Uptake’s Founder and CEO, Stephanie Hall, has compiled a 7-Part Launch Leaders’ how-to-guide, which you can read below. The Launch Leaders’ guide explores concepts from whether to delay or not delay a pharma launch, what the launch environment will look like in the next ‘normal’ in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, to how launch excellence leaders’ innovate, and what pharma launch leaders’ should be measuring throughout different phases in their launch.
If you would like to gain an understanding of what it means to be a successful pharma launch leader in today’s economic climate and the impact on the pharmaceutical marketing industry, keep reading!
LAUNCH LEADERS’ GUIDE
PART 1 – TO DELAY OR NOT TO DELAY THE LAUNCH – ‘THAT IS THE QUESTION’ NOWADAYS
Welcome to the Launch Leaders’ Guide! Hot on the heels of the wild success (in the author’s mind, at least) of the Brand Planners’ Guide in 2019, here we have a new launch excellence series on launch leadership in pharma and biotech.
Having had the privilege of working on a number of UK, European and global launches over the years in different capacities, I had thought about starting this series with an examination of what makes a launch excellent or, at least, jolly good news for patients, prescribers and the pharma industry. However, in light of COVID-19, we have seen an unimaginable series of events impacting the planning and implementation of pharma launches: delays in clinical trial recruitment, transfer of field-based medical, access and sales teams into virtual working settings, delays in regulatory approval timings, cancellation or postponement of major congresses and much more.
And at this time, never have I felt more proud to work in this life sciences industry where we are researching, developing, testing, collaborating, and doing so much more to find a solution to the global coronavirus pandemic, as well as to many other rare and not so rare diseases.
Working across the industry with different teams and in different therapy areas, there are so many questions to address:
- How will my launch timelines be impacted?
- How will the post-COVID-19 situation impact physicians, payers, and patients’ attitudes, behaviours, and priorities?
- How do I move my engagement and promotional mix to more virtual / digital activities?
- How do I plan my launch across countries and functions in the virtual environment?
- What will the impact be on launch uptake in the short and medium-term?
PART 2 – WHAT DOES THE LAUNCH ENVIRONMENT LOOK LIKE IN THE ‘NEXT NORMAL’?
If you are leading or working on a launch – whether it’s a new indication, formulation or a completely new molecule and brand – you may be thinking carefully about what you are able to do both pre-launch and post-launch as the months progress.
It has never been more important to create different launch scenarios with supporting strategies and tactics. We have talked a lot about ‘agility’ but now is the time to truly implement this. As a specialist in pharma / biotech launch excellence, I feel so proud to be working at the forefront of the industry’s new medicines, but I appreciate it is a super tough environment to launch into.
Some companies are moving forward boldly with their launches, using a strong digital engagement strategy – usually with heavy early investment across key stakeholder groups. Some are delaying or are being delayed from a clinical trial, regulatory, access or internal operational perspective.
Taking a look at what’s been happening in our industry over recent weeks and months, here are some encouraging reports and pieces of analysis from across our industry:
- Digital channels have had a massive boost for 1:1 interactions, group sessions, and of course email (with an increase of 482% according to Veeva), website, webinars, and much more – our IT teams have been busy! But other reports show that physician satisfaction with some of these channels is low
- Face-to-face interactions are making a comeback (after live events decreased by 41%, according to Veeva) but this is highly dependent on which country you are working in and of course may change with any future second wave of COVID-19.
PART 3 – WHAT MAKES A GREAT LAUNCH LEADER AND LAUNCH TEAM?
In our industry, we have spent much time building launch excellence frameworks, processes, and tools to help bring some structure, rigour, and coordination to the complex and risky process of launching a new medicine globally. In this part, I’d like to focus on the launch leader and the launch team, the people who are the driving force behind the thinking, strategies, planning, and execution of the launch over a number of years.
Having launched a number of medicines in different companies, I reflect that my launch roles were some of the most challenging, exciting, frustrating, exhausting, and exhilarating moments in my career! Whether it was receiving a regulatory ‘no’ after a year of planning a respiratory launch in the UK or a European-wide successful cardiology launch that exceeded everyone’s expectations.
As a launch leader and now consultant to launch teams and leaders, I have come to the conclusion that there is a special set of skills and behaviours that launch leaders and teams need in order to be successful. Building these skills and practising these behaviours can really make the difference between commercial success and failure, and also how the launch team feels, works, and engages with important external stakeholders.
I’m often asked about the one key skill that a launch leader must have and I am quick to reply that there really isn’t one. There are a whole range of skills that a launch leader must have and this ideal blend of skills can change across the pre-launch time frame and across different companies, markets, and therapy areas.
