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A Pragmatist Approach to Clinical Trial Failure

Chief Medical Officer

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Here’s an unfortunate but all-too-frequent scenario healthcare marketers have experienced: The drug I’ve been working on for the last three years failed in Phase 3 – UGH – why, oh why??? It’s hard when we put our blood, sweat, and tears into drug development and market prep to only have it fail in Phase 3 or worse yet – just not get approved. Although we all realize it's of the utmost importance to ensure that a safe and effective drug is approved, even the failures can help us learn as we work towards developing future molecules.

While many factors influence a clinical failure (some of which are unique to the actual molecule ) and the most impacted by a drug not making it to market are the patients and the HCPs who care for them, the disappointment and frustration that often result are things that we all can relate to. But looking at this from a different lens, we believe that we can all ultimately take away some important learnings from a clinical trial failure… Let’s break this down…

One step closer to a new treatment option

As mentioned above,  the most impacted by a drug not making it to market are the patients and the HCPs who care for them. It is very difficult to find a silver lining for patients in a clinical trial failure, but here are a couple to consider:

You learned a lot

For the pharma marketers, it is also a big blow – thinking you have to start all over again on a new drug – but there is an upside. The upside is you have learned so much from the experience. The knowledge, relationships, and expertise you have gained can propel you in this industry. Just to name a few – you’ve become an expert on:

Your agency and partners learned a lot, too

A loss is a loss, there’s no way to sugarcoat it  – but the team is not left totally empty-handed. We’ve learned and gained a lot from this experience:

In this sense, not all failures are actually failures. If you think of the proverbial “glass is half full” analogy, you can find a positive in anything! (…and let’s be honest, the glass is always completely full because along with the liquid it is filled with air… )

By no means are we diminishing the huge emotional let-down we feel when a drug doesn’t make it, but think of all the positives that we can gain and lean into redirecting these efforts, helping bring another drug to market that will ultimately help patients and their caregivers.

More About the Author

Holly Henry

As Chief Medical Officer at Klick, Holly Henry oversees the medical strategy discipline to ensure strategic and scientific relevance across communications that drive change in beliefs and behavior. Holly and her team ensure alignment of messaging and tactics to the strategic objectives.

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