Comms challenges: acquisition vs pipeline

Comms challenges: acquisition vs pipeline
blood sample in glass slide with pipette tip and DNA sequence peak at background

2016 will be “the year of merger mania,” reported the future gazing PwC Health Research Institute even before the dust had settled in 2015, joining an increasing chorus of market analysts as they pour over the future prospects for the pharma sector. But with a global market of US $300 billion a year there is a lot to play for.

This month the mega merger of Shire and Baxalta has created a rare disease powerhouse. News rumbles on around new suitors for Medivation. And rumours abound that Allergan will shift its mergers and acquisitions (M&A) approach following its deal with Teva Pharmaceutical.

But with some of pharma’s big hitter drugs coming off patent – AstraZeneca alone has a $7.34 billion hole to fill – many drug companies are looking beyond traditional M&A by acquiring new drugs to bolster their portfolios and pipelines.

Acquiring a phase III drug may seem like an attractive prospect. It takes some of the risk out of early stage development. And can take a chunk off the hefty £1.15 billion average investment to get a drug to market. But it can also mean a company can acquire a drug in a therapy area that it has little heritage in. And even fewer sturdy relationships with patients, clinicians and advocates – who can often mean make or break in the increasingly protracted reimbursement process. Frazzled late night discussions over preliminary phase I trials results with lead clinical investigators aren’t just important: they build a solid foundation of trust, confidence and dedication. Qualities much needed further down the track.

Relationships take time to nurture. The confines of a narrow pre-launch corridor don’t give a company much time to wave a magic wand and conjure up awareness across the sector that there is a new treatment on the way. Communications with patients are rightly strictly policed. Publicising new research findings are the Holy Grail of raising a company’s profile in this space, but they can’t always be marshalled on cue.

All this means is that companies need to think more broadly about their communications needs. Global launch campaigns can sometimes bulldoze ahead without fully engaging with nuances in the local launch environments – and a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works with political engagement. The U.S. may seem to speak the same language as the UK but, faced with a NICE expert panel, it can quickly become apparent just how indecipherable both sides of the pond can be to each other, and the disastrous impact that can have on reimbursement discussions.

A fast track communications approach needs the company to raise their profile by demonstrating leadership in the therapy area. Stimulate debate with those that matter. And build a network of informed advocates that can be mobilised at key milestones. All this sounds easy on paper but with the clock ticking down to launch and a number of advocates with their own agenda it can be a difficult arena to navigate.

Those familiar with the trials and tribulations of pharmaceutical R&D know that pipelines are fragile, and future success of these valuable assets is never guaranteed. If the sector’s growth strategy increasingly hinges on late stage drug acquisitions, getting a comprehensive communications strategy in place right from the word go has never been more important.

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