Each year, Industry publication Med Ad News addresses the important issues facing the pharmaceutical industry in their February Agenda issue. This year, Andrew Humphreys titles his article "Bigger, better, faster, more – Or, why 2016 might look a little different than 2015 for pharmaceutical marketers".
Based on the early returns, 2016 is looking like the supersize version of 2015 for pharma marketers, with a whole lot more of everything. With the presidential election just eight months away, the candidates are certainly talking more, presenting a smorgasboard of health care policies with potential impact that remains to be seen.
Drug pricing, an issue that’s been lurking inside the health care debate for a long time, has become much more prominent thanks to a few high-profile products and price jumps. Big data just keeps getting bigger, and marketers are beginning to find ways to convert it into actionable intelligence. Due to rising expectations from clients, marketing agencies are being forced to do more and know more about more.
Biosimilars are about to present one more headache to innovator brand managers already fed up with traditional small molecule generics. And the rising tide of technology means more new media – wearables in particular – are becoming a part of the lives of more patients.
Regarding pricing, many inside the industry are advocating internal action before government has a chance to drop the hammer. “Certainly new pricing models, more outcomes data and clearer value propositions should be driving pricing efforts, but at the end of the day, marketers should be working towards reasonable pricing as their target,” says Steve Stefano, managing director, Ashfield Market Access. “Patients should be able to have access to medicines that can help them. This is really the take-home message.”
Stefano notes many incidents in the recent past where pricing models, outcomes data, and value propositions did not support the kinds of price increases that companies took. “In my opinion, the current case of the former hedge fund manager, Martin Shkreli, artificially inflating the cost of an older drug has certainly highlighted a kind of inappropriate pricing which has tarred the whole industry with the same brush,” he says.
Payers on the private side, though, have succeeded in doing what the government has not yet been able to do: they are installing strict price controls within their contracts in response to the more egregious examples of pricing in the marketplace. “Definitely, if a new molecule commands a price, you should go for it,” Stefano says. “But it should still be the free market that drives the eventual price within the appropriate scale of magnitude. We need to leave behind the practices of those who have taken advantage and move towards a future where responsible pricing and responsible price increases are the norm.”
Ambient health monitoring technologies – “wearables” – have been making their presence felt in the consumer marketplace for some time now, and one can only expect their footprint to expand as the related technologies grow more powerful. Whether pharma will be able to take advantage of wearables, though, remains an open question.
“At this point, ambient technology is so fast-moving that the key is understanding, with each innovation, how does this help us provide value to the consumer or patient user?” asks David Moore, group director, Ashfield Healthcare Communications. “How does it help answer that fundamental question? Our end goal must be to improve patient lives and outcomes. Wearables may help us identify and focus on which conditions and individuals might best benefit. For one thing, they can help us make sure we have the right insights and partnerships with patients.”
As an example of this, Moore notes one of his company’s pharma client’s sponsorship of a large hackathon around ambient devices. It involved patient groups, a teaching university, tech experts, and HCPs. “We learned that ambient technologies offer an advantage only when they actually help in daily lives,” Moore says. “Think of it as the difference between observing something and actually changing it. It turned out, patients need to engage with healthcare providers who understand their daily challenges and can show them how to make the ambient device an effective part of their treatment regimen.”