7 Keys to Drug Launch Success

Kimberly Surico |
 03/20/23 |
7 min read

7 Keys to Drug Launch Success

The pharmaceutical industry is undergoing a transformation in the way new drugs are introduced into the market. Before the industry gets it right, we will see many failed drug launches. Here’s how to make sure it’s not yours!

According to Deloitte, the subsequent revenue for new drugs usually follows the trajectory set at launch. And around 70% of drugs that don’t attain their launch expectations continue to (not) do so afterward. In contrast, approximately 80% of those that do meet expectations continue to earn big rewards. The reality of drug launches is harsh. In one study, less than 10% of drug launches were rated as Excellent. And it is estimated that up to 80% of drug launches do not improve a company’s already established sales curve in the initial two years. That’s a long road to set out on!

It is obviously extremely important for pharmaceutical manufacturers to nail the drug launch! So, how do you do it?

1. Understanding Patient Needs

The modern patient is more vocal about their health both in terms of their experience as well as their wishes.

Research shows that up to 87 percent of social media users share their health information online. According to Michael Durwin, Director of Social Intelligence & Communities at ICON, social media is a great place to recruit subjects for studies, monitor events, and discover patient trends, emphasizing the increasing role of the patient in the treatment process.

However, while patients have adopted the advances in technology, drug manufacturers have not fully exploited these tools.

Consulting firm BCG notes that pharma companies spend far less time speaking to patients about their own needs compared to how much effort they put into their relationships with health care professionals (HCPs) and patient advocacy groups.

The lack of direct communication between pharma and patients plays an important part in the drug launch success rate: Manufacturers are adding their products to the market without a proper understanding of the patient’s needs.

And what do patients need? Three things stand out, according to a BCG study: Commitment to affordable access, demonstration of outcomes from drug trials, and transparency.


As you launch, understand patient needs.

How easy to understand is that?

But to get such information, you have to engage with patients, directly or indirectly. This is where AI-powered consumer intelligence comes in with tools such as natural language processing (NLP) that helps brands understand patient needs through social listening.

2. Targeting Drug Prescribers

Failure to understand the prescribing behavior and concerns of physicians has been pointed out through research as one of the leading causes of drug launch failure.

It’s important to take note of the intensifying competition in the industry. Over the recent past, the average period for the dominance of a new drug in the market has dropped from eight to less than five years.

This means that if you launch your new and improved product today, you have less than half a decade before a competitor comes in to claim your market share.

But the challenge is greater for new products trying to unseat existing ones. The increase in the rate of new drug launches has made it more difficult for manufacturers to differentiate their products to regulators and prescribers with just Phase III clinical trial data.

To succeed, pharma companies should communicate both the clinical and non-clinical benefits of the drug to prescribers (and patients) i.e. develop new differentiation factors. To accomplish this, companies launching new drugs must collect extensive data on prescribers across the target locations.

With this information, the companies can analyze prescribing trends of not just individual prescribers but also integrated delivery networks (IDNs), which are increasingly setting the standard due to their scope of influence compared to individual prescribers.

This data will also help pharma develop healthy relationships with physicians, who have said that their brand choices are heavily influenced by the amount of support they get from the brand.

3. Providing Good Customer Service

As consumers get used to increasing standards in experience across other industries, the bar for pharma customer service is rising too. Being more active in the treatment process, patients find more opportunities to make their patient journey more effective.

Of course, many are not going to point out things that you should be improving. It has been shown that a healthy percentage of consumers will more readily change brands than complain.


But as a unit, if you listen to them, they have much to say about the experience they are getting from health care organizations––and some of it may help improve the drug launch success rate.

This is one of the ways pharmaceutical manufacturers can differentiate their products.

Many have begun to adopt “beyond the pill” strategies that expand their focus beyond the incredible breakthroughs they are making in the lab. Delivering holistic solutions spanning the entire supply chain and patient journey is now seen as part of their regimen.

This approach requires better ties with the patients and prescribers; and these can only be formed through communication, which is mostly done at the customer service desk.

Leverage the data collected from digital devices, phone calls, and emails (among other ways) to implement patient-centric protocols. Additionally, develop and encourage patients to use more formal feedback channels where they can be educated, address emerging concerns, and get connected to HCPs.

Here, you will need a robust customer relationship management (CRM) tool to manage interactions and track relationships.

4. Tracking Marketing Performance

Hiring a strong sales team is a common strategy for many companies in the middle of a drug launch. The industry has long relied on the power of reps to get their products on the shelves, and that has not changed today.

