Medical Affairs (MA) professionals are adept at disseminating and acquiring knowledge about advances in pharmaceutical science. Some of those highly effective MA practitioners work for your competition. And you’ll want to know how effective they are. It is no longer enough to measure MA impact by the number of times information or knowledge is shared — it must be measured in the context of competing medical imperatives. Understanding your competitors’ scientific dissemination is just as important as understanding how well your own initiatives are performing.
Tools for surveying the competitive landscape
The practice of competitive intelligence (CI) focuses on gathering information about competitors’ products, customers, marketing efforts, and other aspects of their external business factors. CI is not a clandestine or unethical practice; instead, it relies on public sources of information to assess the competitive landscape. This method of gathering information is commonly called open source competitive intelligence. MA professionals should use open source CI to ensure their efforts are effective relative to those of their competitors.
Open sources of competitive intelligence include trade publications, public government records, such as SEC and FDA filings, and sales and marketing material distributed by competitors. In addition, biomedical literature is a highly valuable source of competitive information: Journal articles and conference proceedings can provide detailed information about an array of activities in competitors’ organizations. MA practitioners can find information about drugs under development along with their safety and efficacy. Publications are also useful for identifying emerging therapeutics that may eventually become competitors or the targets of acquisition for your own company or your competitors. Finally, journals and conference proceedings are useful for understanding your market at a more aggregated, macro level.
Stakeholders Win when the Science Wins
Medical professionals use journals and conference proceedings to keep up to date on new therapeutics and diagnostics as well as best practices. Reading a single paper about a new therapy may not significantly alter the way a physician practices, but repeated exposure to a consistent set of findings can enhance a doctor’s understanding of a drug or treatment regimen. Understanding your competitive environment includes understanding the relative frequency and relevancy with which competitors are mentioned compared to your own scientific dissemination in the literature.
The way drugs are evaluated by various stakeholders is also changing. MA practitioners should keep in mind how both randomized clinical trials (RCT) and real world evidence (RWE) studies are used to assess the efficacy and safety of drugs. In the past, scientific imperatives around a drug have been based on RCT findings, but the shift to RWE is necessitating a change in how imperatives are developed argue some researchers in the field. If this is the case, then competitive intelligence in the pharmaceutical market should shift as well to monitor and analyze the results of RWE. In addition to monitoring the frequency of mentions in the literature, MA practitioners should understand the types of evidence referenced in those mentions. If RWE becomes increasingly trusted as source of support for pharmaceutical products, CI analysts should track how competitor imperatives makes use of both RCT and RWE studies.
In addition to understanding the frequency of mentions and the types of evidence used to support marketing efforts, competitive intelligence research can help track the potential for repurposing drugs. For example, as our understanding of the role of inflammation increases, we are seeing increased interest in using anti-inflammatory to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. This kind of application of existing drugs to new therapeutic regimens has the potential to change markets faster than new drugs that are earlier in the development pipeline.
Competitive intelligence is essential to maintain an awareness of rapidly changing research areas such as immunotherapy. A 2016 study found 30 targeted therapies in use with another 200 in development. There were over 12,000 peer reviewed publications on immunotherapy in 2017 alone. The pace of development in this area demands attention from a business perspective but the volume of data is too large to review without automated tools.
Open source competitive intelligence is a valuable tool for MA professionals. It can help show the position in the literature of your products relative to competitors, highlight the types of evidence used to promote competitive products, and perhaps most importantly, provide information on rapidly changing perceptions as existing drugs are repurposed and new classes of drugs bring significant advances in treatment options.