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Do We Need Medical Communications If We Are A Market Leader?

Leadership is usually the result of:

  • A first mover advantage;
  • A good product with strong clinical data;
  • A significant marketing spend; or
  • A combination of all these factors. 

If your product is a leader, then you, or a predecessor, did something right to differentiate and position the product in its therapeutic area. However, leadership requires vigilance because competition is never too far away.

If we use marketing as an example, and if we assume the principles can be applied to protecting your share of the medical education space, then a leader generally has three key strategies to maintain their position:

  • Expand their activity to cover a broader therapeutic area (assuming such activity is consistent with approved indications);
  • Proactively and aggressively focus on increasing their share of knowledge-seeking healthcare professionals; or
  • Fiercely protect their education space.

Many pharma companies will take the opportunity to match their product’s expanding indication with an expanding educational program. It may start as an end-stage treatment and eventually move to first line. 

It is safe to assume that, if this therapeutic area were a priority for the company, education would ramp up in accordance with clinical use. This would be done systematically and in line with the need to educate healthcare professionals as the new treatment becomes available to them and their patients.   

In this circumstance, challengers would be hard pressed to succeed against a competitor who is providing good-quality education across a broad therapeutic area that aligns with clinical need. Instead, challengers would be more interested in identifying leaders who are practising protection-like strategies, because this behaviour creates educational gaps that they can fill. 

In my experience, the easiest education gaps to find are in therapeutic areas where the leader appears to be taking a more reactive approach to defending their education space. It is not surprising that this often becomes the default position for many therapeutic area leaders. 

These leaders dominate the market, they have a differentiated product that has a well-defined clinical role, and they don’t perceive any value in maintaining a high-quality education program. Besides, they are watching for the full-on frontal ‘attack’ from a newly listed competitor or a new PBS listing. They tend to be less concerned with an education initiative coming from a less obvious place. Chances are, they may not even notice any new educational activity at first and by the time they do it can be too late.

As I’ve already mentioned, it’s been my experience that challengers are not looking to wrestle everything away from the leader, they are just looking for an opportunity to engage in a clinical discussion with a greater proportion of healthcare professionals.  The main problem is that if you let the challenger get in there first with their education program, you will lose some credibility. 

Once they’ve taken the initiative like that it’s very hard to get it back. Even if you do, some healthcare professionals may perceive that you were following rather than leading.

By definition, a leader should be providing education across a wide front. They should be engaged in sharing the latest science on the therapeutic area they occupy; they should be upskilling on disease management and providing clear guidance on the responsible, quality use of their products. 

It is important for a market leader to own the education space because it is the high ground. A leader should not concede this ground to a challenger, if they can avoid it.