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The Virtual Drugstore

1 Jun, 2008 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

Pharmaceutical companies are projected to generate $10.6 billion in sales through direct marketing in 2008. That number is expected to reach as much as $15.2 billion by 2012, according to a study from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).


Specialty Pharmacies


An important emerging area in drug distribution is the specialty pharmacy. These niche pharmaceutical companies are competing quite successfully with the larger businesses, and a lot of that is due to the success of DR marketing.

"Since specialty pharmacies typically deliver the prescription to the patient's home, the opportunity for distribution of mail and promotional literature is available at minimal cost, again providing an entry for retention and loyalty efforts," says Bennett Walbert.

Being a unique drug in the market place is a marketing advantage for Relistor and for many other small biotech manufacturers competing with the big pharmaceutical companies. In 2006, $54 billion was spent on specialty medications and by 2010, that number is projected to be $99 billion.

Another specialty pharmaceutical company is Sagent Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Schaumburg, Ill.-based research and development business that opened in 2006 and has already launched four products. Sagent focuses on injectables, and has five new products in the pipeline for 2008 — and predicts 30 more for 2009.

So how does a smaller company like Sagent compete? Joe Mase, director of marketing, says it has to do with a unique product, more attention to customer satisfaction, the use of outsourcers — Sagent develops the drugs but they are manufactured at several partner sites — and a tailored advertising message.

"Our call to action — through print, mail, sales rep — is how to improve safety and reduce costs," says Mase. Pushing Sagent's injectables as safe products not only builds trust between the hospital workers and the company — and the patient and the doctor — but it also reduces mistakes.

For example, one of Sagent's big marketing points is its distinctly different labeling so that when injectables with similar names are sitting on a storeroom shelf, a nurse can easily tell them apart.

Simplifying the pharmaceutical process for medical professionals and patients alike is also important at Diplomat Pharmacy, an online retailer that specializes in medication regimens for patients with chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and HIV/AIDS.

"At a time when boutique specialty pharmacies are merging with larger companies that simply cannot provide the necessary high-touch element crucial to specialty pharmacies, Diplomat is the leader in specialty pharmacy care," says Dan Roelofs, advertising director for Diplomat. The company's unique Patient Navigator Program helps the patient to know how much and when to take each medication. The program is meant to simplify complex therapy, increase adherence and increase clinical outcomes.

Diplomat partners with pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce co-branded sales pieces. For example, Diplomat is currently working with Roche to promote its patient assistance program called Moving Forward. Roche keeps a banner ad on the Diplomat Web site.

However, Roelofs notes that even online stores must use some traditional DR channels to market products.

"Most of our marketing dollars are spent reaching out to physicians at their offices and managed care organizations using sales teams and through promotion at conferences," he says.


Viral Marketing Online


When it comes to pharmaceuticals, viral marketing is perhaps the strongest weapon in the DR arsenal. In an industry surrounded by skeptical consumers, word of mouth can often be the best way to get customers' attentions.

Very early on, Progenics aimed to viral market Relistor. Nurses working with the trials were the most successful in spreading the word among colleagues. "In communities driven by advocacy — such as oncology and HIV — patients and families go to great lengths to offer support and care," says Capone. Most patients are not afraid to get online and chat about a disease, where they might be more timid about speaking with a physician. So getting into these community chats is important for marketers.

Craig De Large is the head of eMarketing and relationship marketing at Novo Nordisk U.S. in Princeton, N.J. His division was formed to give renewed focus in the areas of brand and customer portal Web site development, customer relationship and database marketing, and integrated multi-channel metricing and ROI. One of the division's innovative DR strategies was leveraging customer portals like and While Novo Nordisk is still in the experimental mode of the online social media space, its Voices of Diabetes blog is a first step into the medium.

The team at says that viral marketing and social networking has done wonders for the business. For example, the Healthcare 100 initiative — a blog ranking system on the Web site — has created a lot of buzz in newspapers and medical blogs and has driven traffic to the site. Also, the February launch of the Community has dramatically increased the amount of time the average visitor spends on the site, which has contributed to more sales and an increase in sales per visitor.

"Before we launched the community, most of our visitors bought some, but not all, of their prescription drugs through our site," says Byrd. "One result of this is that more of our members are choosing to purchase all of their medications through"


The Future of Pharmas


What comes next for the pharmaceutical industry? The future lies in easier accessibility of information for both healthcare providers and patients. Experts suggest that drug companies will work with pharmacies and doctors to text message patients drug regimens, making sure medication is taken at the correct time.

Similarly, a program for medication regimens will be offered online and can help patients monitor for unsafe drug interactions. Finally, manufacturers will use E-mail, text messaging and video streaming (via mobile devices or pod casts) to remind patients to refill prescriptions.

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