Howard Sinclair, Strategic Director – Rare Diseases and Gene Therapy with The Prime Medical Group believes communication strategies are essential to orphan drugs and gene therapy, but are often overlooked. The consequences? ‘If companies don’t successfully communicate the product data, that will have a significant effect on the success of the product.’ To maximize returns on clinical investment, he believes companies need to start communicating early, be consistent, establish who the target audience is, and understand the hierarchies within them.
Here he outlines the main communication challenges companies face:
While there is much anticipation and excitement when it comes to gene therapies, there is also quite a bit of scepticism. Historical failures and even deaths have led to a level of uncertainty in the clinical and regulatory world. Howard says, ‘I think it was billed, maybe about 20 years ago, that gene therapy was the next big thing and it was going to solve all these problems and I’m confident that it will solve an awful lot of problems going forwards, but it has taken rather longer than we all anticipated. There is a perception problem.’
- Information Overload
Appropriate and targeted communications are key to effectively convey your information to the right people. ‘Physicians and patients, in the IT age in which we live, are bombarded with information right, left and centre. It’s very difficult for people to sift through it all, and certainly for a physician, where we’re talking about very rare conditions, to have their antennae up and identify the patient. So I think the communication strategy is therefore very important to help that physician identify the patient and to inform him as what the appropriate action should be.’
Once your product is ready to market, there are still a number of communications hurdles to overcome. The perception of cost is one obstacle in the commercialization process: ‘It’s inevitable that because of the complexity of gene therapy products, that they will be very expensive products and perceived as very expensive products, but most of them will hopefully be, based on what we know at this stage, a once in a lifetime treatment. So it will be a big initial cost, but if that treatment is going to satisfy the patient for the rest of their life, then relative to other agents available at present time, these will not be particularly expensive.’
Other questions to consider when looking to market your product are:
- Has the primary (and beyond) target audiences been identified and effectively engaged with?
- Have the Centres of excellence been identified and communicated with?
- Has an optimal patient pathway been developed and communicated?
- Have you communicated and engaged with patient groups/organisations?
Howard believes that non of these challenges are insurmountable, but companies need to recognize them and build in the right responses when forming their communication strategy. They need a targeted approach and the ability to understand how their data fits within the commercial environment. Finally, companies need to communicate a sound rational for using their product. As Howard point out, ‘There needs to be a story flow around the question: Why use this product as opposed to what you’ve been doing in the past?’
Visit the Cell Therapy Manufacturing and Gene Therapy Congress website for discussion on similar issues and updates on this year’s event being held from 30th November to 1st December in Brussels.