market for innovators to unlock value and drive growth, which was why we decided to shift our focus to OTC.”

However, in order to effectively compete against the more dominant players in this segment who have much bigger balance sheets, Meda has chosen to tap into more unconventional channels for OTC promotion. “Given our relatively limited promotional budget at the time, we identified several non-Rx products in our OTC portfolio with the most growth opportunities and began promoting them to doctors—circumventing the traditional direct-to-consumer campaigns. Aside from persuading doctors to endorse the products, we had to convince pharmacies to stock them, while also generating patient demand,” details Gaspar.

Although quite intensive, especially when dealing with products that typically exhibit much faster turnover than Rx, but without the added price premiums, this specifically tailored approach—much in tune with the organization’s lean decision-making process and flat hierarchy—eventually served the affiliate well, with revenues roughly tripling in the span of 8 years.

“Of course, many of these big players could also pursue a similar tactic,” contends Gaspar. “But it’s simply not in their interest to spend so much time and resources on promoting only a handful of targeted products, when they can go through DTC companies to have a much broader impact and influence. For us, we have an extremely nimble and capable sales team that focuses solely on emphasizing the added medical value in our products to doctors on a one-on-one basis.”

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