Using Digital Insights during Prelaunch in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Lundbeck recently registered a drug indicated for Alcohol Dependence. Alcohol Dependence is a substance-related disorder in which an individual is physically or psychologically dependent upon drinking alcohol.

In the pre-launch period leading up to registration Lundbeck wanted to gain insights on physicians, payers and patients’ understanding of the disease and the related treatment options.

A number of insights and recommendations came out of crawling social media conversations, online search patterns and analysing online content on the topic of alcohol dependence. Five examples are presented below.

Social media conversations displayed a widespread perception that “excessive drinking” is not a real problem but simply a part of life. This conclusion was derived by identifying thousands of conversations related to alcohol consumption carrying no reference to the possibility of alcohol reduction.

Also, in other disease areas like oncology or diabetes, there is an almost one-to-one ratio between conversations describing the problem and general conversation concerned with how to address the problem. In this case, discussions and content on the alcohol problem very substantially outnumbered those dealing with a possible remedy. By diving into the details of conversations and search patterns in the therapeutic area, we could decipher the current attitudes, related behaviours and barriers to understanding Alcohol Dependence as a treatable disease. These insights led to recommendations on medical education, messaging and channels to reach the target audiences.

“Alcoholism” was identified as the primary term used when referring to the disease formally denoted “Alcohol Dependence” across social media, search and online in general. This implied that an activity targeted at raising awareness of the disease as a societal problem, would need to consider the strategic option to leverage a known, yet imprecise term or instill a “new” term across stakeholders. This is a classic example of the gap between the formal pharmaceutical vocabulary and the actual vocabulary of the stakeholders. In this instance the incorrect “Alcoholism” outscored the formally correct “Alcohol Dependence” by a factor 100+. These findings informed the overall the messaging strategy.

An example of an unmet need validated by the analysis was the need to support to the caregiver in her relationship with the alcohol dependent. Both alcohol dependent and caregivers expressed the need in general and specific terms across social media and search. By and large, the caregiver showed to be more engaged and advanced compared to the alcohol dependent. This insight resulted in recommendations on implementing a number of initiatives targeted at helping the physician in empowering the caregiver of the alcohol dependent.

The analysis showed a widespread lack of the understanding of Alcohol Dependence. In more mature therapeutic areas, there are most often a great number of physicians who will make their voice heard in the online space. Within Alcohol Dependence there was a large number of postings by physicians, but no significant opinion leaders. This meant that the information and references available online were not at an optimal level of quality to serve physicians searching online for information on the topic of the disease, treatment option, diagnosis and patient support. Also, it highlighted the potential of a thought leadership position within the therapeutic area to drive influence with the stakeholders, offline and online.

An insight from the traditional market research was the existence of a taboo around the disease. However, the analysis identified a very considerable level of engagement online both in terms of conversations, volume of search and available content. The partial anonymity and substance offered online attract physicians and caregivers to engage throughout the digital ecosystem on the topic of Alcohol Dependence. Also, the digital ecosystem of Alcohol Dependence proved to be relatively commercially immature. As a reflection of this, the competition on key search terms was insignificant on Google. To this extent, digital proved to be a channel with a great potential for the launch of the product. This opportunity was subsequently reflected in a digital strategy comprising a patient support programme, a disease education site, an e-detail which could be customised to match a given mental stage of a physician en route to accepting and understanding Alcohol Dependence as a CNS disease, and more.

In sum, digital intelligence allows you to understand your market and your stakeholders through a wealth of new data. It is truly Big Data as healthcare is one of the most searched for and talked about themes in the digital space. By capturing, analyzing and acting accordingly, it can provide the data points for a competitive edge for the launch of a pharmaceutical product.

Originally published at on January 13, 2015.