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New pharmaceutical sales strategies Embrace healthcare social media

on May 3, 2011

When Pozen, a small drug development company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, goes to market with its latest drug in 2014, the company fully expects that pharmaceutical representatives as the industry once knew them will be relics of history.

Liz Cermak, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, says the Pozen (NASDAQ:POZN) pharma marketing force will be steeped in social media and they’ll target doctors who seek sales information through their mobile devices. It’s all part of the evolution of pharmaceutical marketing. The old way of pharmaceutical reps stopping by doctors’ offices during the business day won’t cut it in modern marketing and Cermak says the approach has diminishing results even now.

“(Doctors,) frankly, don’t have time and they particularly don’t have time during the day, which is exactly when reps are showing up,” says Cermak, who was a Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) executive before joining Pozen.

The old model worked when doctors had more time and products were more differentiated. But prescribing decisions are now largely made by formularies that dictate which drug an insurance company will cover. Doctors still need information about those drugs. But even if that information comes from a pharma rep, it’s more likely to be delivered electronically.

Consulting firm Deloitte recently presented findings on how social media is being used in health care. Doctors may not be using Facebook or Twitter but they are turning to physician-only social networks like Sermo. The physician shift to social media is helped by the growing number of doctors who use smart phones. That means pharma has to change the way it reaches physicians.

Goodbye pharma rep. Hello digital rep.

Pozen already has approved drugs but those products were marketed through partnerships with larger pharma companies GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) and AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN). Pozen’s latest drug candidate, a compound drug that pairs aspirin with another product that makes the pill easier on the stomach, will be the first product Pozen takes to market on its own. Though Cermak acknowledges that some doctors may still want a face-to-face contact, she says Pozen’s marketing will be mainly digital.

Pozen isn’t the only company embracing this new pharma rep model. Deirdre Connelly, GlaxoSmithKline’s president of U.S. pharmaceuticals, recently told an audience of pharmaceutical industry officials that the old competitive pharma selling model –sending multiple sales representatives to a single doctor as much as possible –just won’t work anymore. She outlined a number of changes that use different incentives for pharma reps.

Cermak says the large pharma companies will gradually decrease their spending on pharma reps while they increase their digital marketing. But for small companies like Pozen, adoption of digital reps wil be easier because these companies are starting the new model from scratch. Besides being more effective at reaching physicians, digital contacts will be less expensive than physical ones. That means they should also have an outcome that patients should see: drug prices.

“Because it’s less expensive, we’re not going to be pricing at the big pharma level pricing,” Cermak says.

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