However, in the modern technologically driven market, it is even more important to have a complementary marketing side of the launch.

Before now, many industry experts had foreseen a future where traditional mass-market product promotion would be replaced by a more targeted approach. This has come to pass with seasoned professionals like Brian Solis telling us to improve for the coming era of hyper-personalization.

This is great news especially for smaller manufacturers who are already aware of and practicing the targeted-market approach.

Today, AI-driven marketing, a concept that seemed ambitious not long ago, is a priority for many companies introducing new products to the market. Product-cloning, incremental innovation, and other such strategies don’t assure drug launch success anymore.

Manufacturers today must articulate product value and improve the patient’s experience.

Marketing does this for them – getting the message to the target users and leaving them with a choice to decide whether the drug is right for them.

That said, there is a need to keep track of your marketing performance. Specifically, you need to know how your efforts are impacting the way people talk about your brand. This includes patient conversations as well as influencer and key opinion leader (KOL), well, opinions.

5. Monitoring Patient Sentiment

Traditional measures of patient attitude such as surveys and structured feedback are limited in a number of ways.

  • First, they ask specific questions which limit both the drug users’ description of their experience as well as the brands’ capacity for understanding it.
  • Second, they are conducted infrequently, merely capturing snapshots of a dynamic environment instead of playing the entire transition through continuous intelligence.
  • Third, these methods tend to be quite expensive for manufacturers.

The modern patient reports their experience online through social media, review sites, blogs, and other platforms. As a result, there is a large pool of unstructured, text-based information about the impact of pharma on the patient’s quality of life, freely available to manufacturers today.

This remains only potential power to drug launch success until it has been captured systematically and analyzed to yield actionable insights.

Techniques such as sentiment analysis and opinion mining which have recorded success in areas outside of health (e.g. in election forecasting) have been adopted by pharma to better understand patient attitudes.

Sentiment analysis is an AI-backed process that allows companies to examine the contents of natural language for positive, negative, or neutral emotion. This has allowed manufacturers to understand the patient experience on a life-size scale. This information is mission-critical to a successful drug launch.


Conversations around the importance of companies capturing sentiment analysis are shifting too.

6. Comparing Competing Products

The current competitive pharma landscape requires brands to always be on the lookout for competing products. Traditionally, competition in pharma has been studied as mainly price driven after the manufacturer’s patent has expired, opening up the market to other companies.

However, researchers have begun to recognize the presence of competition in earlier stages of the product.

There is no doubt that pricing still plays a significant role in drug launch success. Since there are virtually no laws governing the pricing of drugs, manufacturers offer their products at whatever prices they think match the product value. This has been loosely translated to “what the market will bear” i.e. the supply-demand law.

This means that brands looking to recoup their investment have to consider both what the patients can afford to pay as well as the alternatives for their drugs.

By far the most important tool for ensuring ROI from R&D in pharma is patent protection. This offers market exclusivity for new products; and companies go a long way to extend that duration – prolonging their patents through “evergreening” strategies such as obtaining secondary patents.

By keeping track of patent applications in the industry, manufacturers can better know their standing in the market and determine their drug launch strategies.

Using tools like Rival IQ and NetBase Quid®, manufacturers can track competitors on the internet as well as find out what chips they have to play whether that be a strong patent, technological advantage, or a loyal customer base.

The goal is to know what you are up against so you can address your own weaknesses as you go through the drug launch process.

7. Timing the launch

Manufacturers need to take time to plan for a successful drug launch. Ensuring quality standards, passing the compliance tests, and meeting benchmarks are essential steps in the preparation.

However, planning must go beyond that to include establishing market readiness for the drug through understanding the goings on and reaching the target with a clear value proposition.

Through social listening, companies can discover and monitor relevant conversations being carried on by patients on social media.

As the launch date nears, this information can be used to initiate strategic discussions with the target audience on various online platforms. After the drug launch, the momentum can be maintained by offering research material and other assistance that improves the patient journey.

As the pharmaceutical industry adopts a “beyond the pill” approach, you want to make sure that the entire market is visible to your marketing team. We have seen how much drug launch success depends on developing a relationship with stakeholders as well as understanding the brand’s surroundings.

NetBase Quid® collects and analyzes consumer and market data to give you concrete knowledge of your sphere of influence, so you can make decisions with confidence. Reach out for a demo to experience the power of AI-driven intelligence, and plan that next successful drug launch today!

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