Skip links

Seven steps to exceptional pharmaceutical launches

Why capability gaps and shortcuts are not an option

Authored by Jo Lopez, Practice Principal, Launch Excellence and Early Commercialisation Lead, Uptake for PME Innovative Impact Blog.

In this article for Pharma Market Europe, Jo explains how to strategically develop and leverage organisational capabilities to navigate the immense pressure and consequences associated with debut launches, particularly when competition is fierce. 

Jo highlights the seven crucial ‘levers of launch excellence’ that pharmaceutical companies should integrate into their launch development strategies.

Jo emphasises the need for a thorough assessment of organisational capabilities against the levers, ensuring optimal preparedness for a successful launch. Understanding and mastering these levers becomes paramount in eliminating capability gaps, setting the stage to inspire exceptional launches that make a significant impact on the market the first time round.

‘You only launch once’, so let’s make it count!

Read below or click here to access the published version

It’s not hard to argue that the responsibility of nailing the debut of pharmaceutical products carries immense weight and creates intense pressure. My colleague, Cathy Nolan, repurposes ‘YOLO’ to stand for ‘You Only Launch Once’, and she’s spot-on. You can’t afford to mess up.

An intricate web of consequences magnifies the significance of a launch. There are of course huge patient and financial benefits and risks on the line, then you have the reputation of both your organisation and the product itself at stake. As if that wasn’t enough, there is the fear of eroding trust among stakeholders.

A successful launch cements a strong market position and paves the way for future progress. The meticulous attention required spans from regulatory approval to market entry strategies and upholding manufacturing integrity. Ultimately, early launch performance forms the foundation of long-term product lifecycle management.

After navigating our clients through 200+ launches, the Uptake team have a unique perspective on what it takes to be exceptional in this space, and we’ve boiled this down to seven ‘levers of launch excellence’:

  1. Launch governance framework
  2. Launch team resourcing and capabilities
  3. Launch team activation
  4. Launch critical path
  5. Launch scenarios
  6. Launch readiness
  7. Maximising launch performance

We believe that if you master these, you’ll be wonderfully equipped to master launch. So, what do the most exceptional organisations have in common when it comes to each of these seven?

A launch governance framework is an internal structure intended to support launch decision making and planning, to achieve an excellent launch. The best ones outline key launch milestones, governance decision gates, trigger questions, KPIs, and roles and responsibilities. To deeply embed and continuously improve, incorporating latest launch learnings, always anticipate future pipeline launch requirements.

We define exceptional launch team resourcing and capabilities as the adequate investment in people with the required skillsets, and an organisational infrastructure enabling tailored tactical activities that will make a real difference to a specific launch. To do this, you must have well-honed strategic portfolio planning capabilities, to rapidly identify the optimal future launch resources and requirements for a new brand. You must also have sufficient global and local resources and capabilities in place to support the brand’s launch ambition.

The measure of successful launch team activation is down to the timing and approach taken to convene a cross-functional team responsible for the launch of a new product at a global, regional, or country level. Those operating at an exceptional level have organisational global and local launch team activation guidance that is consistently applied, encompassing optimal timing, roles and responsibilities, ways of working, key documentation, and recommendations for senior leadership engagement.

Detailed, well-considered launch critical paths are essential, mapping the key milestones, underpinned by cross-functional deliverables and supporting activities. The best players’ cross-functional, global and country launch teams develop a critical path to launch together, taking account of the brand’s launch strategy and using a consistent methodology across brands. The critical path must be visible to all global and country launch team members in real time, and regularly reviewed and refined.

Scenario planning is critical, synthesising the key external opportunities and risks that could impact your ability to launch or your post-approval launch performance. Companies that excel prioritise launch scenarios with associated plans of action to capitalise on opportunities and mitigate risks, ensure they are continuously tracked via KPIs, and evolve them regularly.

Fantastic launches require a thorough, objective evaluation of cross-functional launch readiness to deliver an excellent launch at regular timepoints during the planning phase. Successful organisations focus on opportunities, risks, and issues, anchored to pre-launch KPIs, with resulting plans of action during launch readiness reviews. Ideally all cross-functional launch team members should be able to input the readiness status of the launch in real-time. Launch readiness reviews can focus on elements which are ‘off track’ or ‘at risk’, making them more valuable and efficient.

Companies excelling in their launches have developed the ability to harness and share launch insights and learnings to strengthen current and future launch performance. Pre-launch scenario plans include triggers for modified investment based on defined decision gates. A detailed launch performance diagnostic is performed for every launch, against pre-determined launch KPIs. The intent is to uncover and document all launch learnings and synthesise these into a report, which is formally shared with other functional and launch leaders across the organisation, triggering action.

At Uptake we are often asked, ‘How good were/are we at launch?’. Uptake’s new, free ‘LExLevel Pulse’ benchmarking tool, out this autumn, can provide the answers. We’ve defined three levels – foundational, established, and exceptional, for each of the seven launch levers. Complete the quick self-assessment and we will tell you how you stack up against the competition, and where we recommend you focus your efforts to strengthen your launch capabilities.

If ‘You Only Launch Once’, we argue that any gaps in capability, no matter how small, have the risk of derailing your launch. With so many external factors outside of your control, aiming for exceptional across the launch levers is your path to launch success.

Meet Our Pharmaceutical Launch Experts

Jo Lopez

Practice Lead – Early Commercialisation and Launch

Natalie Dale

Senior Principal

Maxine Smith

Managing Director

Contact us