This lack of a nice ‘cookie cutter’ approach to launch is so important to embrace – a successful launch makes us think carefully about the specific blend of skills, processes, and strategies we need.
Understanding your current launch capability is also key to a successful launch. Which is why Uptake has developed a new launch excellence tool called LExLevel Pulse. After completing a short self-assessment you will be provided with a bespoke report which outlines your overall launch readiness.
From my research over the years with senior launch leaders across our industry, a few key skills have emerged:
- Attracting, motivating and developing cross-functional launch team members – getting the right blend of personalities, experience, values and commitment from your team is generally cited as the most important of launch leader skills
- Strategic decision-making and alignment – the ability to create a compelling launch excellence strategy adapted to the local market, therapy area, competitive context and external environment ensuring critical success factors for the launch are identified
- Effective engagement with external and internal stakeholders – the ability to build credible, sustainable relationships with scientific thought leaders, pricing and access stakeholders, regulators and patient group leaders, as well as key internal stakeholders to get decisions made and resources in place
- There are also a host of other skills related to planning, project management, tracking launch readiness, anticipating future issues and monitoring, that speak to the discipline needed to lead an effective launch
- Technical skills are also important of course: a deep understanding of the science, experience in the therapy area, and an ability to create a strong operational launch plan.
PART 4 – PRAISING THE MEDICAL TEAM FOR AN EXCELLENCE LAUNCH
Finding great medics to work on a launch team is a tough challenge, but definitely worth the effort
In this part, I’d like to recognise a group of wonderful people who have become more and more important in guiding and delivering a successful launch. It’s the medical team!
In recent years, the number and range of medical roles has increased significantly when other more traditional sales or commercial roles have been in decline. There are now medical roles covering medical affairs, medical information, scientific communications, R&D, clinical trials, compliance, scientific advice, medical science liaison, and a number of new hybrid roles to manage relationships with thought leaders, patient groups, national payer and guideline bodies, and to support large multichannel engagement campaign content. And in the context of launch, the medical team are often some of the first roles in place to shape early new product planning at a global or local level.
In my experience of working as part of a launch team, I’ve been guided and inspired by my medical colleagues who are able to build strong relationships with scientific / clinical thought leaders, analyse and interpret complex clinical trial results and publications, and operate as a true strategic partner for key decisions relating to the target patient, differentiation and to explain how physicians think, feel and behave in a particular therapy area. Medical roles have evolved light-years away from a more passive, signatory function to ensure compliance with industry codes of practice.
Finding great medics to work on a launch team is a tough challenge. It’s a big jump for a physician to move from clinical practice into the pharma industry and there is often a lack of clear role descriptions, defined competencies, onboarding, and training in the many organisational processes relating to launch. Some medics struggle with the move to a corporate environment with a whole host of new processes – internal communication, reporting, financial, planning, compliance, management review, readiness, cross-functional brand team – that are involved in a pharma / biotech launch. Some industry medics can be left bewildered, unsupported, and unhappy without the right support, guidance, and encouragement from their team leaders.
When building a launch team, it’s so important to define the key roles needed, their technical skills, as well as the softer skills needed, and to consider the personalities and fit of the individuals. When forming a launch team, I like to take the team away for a day or so and invest time in some team building, personality profiling, and then map out the team’s vision for success for the launch and ways of working.
It’s so important that the medical roles are clearly defined at each phase of the launch and that the medics and the rest of the cross-functional brand team are all on the same page. Otherwise, this can lead to disconnects, missed deadlines, grumpiness, stress, and worse within a launch team. A few stories and anecdotes come to mind as I write this…
When planning a global launch, I’ve seen some great industry practice from the medical leadership in clearly defining the structure and roles of the medical function at a global and local level. This may vary depending on the company culture and processes, disease area / speciality, and launch archetype – a rare disease medical organisation will look very different from one in vaccines or cardiology. Other examples of industry medical excellence to support launch include:
- Creating medical competency frameworks for different medical roles and levels of seniority, with specific reference to launch excellence processes and tools / resources for core medical activities
- Defining the softer and leadership skills needed for key medical roles and providing these roles with development tools, training and coaching by senior medics with practical launch experience
- Creating training programmes to support medics with their capabilities in launch planning, strategy, creating a winning medical affairs launch plan, project management and reporting, working with agencies, innovation, multichannel engagement and industry trends in technology, market access, evidence generation, and even AI, data and analytics
- Setting up processes for medical teams across brands and launches, to share internal best practices and leverage external industry best practice.
