How to Virtually Launch a Biopharmaceutical During Covid-19

Published on: May 2020

Written by: Andrew Dornon

Based on unmet need and inbound physician inquiries, your team has decided to launch a new biopharmaceutical right now – during a pandemic. With a different molecule or indication, you may have made a different decision. But given your current circumstances, you have decided to move forward with launch.

So, what’s next? How do you do it? What is different from a typical launch provided the current environment and projections over the next three to twelve months?

To be successful, you’ll need to create a flexible launch plan that is adaptable to changing market scenarios. As part of the plan, you’ll need to redefine your customer segmentation, which includes public health and economic factors; create new marketing resources that reflect an entirely virtual customer and patient journey; rapidly upskill your field team on virtual engagement skills; and run virtual launch meetings that effectively drive outcomes despite constraints.


A Launch Plan that Adjusts to Market and Public Health Triggers

While you’ve decided to move ahead with the launch, your execution plan should anticipate new developments in the healthcare ecosystem and remain agile to respond to those scenarios. First, you’ll need to identify these scenarios and the appropriate responses. To do this, war game various economic and public health conditions with your cross-functional team to determine how to move forward within different possible operating environments.

Data from past launches will likely hold little insight into your upcoming launch, and there will be a paucity of reliable data for some time. As a result, your war gaming models will likely need to rely on “what-if” analyses grounded in the shared expertise of your team. General economic forecasts and the epidemiological model of your choice can provide a firm starting place but should include outlier scenarios to provoke your launch team’s best thinking.

Based on this scenario planning, you can then identify alternative launch plans that can be implemented based on external triggers. This gives your team the flexibility to operate under ongoing uncertainty and alignment on what to do in each scenario.

Reprioritize Regions, Accounts and Customers Based on Economic and Public Health Factors

Given your launch plan, your sales team will need to re-segment their customer base to include factors beyond the appropriate patient population, coverage and prescriber affinity. New factors to include will be Covid-19 cases within a territory, cases within an account, the effect of the pandemic on physician load (depending on specialty they may be experiencing a surge or lack of patients), unemployment claims within territory (coverage changes will reduce new patient starts and adherence), and virtual access to prescribers.

This reprioritization could lead to a wholly different initial focus for your field organization, potentially away from academic institutions and toward community-based clinics. Physicians and patients alike may be quickly moving to lower-risk treatment locations.

Redesign Marketing for Entirely Virtual Customer and Patient Journeys

The status quo approach to designing physical core sales aids and leave behinds needs to be completely replaced by digital assets and messaging. The first step is rapidly translating existing assets to virtual and gaining approval for electronic dissemination. However, your marketers will also need to rethink their approach and create “digital first” assets to support your field team.

On the consumer and patient side, they will have limited access to their clinicians and thus will turn to online resources and education more than ever before. Your patient-facing teams will need to meet that upswell of demand with new and engaging resources that move them along their patient journey.

KOL and Speaker Bureau engagement will also need to become digital, providing opportunities to engage during live sessions, connect with peers, and share insights firsthand—potentially allowing for real world data capture.

Rapidly Build Your Field Team Members’ Virtual Engagement Capability

Field team members, from salespeople to account management, medical affairs, patient advocacy, and field reimbursement, are highly skilled in face to face interactions. Given the nature of their roles, their technical proficiency often lags behind that of home office employees. They will need to be rapidly upskilled on first the basics of using virtual communications platforms like Zoom, Veeva Engage, and Google Meet, as well as the key differences between physical and virtual interactions.

Next, they will need to begin building the capabilities to change provider behavior using communication platforms and the new interactive tools being created by marketing. Optimal use of these tools will allow for the capture of real time data, providing insights to help marketing be more agile.

This upskilling can happen mostly asynchronously, through peer collaboration and with coaching from your existing field training team. Successful field adoption will be a factor of execution tools that are easy to digest, readily on-demand, and emphasize practice and outcomes.

Virtual Launch Meetings that Drive Impact

The best face to face launch meetings convey best practices and ideas to the field team, allow for opportunities for deep practice, and create a sense of purpose and teamwork on behalf of patients. The best virtual launch meetings can do this too—but with new constraints and opportunities. With much of your field team responsible for caregiving demands at home, there is no need for launch meetings to be six hours a day for four days in a row. In fact, for many people, that is impossible while children are out of school.

With diminishing returns and screen fatigue, it’s important to experiment with the structure, duration, and modality of these virtual gatherings. Maintain enthusiasm throughout the meeting by keeping days shorter. Prioritize personal application time and small work groups.

Beyond the agenda, new virtual platforms allow for peer best practice sharing, foster interaction through polling and live Q&A, and replicate the practice sessions that keep the commercial team engaged and energized.

Create a wraparound experience by sending branded swag ahead of time and providing meal delivery during the event. Set aside time for carefully designed virtual networking to encourage new connections and organic relationship building. Done well, virtual launch meetings can educate, upskill and motivate your team in different but equally effective way as the face to face meetings of the past.

Launch and Learn Fast

Thousands of people’s efforts and expertise go into launching a pharmaceutical product, and it’s hard to get it right during the best of times. During the Covid-19 era, you’ll be prepared to succeed by creating a flexible launch plan that shifts based on market and public health conditions; reprioritizes regions, accounts and customers based on new economic and pandemic related factors; encourages your marketing team to innovate on their digital approach; gets the field ready to engage virtually; and drives results through a wholly new approach to virtual launch meetings.

These are some things you can plan and predict. Once you begin to engage customers, your initial meetings will be fact finding missions that should inform your approach as fast as possible. Expect to be wrong about the future fairly often. It’s always an honor to serve patients, and during this ongoing public health crisis, this is truer than ever, and the stakes are even higher. Stay humble, be prepared to be wrong, and get ready to learn fast.