One of the major disconnects in the pharma industry, for a variety of reasons (historical, regulatory, organizational) is  the one between product development and the marketing which follows. Products have always been developed mostly tailored to functional specs, with the needs and convenience of patients who end up taking the medicines a secondary, or marginal, factor (beyond a basic, obvious level). Indeed, such product-related elements such as formulation, vessel and packaging design are purely functional – syringe, self-inject pen, pill, gel-cap etc. etc. Marketing these products has mostly been conducted post-hoc, based on a finalized set of characteristics, which the market itself had little effect on, aside from the initial basic medical need.

Or, should I say, that was the way things have always been.

A widely used phrase in healthcare is the “consumerization of patients”. Indeed, they/we are seen as becoming much a more prominent factor in recent years, expecting more of our doctors but also more from the medical products that we (and our health insurance) are paying for.

Thus, the evolution of medicines from the conventional products we’ve always known into more sophisticated consumer products is set to change the way pharma companies develop and market their products and, of course, the way patients consume them . In order to meet the increasing expectations patients have of their drugs, based on patients’ increasing power and voice, medicines will be designed to be more friendly to patients, more useful, more comfortable, even more interactive where possible. All this, despite restrictive regulations and the very slow pace at which the legal framework surrounding the industry moves. With R&D naturally not dealing closely with non-medical patient needs, the natural move will be to interface marketing and product development.

Adding user-friendliness and the will to meet expanding patient needs will touch a variety of fields which are central to the industry’s business, including packaging, formulation, medical monitoring, patient adherence to name but a few. For patients, the solutions offered should touch upon all phases of the treatment journey, from the product received at the pharmacy, to routine usage, to re-ordering and result monitoring.

Some examples for possible different capabilities are:

  • More convenient packaging for patients with motor issues; waste disposal and collection services for used syringes.
  • Extended use of environmentally-friendly materials.
  • Integrating medical follow up and result assessment with medicine taking: pills and/or syringes which measure and indicate the patients’ condition (e.g. blood or other internal parameters) upon injecting /digesting.
  • Pillboxes which calculate the number of pills taken out and automatically remind the patient of the dosing regime, or syringes which include RFID broadcasters to indicate via computer-linked receivers to the doctor when patients have self-injected.

Manufacturing these medicines, making them more appealing to consumers not only for their health benefit proposition, but also on associated extra added-value as part of the empowered patient’s self-disease management, will require not only new skills and innovative ideas from product development people, but, equally as important, a linking of market knowledge prevalent in marketing & sales departments with the product development and design capabilities which exist in R&D departments.

This, of course, will require much closer work between these two important segments of pharma companies – the relationship between which has historically been non-existent, weak, or even one of mutual suspicion. Different staff profiles, a different work cultures and routine, a completely different “language” have all contributed to this internal gap. However, if companies want to really meet their customers needs, if they want to innovate, grow and succeed, making these two meet will be crucial.