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The convergence of rare disease, digital communications, and pharmaceutical marketing communications

Why is the Niche Market in Pharma Growing?

Posted by | 7:33am on Monday, October 27, 2008

Sunset1I heard a doctor/investment banker speak a few weeks ago at a conference on why he is investing in orphan and specialty pharma.

His belief is that the niche market in pharma is growing because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new therapies that treat major disorders/diseases that are not too complex in nature which present significant challenges to successfully becoming blockbusters.

However, there are still opportunities for therapies that treat disorders in small patient populations, especially since the release of The Orphan Drug Act which is 25 years old this year:

The Congress finds that—

  1. there are many diseases and conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, myoclonus, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Tourette syndrome, and muscular dystrophy which affect such small numbers of individuals residing in the United States that the diseases and conditions are considered rare in the United States;
  2. adequate drugs for many of such diseases and conditions have not been developed;
  3. drugs for these diseases and conditions are commonly referred to as “orphan drugs”;
  4. because so few individuals are affected by any one rare disease or condition, a pharmaceutical company which develops an orphan drug may reasonably expect the drug to generate relatively small sales in comparison to the cost of developing the drug and consequently to incur a financial loss;
  5. there is reason to believe that some promising orphan drugs will not be developed unless changes are made in the applicable Federal laws to reduce the costs of developing such drugs and to provide financial incentives to develop such drugs; and
  6. it is in the public interest to provide such changes and incentives for the development of orphan drugs.

The National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD) website reports that there are 300 orphan drugs on the market today with another 1,100 being developed. In a previous post I blogged about the industry moving from Blockbuster to Nichebuster and reports show that it is niche therapies that are seeing the most growth in the pharma market.

One of the stumbling blocks for pharma, however, is learning to operate in this new environment. It is impractical to mass market specialty pharma to small groups of patients in the same way they have with blockbuster therapies.

Pharma marketers will need to reevaluate how, when, and why they communicate with these groups. Instead of pushing a message, they must create trust and pull these small patient groups in. To do so, they need to attract, engage, retain, and measure:

  • Attract: Learn about the small patient populations and figure out the best method to communicate to them.
  • Engage: Deliver the most relevant information possible to these small patient populations and ensure that what you’re sending is useful to them (not just marketing for you).
  • Retain: Simply put, give this audience a reason to return. Giving the most valuable information creates trust and encourages patients to view your site as a resource.
  • Measure: As with any marketing initiative, measure everything to prove you are reaching and exceeding your business objectives. If not, change course and try again.

This methodology is both more useful to the patients and more lucrative for pharma. This report from BioTechnology gives more insight into the changing world that pharma companies face. All signs point to this growing market for small patient populations and specialty pharma solutions.

(Image courtesy of Voj via Flickr)

About Wendy White

Since founding Siren Interactive in 1999, Wendy has been recognized as a thought leader at the intersection of niche pharma brands, patient empowerment and online marketing. Her vision for how the internet can facilitate interactions and provide crucial information that patients, caregivers and their healthcare providers previously struggled to find has propelled Siren to the forefront of relationship marketing for rare disorder therapies.

View other posts from Wendy

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