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:
- Advancement in science: Failures bring knowledge and knowledge helps us make advances. Advances in the understanding of the underlying pathophysiology and science of disease help us as we forge ahead to new developments.
- Closer to a new treatment: Every step we take in clinical trial, regardless of whether it results in an approved drug or not, brings us one step closer to a new treatment. Every trial teaches us something about the disease and how to approach discovery. So a failure with one molecule allows us to learn a little bit more so we can improve upon that and take that knowledge with us into development.
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:
- The science and market: You now know the details of the underlying pathophysiology of disease state you might not have known of before, as well as the intricacies of the market.
- Insights from customers: You’ve listened to hours and hours of market research with HCPs, patients, and caregivers that collectively make you more empathetic about this disease. You also now have those “nuggets” to help you better uncover the unmet needs in this disease state that will ultimately help patients.
- Personal relationships: You’ve worked long hours, side by side with your internal teams AND your customers. You not only are closer now but you’ve become a more efficient team – the kind of team that wants to work together more so you all will try to find opportunities to make that happen – another pitch, another brand, and hopefully another launch!
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:
- Your team (brand, agency, and other partners) also benefits from everything you learn personally; the knowledge, the insights and the relationships, including solid new relationships with other pharma partners
- You’ve built a solid, well-oiled machine (the team) with strong connections. Your team now is a “known entity” that can go out and produce amazing work!
- Great ideas and creative exploration: We all mourn brilliant creative that never saw the light of day because a drug failed, but think of how many other ideas you explored during the creative process. The process itself allows you to be free and think big, which you can use to help you in the future.
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.