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Pharmaceuticals and laboratories beyond Covid-19

06 May 2020

Right now, it can be said that practically all the pharmaceutical laboratories in the world are in a frantic race against the clock to develop the vaccine that will ” perform the miracle” against Covid-19. Or to find drugs that reduce the mortality of the virus or even neutralise the disease. The mass production and distribution of tests will also play a decisive role in containing the pandemic and, of course, in the pharmaceutical industry’s financial results.

The whole world looks to the scientific and pharmaceutical community as the big hope for the future. However, the pharmaceutical industry, as one of the most regulated and controlled worldwide – even more so in Europe – cannot perform miracles, even if it wanted to.

Nevertheless, research has accelerated, and the application of drugs already used for other diseases may also show positive effects in the fight against Covid-19. Indeed, this will help bring about a solution, albeit a temporary one. In any case, this coronavirus has placed the spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry. An industry which, with all due respect to the current situation, is experiencing a “sweet” moment. Many laboratories already have molecules that can work, and so they will achieve a dual objective, first and foremost: to improve the health of the world’s population and, secondly, on a corporate level: to provide stability and, in many cases, significant business growth.

Although Covid-19 has highlighted the pharmaceutical industry, companies and laboratories that are part of the environment are continually struggling with a tightly controlled market and too long product launch cycles. That is why, at this time when we are all directly and indirectly paying attention to the pharmaceutical industry, I think it is more important than ever to talk about the challenges that pharmaceutical companies face on a daily basis, beyond the critical moment we are experiencing.

X-ray of the pharmaceutical sector. Demands and new challenges

For us all to understand this: the product that characterises and differentiates the pharmaceutical environment is prescriptive with a valid patent, which does not allow for promotions or direct commercialisation. In other words, only health professionals can prescribe medicine to their patients. However, pharmacies and laboratories also work with two different types of products:

On the one hand, we have generics, those medicines that have been freed from the patent of the original laboratory, allowing others to base their price on the cost of production. In this case, there are different commercial and marketing tools, many of them digital, and always very “subtle” so that when a doctor prescribes a generic medicine, the pharmacy dispenses one product or another.

On the other hand, we find consumer products (OTC) that do not require a prescription, which can be openly advertised and marketed both in the pharmacy, parapharmacy and department store. The clearest examples are food supplements or dermatological, aesthetic or personal hygiene products.

Although the significant economic figures are around the former -prescriptive products- these other business lines also bring sales to a market in which Research and Development accounts for a very high percentage of the investment. The other significant economic commitment of the industry is centred on commercialisation models through different channels that respect the strict regulations of the Public Administrations and the company’s own self-regulation systems and, at the same time, guarantee that they reach the target at which they are aimed.

To make matters more complex, the technological giants have already identified major business opportunities in the healthcare space, and could soon become a threat to established drug manufacturers and street pharmacies. Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft have all entered the business and will be clear competitors in the coming years.

The industry knows this and has taken note of it. In fact, according to the Spanish Association of Health Advertising Agencies (www.aeaps.es), pharmaceutical companies in Spain already invest between 10% and 50% of their budget in digital services, aware that these new players are ahead of them in terms of use of technology and digital tools.

This new ecosystem draws a different map in which the impact of technological trends such as Big Data, Augmented Reality, Social Media, Gamification, eCommerce or IoT already stands out. And it is precisely here that the industry still has a long and exciting road ahead of it.

Bringing the product – and the brand – closer to the market.

How to generate business from a product that takes years to develop? How to get the product to the “customer” when, in many cases, advertising and promotion are not possible? How to differentiate one product from another, when you can only refer to the active ingredient and not the brand? All these questions must be answered if the industry is to operate in compliance with ethics, safety and the law. But also to ensure that it works in accordance with the requirements of efficiency and profitability that business logic dictates.

How can we improve the patient experience if we cannot reach them directly? How can we have an impact on laboratory processes – in efficient manufacturing and in the necessary quality review, in distribution, in commercialisation – through different B2B platforms and sectoral and general marketplaces? How can we address the training and information processes of health professionals so that they can find the best treatment?

There are undoubtedly many questions that seek answers. Apart from the need to implement more agile marketing processes and respect pharmacovigilance processes, it is necessary to transform the traditional commercial strategy into a more digital one, using digital communication channels for doctors and patients and establishing a more reliable and dynamic connection with patients (disease awareness). Training and talent transformation also play a strategic role in this new ecosystem.

Some ideas for proposing value to the industry

In a context such as the one we have drawn, any proposal aimed at generating value must reduce the chain’s time to market, promote engagement with doctors and commit to innovation and the activation of talent. It will be essential to provide solutions that improve the client’s experience, that is, the health professional’s expertise – also that of pharmacies and para-pharmacies in their role as OTC prescribers – and, as we have said, help transform the business model, which will have to be increasingly digital.

In this sense, some of the keys which we can identify to achieve a more digital pharmacy environment point to the contents – generating and providing the information which health professionals look for daily -, to the channels – connecting health professionals with laboratories and sales forces through a digital experience – and to accessibility – guaranteeing security and simplicity in accessing these contents.

The industry is already beginning to commit to the Digital Experience platforms with which, in addition to transforming its model of relationship with the client, it will be able to practice the digital strategy demanded by the environment and facilitate a unique and personalised vision for the client, simultaneously unifying the management of its relationship and interaction channels. But, besides, these platforms enable the integration of new communication channels, new subscription and self-management models with access to personalised and relevant content. They also facilitate the traceability of behaviours and media to implement processes aimed at continuous improvement and the most significant possible degree of personalisation.

Concerning OTC products, whose commercialisation process is less rigid, the proposal is to extend the sales channels, bringing the laboratory closer to digital native retailers. Incorporating a B2C sales channel is a simple approach, but as in the case of commercialisation and sale of prescriptive products, it requires the knowledge and experience of trusted technological partners.

In short, the pharmaceutical industry, which today grabs all the headlines, together with the medical and scientific community, is the great hope for overcoming this unprecedented crisis. At the same time, however, it is undergoing an ambitious process of digital transformation that will allow it to get closer to its customers, health professionals, while keeping its eyes on the patient. Therefore, it is more than fair to acknowledge the work of a sector that is always committed to the health and well-being of society, although, like any company, it must be resourceful in order to remain flexible and agile in an extremely rigid and complex market.

Roberto Broncano

Manager

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