By Jane Chin, Ph.D.
Let’s take the trend of “personalized medicine” to start. Yes, gene-based and protein-based medicines sound alluring. We talk about targeted therapies like they’re silver bullets against deadly diseases, when we still don’t know of the long term effects of many small molecule and biologics as medicines.
All that talk about personalized medicine and how wonderful it would be if we were to have drugs tailored for us? We’ve been doing that for years!
Yet pharma has been providing a level of “personalized” medicine for years, which has created its reputation as a greedy industry with “mediocre” innovation as perceived by its critics.
Critics ask why we need yet another statin? Do we really need to have that many antidepressants in the SSRI class? How many more erectile dysfunction product ads can we endure? Should we blackbox all the glitazone drugs?
We can apply the “personalized” medicine argument to these so called “me-too” drugs reviled by academics and consumer watch dogs. We do need that many statins, because a patient may tolerate atorvastatin better than rosuvastatin. Someone’s life may be saved by paroxetine even when their depression symptoms didn’t respond well to sertraline.
But all this comes at a cost, because of the fundamental reality that personalized medicine requires segmentation of patient types to the point where what used to be ‘blockbuster marketing” is becoming “specific patient population/niche marketing”.
Truthfully, pharma marketers don’t like that. The return on investment isn’t as impressive. Investors on wall street are more impressed by blockbuster numbers than special patient populations. Executives don’t get as big of a bonus at the end of the year. Ad agencies don’t get as many multi-million dollar contracts for celebrity ads or computer graphic-generated creatures talking about allergies.
So the first shift requires pharma companies to begin training their marketers and sales teams to view patients as patient groups with specific tolerances and response profiles rather than a faceless generic group from which blockbusters are created.