The secret of successful drug launches

About two-thirds of drug launches don’t meet expectations. Improving that record requires pharmaceutical companies to recognize the world has changed and adjust their marketing accordingly.

Pharmaceutical companies have long relied on successfully launching new drugs to drive growth. This pressure is only likely to increase. Patents are expiring and product pipelines are shrinking. Austerity measures in many countries are increasing local and national hurdles for market access. And, at the same time, launches are becoming more numerous, smaller, and more competitive. We estimate that pharmaceutical companies will launch some 400 new products in the next three years, up 146 percent from 2005. Given this changing external landscape, awash with more products of ever greater diversity, it’s never been more important for pharmaceutical companies to crack the new-product launch code.

Yet their recent track record is sobering at best. About two-thirds of new drugs fail to meet prelaunch consensus sales expectations for their first year on the market,1 and those that fall short typically continue to underdeliver for the next two years (exhibit). There’s no question that every launch has its own set of success factors. Yet by analyzing a sample of 60 launches in late-stage development along the dimensions of clinical differentiation and the perceived burden of the disease area in which the drug is to be launched, we identified four drug archetypes:

Two-thirds of a sample group of drug launches failed to meet prelaunch sales expectations for their first year on the market.

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