Marketing 101 tells us that we should never brand in a vacuum. Instead, we should position brands to highlight strengths and mitigate weaknesses relative to competitors. In fact, defining a brand’s competitive set is one of the most important strategic decisions that a brand team can make.

Every brand is unique, and brand teams make decisions about their competitive set based on their unique circumstances. However, deeper analysis across many biotech brands reveals broad patterns from which emerge a few key archetypes. By identifying and exploring the implications of these archetypal competitive contexts, biotech marketers are able to understand the specific challenges of their brands in a new light.

In this blog series, we will be examining three competitive context archetypes and implications for brand teams:

  • First-in-Class
  • Next Generation
  • ‘Me Too’

Let’s take a look at the first archetype: the first in class therapy.

For many years, biotechs have aspired to discover and develop innovative compounds, and the FDA has encouraged the development of breakthrough medications. Indeed, developing first-in-class therapies is the ultimate goal for many biotech and pharma companies. However, branding a first-in-class medication can present unique challenges for biotech marketers.

Defining the Competitive Field

One of the biggest challenges is that the competitive context for a first-in-class therapy is entirely undefined. Whereas a new entrant into an existing class will inevitably compete against existing brands within the class, the competitive set for a first-in-class brand is often unclear.

This greenfield competitive space can initially appear to be an advantage for a brand: ‘hooray, we don’t have any competitors!’. However, this greenfield can create a vacuum in which there is not a clear competitive frame of reference or a target patient. Within this vacuum, physicians and patients often don’t know when or why to use the new product.

Yes, branding abhors a vacuum.

To avoid this brand vacuum, it is important for brand teams to analyze physician’s current prescribing decisions, understand how their brand will be used in the algorithm and identify which other classes it will be compared against. This insight will help to define the competitive context for the product and clarify brand positioning decisions.
Disease Education

The other challenge of a first-in-class therapy is that the market often requires some degree of education to understand and appreciate the product. By definition, a first-in-class product is working through a novel mechanism of action. In many instances, physicians do not understand that new mechanism of action and they may not feel comfortable with a new product. In fact, physicians are increasingly avoiding novel compound to mitigate medical legal risks associated with prescribing an ‘unproven’ therapy.

First-in-class therapies may also introduce new ways of thinking about efficacy or safety. In some instances, first-in-class products introduce new clinical endpoints, measurement indices or diagnostic tools that are unfamiliar to physicians. In order for physicians to understand the product’s efficacy or safety data, they often require basic education about novel clinical measurements.

When asked what they want to know about a new product, physicians often say: ‘tell me how it works, tell me how effective it is, and tell me how safe it is’. However, this can be especially challenging for first-in-class products because physicians have very little baseline knowledge about the product’s MOA, safety and efficacy. As such, pre-launch disease education is always a critical component in introducing a first-in-class product. An effective disease education campaign provides foundational knowledge as well as a shared language for appreciating the product’s MOA, safety and efficacy.

Archetype 2: Next Generation

In our upcoming blog, we will explore archetypal ‘next generation’ products and implications for successfully branding, and we hope you will stay tuned for this upcoming blog. In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and comments on the challenges of launching a ‘first-in-class’ therapy.

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Photo courtesy of Karoly Czifra on Flickr Creative Commons.

Dan Callahan

is the President of Vivisum Partners and Founder of Research (R)evolutions.

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