Two’s a crowd and three’s a party – managing a drug franchise

Do brand teams dread the idea of a drug franchise? We know the successes are there for the taking but how do you get there and avoid the slip-ups?

Holding an active portfolio of drugs in a therapy area can be considered a strength for a pharmaceutical company and this goes beyond access to multiple revenue streams. Building a powerful brand presence through meaningful engagement and service provision to key clinical, patient and commissioning stakeholders across several disease indications increases the chances of category leadership and creates inertia to change to competitor challenger brands that may emerge.

In recognising these benefits many business units now have to contend with the challenge of managing multiple drugs in similar indications in the same therapy area. The first decision a company needs to make is whether to support a portfolio of medicines with backing of individual brand teams, or a true ‘franchise’ – a consistent brand and offering across products/indications backed with the investment of a significant commercial and medical capability to service the growth of the brand.

Drug franchises in today’s healthcare landscape have achieved varied success and common pitfalls associated with drug launches are more greatly exposed and detrimental to commercial performance when multiple products are involved with similar stakeholders. Here are some top tips for managing a franchise and maximising the benefits it can afford whilst avoiding costly mistakes:

Internal management structure

  • Having two products with overlapping indications and a similar stakeholder audience requires careful planning. If these are managed by different or the same marketing and sales teams, how do you avoid treading on the toes of your sister brand?
  • Very precise targeting and segmentation of customers is required and agreed upon. Teams may need to be sacrificial to target only those customer segments to which they are assigned rather than prioritising ‘low-hanging fruit’. This may not provide the quick-win sales that brand teams are hungry for but will benefit the success of the franchise as a whole in the long term. Appropriate incentivisation plans for sales and marketing teams related to non-traditional KPIs will facilitate this.

Succession planning

  • The franchise proposition suits products where one could sit downstream from the other in the treatment pathway. However, the clinical community may not always adopt them this way.
  • In these instances, it is important that the patient population for each product is very well defined and the benefits that each product shares is maximally leveraged (i.e. proprietary delivery technology). This goes beyond communication to prescribers but should influence the commissioning level as well to ensure beneficial positioning in the treatment pathway for both products. Teams should also plan for independency of each product, should one be relegated from its desired positioning from a commissioning body.

Beyond-the-drug offering

  • The benefits of a franchise can really be explored here, whilst a lack of investment in this area can be detrimental to commercial performance
  • Healthcare providers expect a level of commitment to patients and health systems from pharmaceutical companies that extends beyond provision of medicine. This can span from providing extra infusion capacity to clinics to patient support programmes with nursing. Operating multiple products within a similar treatment area means these resources can be pooled and shared. Not offering this could lead to the products being left behind in favour of more patient-centric brands/products, with the company’s brand reputation in that area suffering, affecting all products

Flexibility in commercial model

  • The standard of care in a therapy area can shift and this can doubly affect a company operating a franchise. Take for example a shift towards longer acting agents that require less frequent administration, how does a franchise manoeuvre to embrace this change and avoid becoming a dinosaur?
  • The simple decision would be to shift commercial resource behind the company’s own longer-acting product. However, the decision isn’t that simple – patient and prescriber confidence and legacy for an ‘older generation’ product shouldn’t be underestimated, nor the patient and community support offering that is in place, keeping that brand very relevant indeed. A company should be prepared to understand the voice of their customers by territory and execute strategic decisions to suit.