Marketing orphan drugs: Competition and a small patient pool
In the past, developing and launching treatments for rare diseases required highly specialized personnel and a significant amount of time, which resulted in high barrier to entry and minimal product competition. With the introduction of innovative technology and more effective drug development, this is no longer the case. As technology and R&D have progressed, the rare disease market is becoming increasingly competitive. Companies creating and marketing pharmaceutical products for rare diseases must overcome additional challenges with increased competition.
What will allow a brand to stand out against competitors is effective positioning of the brand as a strong advocate for the treatment, physician and patient education, and thorough understanding for the condition. Therefore, companies hoping to be successful in this market will need to provide increasing support and develop/engage communities for patients that are in need.
A smaller patient pool calls for a higher level of engagement and a larger amount of capital invested in developing customer relationships or innovative tools that could potentially shape quality of life. Patients of rare diseases are educated and build deep relationships with hospital staff and/or their primary care physician, so a patient-centric strategy and targeted approach is vital.
How can we better understand patient needs at every touch point?
A touch point is a point of interaction between you and your target customer. Though this can be applied to all indications, we will use rare diseases as an example. Obtaining accurate initial assessment i.e. an accurate and early diagnosis is fundamental for rare disease patients. This is often overlooked and they are often misdiagnosed.
- Prior to visiting the doctor’s office, a patient may search Google to look for symptoms that they are experiencing in relation to the disease.
- During the visit, the patient will speak to the doctor about the disease or indication and may or may not receive a prescription or further information about symptoms and possible treatment options.
- Following the visit, the patient will again search online, but for what was discussed during the visit.
Each of these interactions is a touch point and present opportunities to engage with the target customer. This is where patient education comes into play and where opportunities to strengthen trust in your brand by positioning yourself as a subject matter expert exist. At the core of this interaction is content and distribution. Content itself must be valuable, but distribution channels and methods must be carefully crafted as there is ultimately no purpose in producing content that is not read and shared.
The best way to understand your target audience is to talk to them; however, it is unfortunate that this may not always be a feasible option. Often, patient advocacy groups become key to bridging the communication gap, but if it is possible to conduct surveys or questionnaires for physicians, patients, caregivers, etc. it should benefit the sustainability of the brand in this desired space in the long-term. There are ways to identify online activity of your target audience. Remember to align your marketing campaigns with their needs. Everything that is produced or distributed (i.e. content) should work to solve a problem.
How to reach patients of rare diseases located in remote areas?
As the patient pool for diseases is small, it is not uncommon for those infected to need to travel lengthy times to arrive at a physician’s office or hospital for treatment. Patients could potentially travel upwards of 6+ hours to the physician’s office. There is an increasing desire to find different and engaging ways to communicate to these individuals through digital channels. Some pharmaceutical companies have created networks for those affected and patient advocacy groups have created their own Facebook pages. A few of these also exist on other social channels though engagement tends to be low.