Research in Marketing of the Life Sciences

In an article entitled “Marketing of the Life Sciences: A new framework and research agenda for a nascent field”, Stefan Stremersch and Walter Van Dyck identify three key marketing decision domains in healthcare: therapy creation, therapy launch, and therapy promotion. Each domain constitutes of several decision areas.

Therapy Creation

In therapy creation, the key decision areas are therapy pipeline optimization, innovation alliance formation, and therapy positioning.

Therapy pipeline optimization

In life sciences firms, therapy pipelines contain all innovation projects along the following temporal stages: During discovery, therapy candidates are screened for maximum activity on the biological target. Preclinical development and clinical development entail further development, using in vitro or animal experiments and human experiments, respectively.

Innovation alliance formation

Practitioners consider decisions on innovation alliances ancillary decisions. At the same time, this decision area has provided an ideal and often-used testing ground for theory development on interfirm cooperation.

Therapy positioning

Therapy positioning refers to research-and-development (R&D) decisions on the envisioned therapy toward specific indications. Decision makers need to balance three key dimensions: (1) the likelihood that the therapy will be approved for the respective indication, (2) the price they will obtain from the therapy, and (3) the market size for the respective indication over time. Because there are many possible indications, all with different levels of uncertainty for the respective therapy to be approved and varying price expectations, further research should aim to specify decision support models that simulate market size using patient flow dynamics (first use, reuse, switching from competition) at various price expectations and approval likelihoods.

Therapy Launch

The key decision areas in therapy launch are global market entry timing and key opinion leader selection.

Global market entry timing

Previous research has shown that pioneers do not have long-lasting market advantages. In the life sciences industry, an important moderator of the market return on a pioneering therapy may be whether it pertains to generic or branded therapies. Contrary to common wisdom in other industries and contrary to branded variants in life sciences, generics may yield strong pioneering advantages. Besides, an important contingency factor that has not received any attention is the role of cross-country influence in launch sequencing.

Key opinion leader selection

Life sciences firms often stimulate reviews of their therapy by select key opinion leaders because such leaders may serve as product champions to their peers. The effect of such opinion leaders on other physicians’ prescriptions can be large when considerable uncertainty exists (e.g., a change in the regulation or the introduction of a new therapy) or when physicians experience normative pressures (e.g., there is strong formulary adherence). However, we cannot take the positive role of opinion leaders for granted, and further research should inventory the contingencies that affect the role of opinion leaders.

Therapy performance

The key decision areas in therapy promotion are sales force management, communication management, and stimulating patient compliance.

Sales force management

A first decision area in therapy promotion is sales force management. Visits by the sales force of life sciences firms to physicians are referred to as “detailing.” A first opportunity for further study is to increase the reliability of the literature-based generalization that the mean effect of detailing on brand prescriptions is positive but small, through meta-analysis. A second opportunity lies in the development of models that allow for policy experiments. The third opportunity lies in developing physician targeting models based on volume, physician responsiveness to detailing, and competitive detailing patterns. By far, the most room for novel research seems to be in the content of detailing visits. Past and, for most companies, present detailing calls present only favourable information using positively biased information sets—that is, only studies favourable to the brand are presented, or side effects are omitted. This sales model seems increasingly dysfunctional, with hospitals and physicians reacting adversely to detailing, even rejecting it altogether, which is symptomatic for the conflicting logics between life sciences firms and the rest of the health care value chain.

Communication management

Although communication efforts of life sciences firms may target both consumers and physicians, the budgets dedicated to the former group are more than ten times larger than the budgets dedicated to the latter, and from the interviews we held with practitioners, direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) is also the most challenging. Further research on other potential outcomes of DTCA, such as its effect on brand choice, would be fruitful because it is fraught with debate.

Stimulating patient compliance

As our survey results show, life sciences firms undervalue the importance of stimulating patient compliance, from both a patient welfare and a profit perspective. Despite its high relevance, academic research has not studied the role of the life sciences firm in patient compliance in depth.

More information

Download the article “Marketing of the Life Sciences: A New Framework and Research Agenda for a Nascent Field” by Stefan Stremersch and Walter Van Dyck), "lead article" "article featured on JM blog", Journal of Marketing, 73 (4), 2009, 4-30.