These challenges will be most acutely experienced by products launching in a competitive space where satisfactory alternatives exist, as well as products from small-cap biotechs with less marketing experience and smaller promotional budgets. On the flipside, drugs for life-threatening diseases that have few other options on the market would be more protected from launch disruption. In most cases we expect launches are likely to underperform relative to pre-pandemic expectations, with a much flatter uptake curve expected over the next 6 months.
Whilst we are likely to see some delay in launches in April and May as pharma grapples with disruptions to normal commercial and promotional activities, we expect many companies will resist more significant delays to their launch plans. Why? Because the patent clock is still ticking and there is little certainty around when disruptions affecting the launch environment will improve.
Products highly reliant on in-person diagnostics, administration or monitoring are more likely to consider delays in commercial launch. Similarly, larger companies with more cash flow security are better positioned to take a longer view on launch timing and may be willing to delay by a quarter or more if they calculate a significant improvement in launch conditions.
Looking at examples of how companies are adapting, Biohaven, who launched an oral CGRP migraine therapy rimegepant right before the pandemic hit the US, are trying to stay nimble and have revamped their marketing tactics through use of webinars, telemedicine, DTC and social media tactics. On April 7, Biohaven announced its recent collaboration with Cove, a telemedicine company, to facilitate remote evaluations for migraine sufferers in lieu of in-office visits and to boost patients’ access to rimegepant. However, despite these efforts, a recent survey noted that neurologists remain hesitant in modifying patients’ migraine treatment regimens and will likely not be utilizing rimegepant due to lack of experience with the product.
In contrast, BMS has taken the decision to delay launching ozanimod for the treatment of relapsing multiple sclerosis. This decision gives BMS a better opportunity to maximise impact of launch, though it also provides existing therapies in the MS market such as Novartis’ Gilenya and Mayzent more time to prepare for the competition.