Finding a true medical launch leader can have an enormous impact on the planning and ways of working of a launch team, as well as creating strong relationships with external experts and thought leaders to shape the launch strategy and investment in major programmes of evidence generation.
The best medics I remember from launch teams in recent years all have a strong focus on the launch team (vs. the medical function), the treating physician and the target patient, and a sense of positivity and resilience even in the face of change or setbacks in the launch. They are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and help out and can frequently be found right by the side of their commercial colleagues, a true leader in the launch team. Thank you, magnificent medical team!
PART 5 – HOW CAN LAUNCH LEADERS INNOVATE?
2020 and 2021 were tumultuous years on so many fronts and have stimulated so much innovation across different teams, functions, and disease areas as our industry jumps into a new way of working in the ‘next normal’.
There are some wonderful examples of multi-brand, multi-country innovation across our industry as we strive to do things better and solve problems, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of patients. In recent months I have been doing a good deal of work with teams who are working on how to innovate, evolve and transform in different ways to launch their medicines successfully. It’s really thought-provoking and rewarding work!
So what do we mean by innovation? I like to think of three different types of innovation:
- Incremental innovation – utilising existing technology, processes, and capabilities to deliver small stepwise improvements
- Disruptive innovation – where a smaller company / player with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge incumbent businesses
- Radical innovation – new industries, products, services or processes that are transformative.
A launch leader will be best served to deliver an innovative launch with the right internal environment. In his book ‘Be Less Zombie’, Elvin Turner identifies that organisations which are highly innovative will have processes, capabilities, leadership, culture, and resourcing dedicated to supporting innovation.
We could all do with being a bit ‘less zombie’ in our launches, but in practice that’s easier to say than to carry out in reality. Tight timelines, low levels of resourcing, complicated external environments, changing product profiles, and complex internal stakeholders are just a few of the challenges that a launch leader has to navigate.
So which companies are winning at innovation in 2020? Forbes’ most innovative companies in 2020 has Siemens, J&J, Bayer, and Novartis in its top 50. However, if we look at the other companies across tech, social media, devices, diagnostics, and more, many of the top 50 companies have a significant interest in healthcare.
So, if you’re a launch leader and thinking about how you can innovate across the different strategic elements of launch, I’d like to propose a ‘ten Ps’ framework (yes, Ps are well used in business practice). Consider the following ten Ps to give you some stimulus to identify two or three (but no more) areas to innovate across your launch: Price, Partnership, Physical Evidence, Patient, Place, People, Processes, Product, Personalisation, Promotion. Run a workshop with your cross-functional launch team and see where their collective creativity, expertise, and energy takes you!
I’m also asked other questions, such as ‘Are there truly innovative people and less innovative people?’ and ‘How do we build innovation skills within our launch team?’ Research into innovation highlights the five key skills of an innovator: associating, observing, experimenting, questioning, networking (The Innovators’ DNA, INSEAD). The recommendation in this great study into innovation is that we can all rehearse, hone and use our innovation skills in our roles with a little bit of discipline and effort.
So what does this mean in practice? If you’re a launch leader and keen to foster capabilities and a culture of innovation, there are lots of things you can do:
- Spend some time as a cross-functional launch team to reflect, plan and implement innovation initiatives
- Track what the competition is doing to be innovative in your therapy area, category or sector
- Create reward / recognition schemes for the innovators in your launch team
- Plug into internal and external networks for practical sources of ideas on innovation
- Give yourself some protected time to ‘be innovative’ – to think, plan, read, play around with an idea or problem
- Hire great agencies and partners that offer new ideas and capabilities, and be careful not to shut down their innovative ideas.
I’m so excited to see brand and launch teams across countries defining problems or pain points, devising solutions, and then testing / evaluating them. Whether you have a company innovation team or hub, retreat or hackathon – just go for it! Innovation is a core ingredient of launch excellence.
There are some great models, articles, and resources if you are inspired to be more innovative. My favourites are Frugal Innovation and ‘Be Less Zombie’.
 “Be less Zombie” Elvis Turner
If you found the Launch Leaders’ blog insightful, why not take a look at our KEY LAUNCH CAPABILITIES FOR A RARE DISEASE LAUNCH or our research into THE BEST AND WORST METRICS FOR A HEALTHCARE LAUNCH.
Launching a new healthcare medicine, device or service is one of the most exciting and rewarding things we can do. Our award-winning Pharmaceutical Marketing Launch Excellence platform can be customised to companies, brands, and markets and has been shown to correlate to superior launch performance. To find out how we can help provide you with the expertise for a successful launch click here or contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a consultation.