Oncology is one of the pharma industry’s largest and most appealing sectors, creating a crowded market. In fact, most major pharma companies desire to be seen as leaders in oncology innovation. However, bulging pipelines for the development of oncology drugs find companies competing with similar products and finding new applications for existing targets.
The most successful approach today is to seek category leadership in 1 or 2 oncology segments, and a partnership with a boutique marketing communications agency is the perfect strategy. A boutique agency with experience in a specific oncology segment has a better understanding of how to appeal to a niche market by demonstrating category expertise.

Navigating the Drug Development Process
Cancer is a deeply complex disease with dozens of identified tumor types at different stages of clinical maturity, defining individual markets for the larger pharmaceutical category of oncology. In addition, hundreds of molecules have been classified whose mechanisms can be targeted to improve diagnostics and cancer care schemes. This knowledge has intensified the drug development process and indicates why a sharper focus on specific segments is needed.

To develop a successful treatment, scientists must support the product’s clinical efficacy and demonstrate that the new drug is superior to existing treatments. A quickly evolving oncology field means that new approaches to treatment, including targeted and combination therapies, require clinical assessment and marketing. You need a clear path to category leadership to surpass your competitors.

Understanding the Oncology Space
Pharmaceutical companies find more success in a vertical market when they focus on 1 or 2 cancer segments, rather than creating products that serve the broader oncology market. It is easy to understand the value of category leadership when you view oncology through the eyes of your customers (patients, providers, and payers), as cancer cannot be clearly defined by a single treatment category.

In fact, 6 categories are currently designated for the oncology sector: hematology, community oncology, dermatologic oncology, gynecologic oncology, uro-oncology, and specialist tumors (including brain, thyroid, head and neck, and bone tumors). However, these categories often have blurry boundaries, leaving room for new categories to emerge.

The Benefits of a Category Leadership Strategy
A strategy that hinges on the expertise of a specific oncology category is better for leveraging customer insights and exploiting expert resources in building a robust model for market. The strength of a category leadership strategy is that it can apply the same model across multiple therapies in the same category. Furthermore, companies with a category leadership strategy have a better clinical design because they have higher-quality assets and a better understanding of the category dynamics.

Category leaders also benefit from better market performance. Recent research by Bain & Company shows that companies seeking to lead in a specific vertical category typically outperform their competitors. In fact, of all oncology indications launched between 2005 and 2013, the companies that were category leaders more than doubled their revenues over other companies. In addition, these indications also maintained a one-third higher approval rate moving into phase III trials.

The Path to Category Leadership
Becoming a category leader is an evolutionary process, and the correct strategy for your company generally depends on your starting point. To position yourself as a category leader in an immature market, for example, launch a breakthrough therapy. Following the success of this breakthrough drug, additional indications should be identified. Checkpoint inhibitors are typically added next to the pipeline, then combination therapies.

That said, paths to category leadership should first hold a lens to your current R&D portfolio. Evaluate any potential synergistic value from pursuing additional depth in a particular category. You can accomplish this by targeting new biomarkers, assessing combination therapies, and adjusting care protocols. In addition, develop an active clinical program in next-generation therapies and specific biomarkers; even if you have an established portfolio of high-quality assets, invest in programs that promise to deliver superior patient outcomes over existing standards.

Partnering With a Boutique Agency
The best approach to seeking category leadership is to form a partnership with a boutique marketing communications agency. There are many reasons to use a boutique agency, but subject matter expertise and access to top physician KOLs are necessary elements in a category leadership strategy. The right boutique agency is experienced in 1 or 2 oncology categories and already understands the market and what physicians want in next-generation drugs.

Building deep knowledge in a fast-moving market is key to a successful category leadership strategy. Not only are cancer care markets competitive, they are also quite complicated. Category leadership strategies are almost synonymous with boutique medical communications agencies—both focus on the idea that the greater the knowledge regarding a specific tumor type, the sharper the guidance on clinical treatment design, and the better the outcomes.