A number of factors are driving change in how we view promotion to physicians, particularly as it pertains to the utilization of a sales force. Physicians are pressed for time and unwilling or unable to see sales representatives. There has been a shift away from primary care products and toward specialty products. Specialists are often well-informed about a drug prior to its launch. And payers are influencing the choice of drugs a physician can use.
Alternative sales tactics like e-sampling, where physicians order samples online, are used mostly for mature products. Given the above trends, it may make sense to start using e-sampling earlier in the launch cycle. According to IMS Health's Searching for Launch Excellence study in 2009, regardless of therapeutic category, a product's launch trajectory is shaped between 13 and 26 weeks post launch.
For products prescribed mainly by specialists, the time between launch and the point at which the product's launch trajectory begins to flatten is even less. So the amount of time a sales rep has to make a difference is growing smaller, especially for specialty products.
In a world of specialty products, sales-force size is rarely a sustainable competitive advantage. A small, highly focused sales force can do an excellent job of quickly establishing awareness, interest and trial among a very highly defined group of prescribers.
While a product may have large numbers of prescriptions written by PCPs, it could be that the PCP may just be following a course of treatment originally decided upon by a specialist. The trend toward smaller sales forces has even led many biotechs to choose to eschew pharma licensing deals and take the product to market on their own.
In the current era of marketing high-value specialty products, the detail or sales rep is likely to be calling on a much more knowledgeable and informed physician. Thus, getting a physician to prescribe a new product can happen more quickly and with fewer calls provided the rep can address what a specialist is likely to be interested in.(...)
The environment in which products are launched has changed and how pharma companies reach and build relationships with physicians needs to adapt, particularly when selling specialty products.
Personal selling has always played a big role in disseminating information about new drugs and will continue to do so. But with the ramp-up in prescribing and revenues taking less time, it creates a window of opportunity that, through the use of technology such as e-sampling, may let pharma “have its cake and eat it too.”