By George Litos, Managing Principal, Life Sciences Consulting
Ken Edwards, Senior Manager, Life Sciences Consulting at EPAM Continuum
Before the pandemic, it is doubtful many had even heard of mRNA therapeutics outside of vaccines – now, the market size will reach over $5B by 2026 when it was only $950M in 2020. The growth of this new class of drugs will be driven by advancements in the therapeutic areas of oncology, cardiovascular, antivirals and respiratory therapies.
Overcoming the Hurdles of Yesteryear
The pandemic showed that mRNA companies were either ill-prepared for a new product launch – due to marketing, sales or manufacturing challenges – or required the backbone of a large pharma company to succeed. To overcome these obstacles, mRNA companies should focus on virtual sales enablement, marketing automation and implementing digital twins into manufacturing processes.
Moving Away from In-Person Sales Interactions
The pandemic has frequently been described as an acceleration event, as many technologies and processes in their infantile or prototyping stage rapidly grew to accommodate the needs of isolated and remote people. As the industry saw a dramatic shift in mandatory office closures, prescriptions and patient visits, companies were forced to move away from in-person sales interactions to virtual sales calls. In a recent poll of 475 healthcare industry professionals, 75% of respondents said virtual interactions would remain post-pandemic. Both incumbent pharma companies and newer mRNA companies need to rethink and retool their future sales organizations to better support the capabilities of virtual engagement.
For pharma and mRNA therapy companies to succeed in this era of virtual sales, they will need to reconfigure and update their capabilities to support digital engagement with healthcare providers (HCPs), their main customers. Although traditional pharmaceutical companies can hire multiple pharmaceutical sales representatives to call on a single HCP for a new launch, start-ups don’t have that same luxury. To rebalance the scales, mRNA companies should invest in a virtual sales organization (VSO) before any therapeutic launch. With the right technologies in place, the VSO will be more effective in delivering curated content to HCPs and their staff.
A recent article by McKinsey reported that sales efficiency is increased by 10 -15% with the addition of Intelligent Automation (IA). The correct data platform coupled with various intelligent automation technologies can guide the virtual sales representative through the entire sales cycle, suggesting the best next steps, activities and marketing assets based on real-time information. In a simplified business case, imagine your VSO presenting a study that demonstrated the clinical success of your product. Just as the HCP or staff begins to ask pointed questions about the study, your AI virtual sales assistant provides the best-approved content for the virtual sales representative to respond to the HCP in real time. Further with the addition of Machine Learning (ML), the VSO can not only track, but also predict which approved marketing content drives the best results for a personalized HCP detail.
Taking an Agile Approach to Content Marketing
Digital content and messaging are critical to keeping HCPs and their patients informed and educated on new mRNA treatments, resulting in higher sales and decreasing apprehension concerning such therapies. However, content is only as effective as its distribution – whenever an mRNA company launches a new product – there are sometimes thousands of digital artifacts that must get sent through various channels. Not only must the brand messaging be consistent across all channels, but this content must also be factually correct, undergoing a rigorous review and approval process. Unfortunately, the traditional review process is time-consuming and hampered by a limited ability to adapt digital content. Like many industries, mRNA companies must modernize content management to minimize inefficiencies.
By taking a defined modular, agile approach, mRNA therapy businesses can accelerate content approval while converting the content management system into an integrated platform, which can release new digital content simultaneously to many different channels. Such a platform is much more cost-effective than previous methodologies, providing HCPs and patients with the best messaging on their preferred channel. Various technology solutions that can make agile content marketing a reality are AI automation, allowing brand managers to input specific campaign objectives, whereby the platform would intuitively recommend the most effective channels for dissemination. Other helpful technologies include a digital asset management library, which streamlines review procedures for the brand manager, and robotic process automation that package the content for distribution and automatically publishes it to the corresponding channels.
Preparing for Supply Chain Challenges with Digital Twins
Considering the globalized and highly connected world, mRNA companies must have the means to ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccines, or any other therapeutics, quickly to meet the unanticipated demand. Accomplishing such rapid production and delivery requires robust supply chain operations, which is why mRNA companies should leverage digital twin technology. A digital twin is a virtual depiction or model that mirrors something in the real world, be that an object, process or system, such as the mRNA vaccine supply chain. Indeed, much of the popularity behind digital twins over the last decade is because of their ability to recreate supply chains for various industries. And by aggregating the data from multiple digital twins, companies can create a composite view across several real-world entities within a highly complex supply chain.
Equipped with digital twins, mRNA organizations can confidently launch new treatments, having already run multiple simulations for demand. These digital twins give businesses visibility into process operations like capacity planning, sourcing, and delivery, helping mRNA companies accurately plan the proper amount of inventory, reducing waste, and saving money. Moreover, digital twins enable these organizations to mimic disaster scenarios such as raw material shortages or plant shutdowns, thereby preparing them for the absolute worst.
Filling in the Old Gaps with Modern Solutions
The future of mRNA companies is vast, going beyond vaccines to other therapies like immunotherapy cancer, cardiovascular and antivirals. As mRNA companies progress into new therapeutic areas, it’s vital that mRNA companies, much like traditional pharmaceuticals, fill in the gaps left in the wake of their incredible growth. Likewise, incumbent businesses can use digital transformation to prepare for the challenges that hamstrung their traditional counterparts, equipping their sales, marketing, and manufacturing operations with the tools needed to maximize revenue, cut costs, and service a globalized population.
Editor’s Note: Kenneth Edwards, Senior Manager, Life Sciences Consulting at EPAM Continuum: Ken Edwards is a Senior Manager for Life Sciences Consulting at EPAM Continuum with more than 15 years of experience in R&D, sales, manufacturing and operations. He has also completed therapeutic assessments in oncology, cardiovascular, urology and anti-infective. Mr. Edwards received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from North Carolina Central University and a Master of Business Administration from Kansas State University.
George Litos, Managing Principal, Life Sciences Consulting at EPAM Continuum: George Litos is a Managing Principal and Practice Lead of the Life Sciences Business Consulting Practice EPAM Continuum. He has more than 25 years of experience in management consulting with a ‘Big 4′ background in pharmaceutical and health services. He works closely with Life Sciences clients in the mRNA space where he focuses on building enterprise-wide digital capabilities. Mr. Litos received a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and Finance from the University of Connecticut.