The Changing Landscape of Oncology Commercialization: A Conversation with Pallavi Garg

Pulse: What are in your opinion the top 3 trends in oncology?


PG: A number of exciting trends are emerging in oncology and are transforming the way cancer care is delivered:

 1.     Big Data and Artificial Intelligence- There is an abundance of data in large oncology-focused companies such as Novartis. These data can provide powerful insights that can impact several functions within the pharma organization - develop new approaches to therapeutics; improve understanding of genetics; better understand patient outcomes; develop optimized channel mix and messaging strategies- to name a few. While there is a lot of buzz around Big Data, currently we are just about scratching the surface of the possibilities here. Perhaps the biggest challenge to overcome is to ensure that the data we have is ‘clean’ so it can be harmonized to run algorithms and ultimately reveal actionable insights.

 2.     Patients as Engaged Partners- Oncologists are no longer the sole decision makers that are driving patient care. The power of technology has led to democratization of information and this has empowered patients to take a greater and more informed role in their treatment plans. Countless number of apps are being developed to help patients better manage their condition, their symptoms and to connect and engage with communities. Pharma companies have been quick to respond to this trend and it is no longer uncommon to see Oncology drugs mass advertised on prime time television- a channel typically reserved for more chronic and high prevalence conditions such as diabetes. We see increasing efforts also being made by both oncologists and pharma marketers to deliver highly individualized information and support to patients which is relevant to the unique stage of their individual patient journey.

 3.     Rising Cost of Cancer Care- Significant therapeutic innovation in oncology along with patient survivorship and an ageing population have contributed to the rising cost of cancer care. Oncology drugs that have historically benefitted from broad coverage are now increasingly managed by payers. For drug launches to be successful, pharmaceutical companies have to demonstrate the cost effectiveness and value of the treatments that are entering the market. New payment models are being explored and patient care is shifting from traditional fee-for-service models to a variety of outcome-based models. A new challenge for health systems is around coverage of breakthrough one-time cell therapies that have the ability to truly transform the lives of patients suffering from these conditions.


Pulse: What would you say are the major scientific breakthroughs in the oncology space in recent years?

PG: It is a really promising time to be a part of Oncology. Nearly 40% of total R & D investments in pharma today are focused in the Oncology arena. As a result, there are a number of breakthrough medicines that have been developed and approved to treat several different types of cancers – of note are transformative CAR-T therapies, Radio Ligand therapies, new targeted treatments as well as continued development in next gen immunotherapies. This is great news for patients as a cancer diagnosis today does not necessarily mean a death sentence. While there is significant amount of work ahead of us, we are advancing well in the direction of, one day, making cancer a chronic illness.

Pulse: What are the key elements of a successful product launch in Oncology today?

PG: As the complexity in the oncology landscape is increasing, each drug launch requires a unique and dedicated approach to be successful. In many instances, we see big pharma companies now competing with single-product focused biotech companies. As a result, to stay competitive, it is very important to be nimble and agile and not be bogged down by the bureaucracy and processes that can often a part of big pharma work culture. It is critical that launch leaders drive engagement across the matrix of functional experts so decisions can be taken with agility, not only during the time leading up to the launch, but also in that critical post launch window where strategy tweaks may be necessary.

Another key element of a successful launch is to develop product strategy that is rooted in deep stakeholder insights. One can never stress enough the importance of insights driven strategy. In the age of Amazon, consumerism is on the rise and pharma has some catching up to do. A deep understanding of customer’s attitudes and expectations and of the patient journey are critical to developing a sound and distinctive product strategy.

In addition, more so than ever before, it is important to elevate the quality and impact of pharma’s communication with its stakeholders. As physicians’ work-loads rise, they are busier than ever leading them to significantly close the access they once gave to the pharma sales representative. To make most of this limited time with physicians, we must engage them with the right messages, delivered at the right time, through the right channel and with a focus on the most appropriate patient type.  Data and digital can play a key role here in devising omni-channel strategies on next best action that can drive optimal engagements.

Pulse: Given the changes you mentioned above, which skills do you think someone starting a Marketing/Commercial career in Oncology should develop after graduate school?”

PG: Increasing competition and complexity in the oncology space is leading to rapid shrinkage in white space opportunities. The skill sets and competencies that got us ‘here’ might not necessarily be the best ones to get us ‘there’. To lead the industry through what’s to come, future leaders in oncology must demonstrate:

1.     Ability to uncover key stakeholder insights- A deep understanding of our stakeholders provides impactful A-HAs that are the foundation of a winning product strategy.

2.     Learning agility- To keep up to speed with the latest evolution in science, data, payer landscape and competitive dynamics. More importantly though, the ability to convert these complex concepts into simple value propositions that are meaningful to our stakeholders.

3.     Curiosity- It can save us from drowning in day to day ‘stuff’ and fuel the kind of big picture thinking that is often necessary to drive innovation. 

4.     Outstanding ability to collaborate- This is critical especially when staffed on a product launch team. Internal leaders, across functional divides, must align first on unified vision and specific product positioning prior to initiating engagement with external stakeholders.

5.     Courage and Empathy- To speak up and provide the patient perspective in all aspects of decision making, because it’s ultimately them that we truly serve