US Execs on Product Launch Strategies during COVID-19: Digital Uptake, Agility, New Modes of Stakeholder Interaction

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With COVID-19 having wreaked havoc on global operations, the pharma industry is understandably focused on leveraging its collective resources and knowhow in discovering and delivering prophylactics and therapeutics against the novel coronavirus. However, even as great strides have been made on that front, companies have to continue delivering their existing portfolios to waiting patients while managing operational and supply chain constraints. For a number of companies ‘lucky’ enough to receive product approvals during the pandemic, they face an even more uphill battle when it comes to orchestrating successful product launches in light of various quarantine and social distancing restrictions. PharmaBoardroom spoke to a number of US pharma leaders regarding how they are tackling this conundrum.

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With change, you either lean into it and see it as an opportunity – disruption can be a time where you create that competitive advantage for the future – or you hunker down and hope it goes away

Ameet Mallik, Novartis Oncology

 

Ameet Mallik, EVP and Head of US at Novartis Oncology, cites their lung cancer, Tabrecta®, approved in May, as an exemplar. He outlines, “it had to be a completely virtual launch, even internally. A lot of our engagement with physicians is happening virtually. We needed enhanced websites that are much more educational. We recently launched a Twitter livestream, which is a really novel way to provide peer-to-peer education. We are trying many different things and tactics, and we are learning a lot from these experiences.” More philosophically, he reflects, “with change, you either lean into it and see it as an opportunity – disruption can be a time where you create that competitive advantage for the future – or you hunker down and hope it goes away.”

 

It certainly helps that Novartis embarked on a dramatic digital transformation since CEO Vas Narasimhan took over at the helm in 2018. Mallik points out, “even before COVID-19, the pharmaceuticals business model was already starting to shift. Looking at the last three years, we have increased the number of products in our portfolio without having to expand our sales force. We have increased digital spend in the US more than three-fold in the last two years. We were already on a digital journey and as I look towards the future, that pace of change is only accelerating. Moving forward, digital will become a much bigger part of our operations.”

 

A number of ideas that made the launch possible came from the field as we listened to people on the ground who are closest to our customers. It was great to see the energy and creativity behind this virtual launch

Christopher Posner, LEO Pharma

 

LEO Pharma EVP of Region US Christopher Posner cited the willingness to listen to his teams on the ground as a critical success factor for the relaunch of their rosacea product in April, which had previously been out-of-stock for about a year. “Given the pandemic, we decided to launch the product virtually. A number of ideas that made the launch possible came from the field as we listened to people on the ground who are closest to our customers. It was great to see the energy and creativity behind this virtual launch. I am also proud of my leadership team for being able to pivot and make decisions quickly. After two months, the launch has exceeded our expectations.” For him, the key takeaway from this experience was the “need to remain agile and committed to our mission while incorporating new tools and technologies to continue engaging with our stakeholders.”

 

The stakes are even higher for LFB USA. As CEO Jose Antonio Moreno Toscano shares, “the new chapter of LFB USA begun with the 1 April 2020 approval of Sevenfact®, our new recombinant coagulation Factor VIIa, for the treatment and control of bleeding episodes occurring in adults and adolescents 12 years of age and older with Hemophilia A or B with inhibitors,” adding, “as you can imagine, we are currently in full launch preparations and it is an intense period.”

 

We have been interacting with KOLs and patient associations for quite some time now in anticipation of Sevenfact®’s approval. The objective now is about reinforcing those existing relationships

Jose Antonio Moreno Toscano, LFB

 

For him, COVID-19 does pose a challenge but not an insurmountable one. Antonio highlights, “many medical congresses have either been postponed or moved online but we are endeavouring to participate as much as we can. In addition, accessing doctors and forming relationships with them would be a little different, both for patients, who are reducing their visits to doctors and hospitals and for commercial sales teams, who are used to speaking to doctors and other healthcare practitioners face-to-face.” Nevertheless, LFB USA is in a strong position due to ample and early preparations. Antonio previews, “through HEMA Biologics [their JV in the US responsible for commercializing Sevenfact®], we have been interacting with KOLs and patient associations for quite some time now in anticipation of Sevenfact®’s approval. The objective now is about reinforcing those existing relationships.”

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