Three traps to avoid when marketing an orphan drug

Marketing orphan drugs versus treatments with large disease states are two very different tasks. The reality is that branding, positioning and sales of treatments for rare diseases is a relatively new niche in the history of pharmaceutical marketing. Too often a “big-pharma” approach is adopted to this targeted challenge with compromised results. It’s not illogical to think that experience with a large brand should apply to one with a very select audience. But the strategies crafted and actions taken to brand and market an orphan drug should be deliberately different.

Here are three important traps to avoid when strategizing orphan marketing outreach:

Don’t neglect to position and communicate the disease state.

Unlike more prevalent diseases, rare conditions are often overlooked, misdiagnosed and even simply dismissed by practitioners who rightly suspect they may never even see an affected patient. If attention is paid to the disease state, it generally occurs before the launch of a treatment when marketing budget is limited. Once the treatment becomes available, there is enormous pressure to market the product and transition any identified patients onto therapy.

The reality is that both before and after an orphan treatment is cleared for market, disease state communication is paramount. Educating practitioners about the disease and potential differential diagnoses is key, and every effort has to be made to stay on their radar.

Don’t forget to personalize the disease and diagnostic experience.

Most rare disease states can trigger a dismissive response from practitioners. Research reveals that the two most common reasons for this are that they assume that because of the low incidence of the diseases that they simply are unlikely to see affected patients. The other reason is that even if they do, most of these diseases, unfortunately, do not have any cure or indicated treatment. It’s not that practitioners do not care about these patients; it’s more that they may feel that there is not enough that they can do for them, if they ever encounter them in their practice.

Because of these factors, it is crucial to personalize the disease state and diagnostic experience by sharing real patient experiences and diagnostic journeys. It’s important to remind practitioners that yes these conditions are rare, but there are people out there who need their help. It’s equally important to communicate that there is a treatment indicated for the disease and that these patients can in fact be treated now. Demonstrating the often-tortuous diagnostic journey patients take can be an illuminating experience and an effective marketing tool. And because so often, these diseases have such a debilitating effect over time, there is an urgency to close the timeframe between first symptoms, diagnosis and eventual treatment.

Don’t broadcast.

The temptation is to tell everyone everything you can about the disease state, and potentially the treatment. Canvassing practitioner and patient populations can be costly and the truth is that depending on your audience, there’s only so much they need to know.

It’s important to stay focused on your top priority audiences. Which practitioners are most likely to suspect the disease based on symptoms and manifestations? Which practitioners are most likely to make a definitive diagnosis? Which practitioners are most likely to treat the patient? If you paint all of these with the same brush, chances are you will either dilute your message, or simply overload the communication to the point where it is easily dismissed by your targets. As simple as it sounds, you must be diligent about only communicating what each audience needs to know and what action(s) you want them to take. Less is more.

The complexities of rare disease states and their treatments are numerous. Each presents its own distinct barriers based on the specific disease, treatment, patient population and targeted practitioners. But the more practitioners can be educated about the disease state, the more the disease state and diagnostic journey can be portrayed in a personal manner, and the more targeted calls to action can be, the stronger the your brand will become, and ultimately the more patients will benefit.

by Jonathan D. Katz