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From concept to market: The power of pre-launch in pharmaceuticals

How do I plan for a pharmaceutical launch when I don’t have all the answers?

Picture this: you are 3 years out from launching your new product, and you are responsible as the Commercial Launch Lead. Your company is currently enrolling patients for your Phase III clinical trial, and questions are starting to be asked by leadership about the launch. Some colleagues feel that it is too soon to start planning and considering laying the foundations of a pharma launch strategy, seeing as there is only limited information available, a lot of uncertainties, and numerous other more immediate priorities to focus on. Still, you have a strong sense that you need to make a start…

Is it ever too early to start pre-launch planning?

No, not at all! The earlier you start, the better. Gathering insights takes time, and these insights will be key to informing a successful pharma product launch. Whilst there are a lot of unknown variables, the key message here is that you should not delay your pharmaceutical launch planning until everything is crystal clear. This is the time to start considering what gaps exist and what assumptions therefore need to be made until more information / data is available.  

Don’t just take our word for it; what does the real-world evidence suggest?

  • 80%+ of launches do not improve on their first 6 months performance
  • Only 1 in 5 launches improve significantly between 6 months and 2 years
  • 2/3 of pharma product launches have underperformed analyst expectations
  • 50% of pharma product launches have failed to reach even 50% of external revenue forecasts1

These daunting figures very much suggest that the first 6months of launch are critical to success, and this initial stint typically sets the tone for the onward launch trajectory. Therefore, if it is critical to get the first 6 months right, planning and preparedness are more important than ever, and making an early start on your pre-launch activities could make all the difference!

How to start planning your pharma pre-launch activity

You first need to identify and engage your cross-functional launch planning team. The launch team kick-off and the early pre-launch activities are a critical part of launch planning and ensuring you are equipped to navigate the early commercialisation and launch landscape. This will set the tone and expectations for the launch and enable you to build meaningful differentiation for your brand to healthcare professionals and maximise patient benefits. 

This is also crucial to ensuring alignment among the cross-functional team. Think about having two launch teams: a core and an extended team. Who is involved in the core team may change closer to launch, but generally speaking, it is important to engage all functions as early as possible. Don’t forget some of the less obvious roles too, like packaging, manufacturing and distribution, which may differ if you are a global launch lead or a country launch lead. The cadence of launch planning meetings will be another important element of your product launch strategy and will likely increase in frequency the closer you are to launch.  

Setting a target launch date provides an important reference point for the team to work towards. This date can then be used to map out launch milestones by working back from launch to highlight the key deliverables and the sequence required for launch. A really effective way to do this is by getting everyone face to face and mapping out the timeline up to (and 6months beyond) launch. Although your current focus is the pre-launch planning efforts for -3 years, it is incredibly comforting to see the bigger picture up until (and past) launch. Anyone in doubt that it is too early to start planning will fully see the importance of starting early after this activity.  

What are the next steps for your pre-launch activity?

One of the most important factors now is to keep the momentum: ensure each function is clear on its priorities and that these are tracked. We strongly recommend an action plan for the next 4 weeks and the next 3-6 months. This provides a breakdown of activities for everyone to work towards, making the timeline bite-size and actionable, allowing for easier management. It is also super important to keep together as a pharmaceutical launch planning team, making sure to track progress across the actions and continue the cross-functional discussion with regular touchpoints with the launch planning team. 

So, with this in mind, how do you plan for launch when you don’t have all the answers?

Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions! The critical activity here is keeping a detailed log of all assumptions and routinely returning to them throughout the launch planning process. Scenario planning and risk mitigation are also critical elements of ensuring a smooth product launch.

The essential takeaway from this piece is to get comfortable with uncertainty in the knowledge that you have identified your priorities for your current stage of launch planning, you have bite-size action plans by function to make inroads with launch planning, and all of your assumptions are well-informed and detailed in a log that is regularly returned to. 

One final consideration to reassure your planning efforts is to understand what best practice looks like for launch planning at -3 years (as well as up to and beyond launch). How are you tracking against your launch excellence milestones and KPIs? How does your timeline of activities and milestones compare to this? What differences are there in your timeline to best practice, and why? Keeping track of your progress like this can hugely reassure you in your launch planning efforts while also challenging your preconceptions and guiding your next steps. 

In conclusion, the key elements to early pre-launch planning include mapping your journey to launch using your target launch date as a key milestone to work towards, understanding where you are at with your cross-functional pre-launch activities, prioritising the gaps in your pre-launch plan, and getting comfortable with uncertainty while capturing and closely tracking assumptions.

Starting early means that you have a robust strategic footing based on insights for launch. You can then continually revisit and adapt your launch plan based on the new information, data and insights as they become available.


The Uptake Strategic Healthcare Consultancy Experts

Natalie Dale, Strategic Principal, Uptake

After 15 years of working in the pharma industry in various commercial and leadership roles Natalie Dale has become a consultant to further drive patient-centric care.​

She has worked in various national, international and global marketing, commercial and analytical roles.  ​​ 

Key projects include leading the strategic brand planning and tactical planning globally, internationally and in country, development of portfolio strategy to optimise sales opportunity, implementation and roll out of digital tactics and development of customer experience flows, development of training programs to upskill sales team capabilities specifically targeting opening and closing, leading the tactical launch plan and implementation in market and development and implementation of omni-channel marketing campaigns.​​

This has provided Natalie with vast experience that helps provide her a practical view on commercial and marketing questions and issues faced in the industry today.​​

Natalie has worked for GSK, Allergan, AbbVie and Convatec. Her therapeutic experience spans respiratory, neurology, allergy and wound care.  ​​

Natalie describes herself as driven, passionate and willing to go the extra mile to ensure the best result.

Emily Wheeldon, Junior Consultant, Uptake

Emily has four years of experience in the healthcare industry, where she has gained both technical and commercial experience. ​

After starting her career in medicinal chemistry research and development at an international pharmaceutical company, Emily then transitioned into a commercial role at a contract research organisation where she was highly commended for her organisational skills and outstanding customer service. ​​

Emily achieved First-Class Honours in Chemistry after successful completion of her MChem degree at the University of York. She spent her final integrated master’s year in industry at a global pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. She was responsible for the synthesis and purification of novel chemical entities in the lead generation of treatments for innovative biological targets and gained valuable insight into the drug development pipeline.  ​​

Following her time in industry, she was motivated to pursue a career within the business side of the healthcare industry and worked as an Inside Sales Executive for a contract research organisation, before being promoted on merit to an Account Manager. Here, she supported pharmaceutical, biotechnology and cell & gene therapy companies with their outsourced analytical requirements and effectively managed both internal and external stakeholders to ensure frictionless delivery of services and client satisfaction. ​​

In her spare time, Emily loves travelling, being active and exploring the outdoors. ​​

Emily describes herself as enthusiastic, organised and caring. 


1 – Reference: IQVIA White Paper: Launch Archetypes, The Bedrock of successful launch strategies 2018. IQVIA White Paper: Launch Excellence in a disrupted world: challenges & opportunity 2019

Meet Our Pharmaceutical Launch Experts

Natalie Dale 

Senior Principal

Jo Lopez

Practice Lead – Early Commercialisation & Launch

Maxine Smith 

Managing Director

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