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Reshaping pharmaceutical marketing, not using the heirloom box
Faced with the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus, the pharmaceutical industry is facing several contemporary challenges. The pharmaceutical business has been affected by a stable and lasting transformation process since the beginning of the Sars-Cov2 pandemic declaration, which I have not hesitated to call "the new normal" since March 2020.
In this article I will discuss some of the issues that reshape its contours, I will try to outline the main effects of this impact in my particular area of interest which is pharma marketing in Italy.
While other companies are faced with recent - and now consolidated - changes in distribution lines, consumer communication processes, changes in the value chain, reorganisation of corporate structures, to name but a few, pharmaceutical companies are faced with other key challenges from which opportunities or failures may emerge.
The first is the consequent process of research and development of all lines of drugs, supplements, medical devices related to the treatment of diseases and the containment of the spread of the virus.
The large multinationals, some of them also thanks to government aid, have set up research and development processes on various lines and not only on injectable vaccines: will these huge investments have positive developments? And, above all, when the products are ready for the market, will the therapeutic demand still exist?
Pharmaceutical companies focus their research and development efforts on diseases and therapeutic areas that have been affecting the population for some time, and often work on diseases that are expected to affect an increasing number of patients. The most interesting areas to invest in are therefore not those related to a disease that has suddenly arisen.
This area of challenge is, in fact, reserved for those companies that have been able to compete in this arena and can rely on accelerated authorisation processes. And apart from a few supplements and devices that we can imagine have had a peak in consumption, I would say that even in the event of a circulation of the virus in the population for the next few years, it is not conceivable to envisage investments that directly operate on the treatment of Covid-19, or for the secondary consequences of the disease, for prevention or for increasing the immune response.
We can see that in recent years successful launches have declined relative to pipeline pressure due to government restrictions on pricing, increasing expectations of therapies from physicians and patients, and intensifying competition in key areas. Making a new launch has become a real challenge. The phenomenon of new product launches being interrupted or postponed in recent quarters should be kept under close observation.
As has been noted in many quarters, while the pandemic has accelerated many processes in a stable manner, it has also slowed down many others in the health sector. The decrease in diagnostics and prevention during the crucial months of the crisis has certainly led to a need to make up for lost time. Or, the decrease in attention to the treatment of chronic diseases, such as diabetes for example, or cardiological diseases, has been shown to have led to a number of patients not being treated adequately, and today, where possible, this is being remedied by catching up with waiting lines. Many patients have not been treated properly, prevention has stalled, some diseases have not been diagnosed, and some diseases have reduced their prevalence.
This is leading to different choices for companies: to finally carry out the planned launch with the current delay and difficulties, to postpone the launch or even to postpone it until a later date. From the analysis of the data available to date, about half of the launches have been postponed and this is affecting, among other factors, financial performance and expectations, which analysts have lowered. In view of the enormous costs of research and development, the pressures already built into strategic plans, and the demand for new products by marketers, companies are moving, where possible, to launch products anyway, even though they are aware that the scenario in which this takes place and will take place has totally changed. Now, however, it is clear that if the strategic horizon has changed and, worse, the landscape of pharma marketing in Italy has changed, then our decisions absolutely must change accordingly, or else we will be burning with failure.
My view is that new product launches in recent years, as mentioned above, had underperformed because the landscape was already changing. And that this change was confirmed by the development of new models of communication and information and that the transformation induced by the pandemic has only accelerated.
Everything has changed, we must be aware of that. If before the muscular model, one size fits all, in continuity with the past, you don't change what works, was substantially based on information pressure, and from this, with an empirical and approximate but basically valid equation, you could derive sales over time, today all this must simply be boxed up and put in the attic among the heirlooms. A box of memories of times gone by, nothing more, a remedy that has become obsolete and is now also potentially dangerous.