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The value of Marketing and PR in clinical research

Posted on: 10 May 06


Marketing and PR can play a variety of roles to support a company as it develops medicines in the modern healthcare setting. Therefore it is important that companies develop suitable Marketing and PR strategies to assist them in their business and understand how they can benefit from the tools used in these functions.

Marketing and PR can play a variety of roles to support a company as it develops medicines in the modern healthcare setting. Therefore it is important that companies develop suitable Marketing and PR strategies to assist them in their business and understand how they can benefit from the tools used in these functions.


Initially, it is important for companies to internally recognise the value of Marketing and PR and encourage collaboration between individuals serving in these capacities and those from other disciplines. Companies strive to develop innovative drugs that will prove to have a medical advantage over those that already exist on the market. Such efforts require heavy investment in R&D technologies and personnel. However, as the product progresses through the R&D process a company must think ahead to how its product will succeed commercially if it reaches the market. Recouping the initial R&D investment will be crucial for the company to continue its operational activities in the future.


The global pharmaceutical market is highly competitive and Marketing and PR tools will be essential to correctly position the product in relation to rivals in order to win marketing share. Without appropriate Marketing and PR support a company may find that news of its product’s benefits fails to reach those that could potentially prescribe and pay for it or that it is viewed as inferior with respect to a competitor. However, for Marketing and PR to highlight the benefits of the product to an external audience they will need to cooperate with other disciplines in the company who understand the technical aspects of the drug. Some companies have opted for an integrated marketing approach, whereby Marketing and R&D personnel work closely together at the early stages of drug development in order to identify a product’s commercial potential should it show scientific promise. They believe that this approach helps them prepare for the future pharmaceutical market onto which the product and follow-on products could be launched. Others have preferred to maintain a distinction between Marketing and R&D disciplines, which sees the former only taking on substantial responsibilities for the product once it has reached the latter stages of clinical trials. Supporters of this approach believe that Marketing and PR have little benefit at the early stages of clinical trials. There is also the concern that commercial pressures may interfere with operational considerations in clinical trials and so to avoid potential publicity problems it is better to keep the two functions clearly separate.


Even after a drug has been approved, clinical studies continue to be conducted in order to gather more information on the drug used in the general population. Due to the demand from regulators and patients for more clinical data concerning a drug’s safety to be made available, there is likely to be further investment in these types of clinical trials. It must also be recognised that the additional data can prove useful for marketing departments in determining how best to position their product and determine its advantages over its rivals. The only problem is that it can lead to criticism of the industry that such studies are more concerned with generating marketing advantages than scientific data.


In the current operating environment the pharmaceutical industry is often the subject of negative media coverage over its marketing activities. As governments attempt to stem rising healthcare expenditure by asking patients to bear some of the costs themselves, pharmaceutical companies are being criticised for the high prices of their products. Companies argue that they must charge high prices in order to recoup the R&D investment needed to develop new drugs, particularly at the stage of clinical trials. They also add that the costs of drugs must be viewed in terms of the benefits they bring in terms of improved health and lower long term costs as they can often remove the need for lengthy hospital care. Despite such comments, some consumer groups have criticised the level of profit that companies make and contend that the marketing efforts of companies are more geared towards maximising this profit than promoting the clinical benefits of their products.


Another criticism has centred on the pharmaceutical industry’s use of emerging markets for its clinical trials. Many emerging countries are becoming important pharmaceutical markets in their own right and local trials can help a product to become a commercial success. This is because local physicians can gain experience from being involved in its clinical development. However, extreme care must be taken when recruiting patients for trials in these regions in order to avoid claims that they are being exploited. When publicised from a purely commercial standpoint, the objectives for clinical trials in emerging markets could give an erroneous indication that somehow international standards of care for patients will not be maintained. When working in emerging markets companies must have well thought out arguments in place to defend their activities in the face of negative media coverage. Marketing and PR functions can be harnessed to communicate the company’s viewpoints to the external audience and improve understanding of its work in this sensitive operational environment.


Given the contribution of drugs to advances in healthcare it often comes as a surprise to those in the pharmaceutical sector that the industry’s public image continues to be poor. As healthcare is a sensitive subject, it is extremely important that those involved in Marketing and PR pay particular attention to how their activities are perceived by the public. This is particularly crucial if the pharmaceutical industry wishes patients to continue to volunteer for clinical trials. Ironically, Marketing and PR can be used to strengthen the pharmaceutical industry’s position and generate interest in its work amongst the public. Several pharmaceutical companies are now involved in novel initiatives to improve healthcare amongst disadvantaged populations, with these often being run in conjunction with official international agencies and non-governmental organisations. Over time the publicity concerning these ventures should encourage others within the industry to take a more proactive role in addressing public healthcare concerns. The success of the pharmaceutical industry in the future will continue to depend on it being able to convince governments and wider society of its essential role in healthcare.


Faiz Kermani’s book ‘Marketing and PR in Clinical Research’ is published by The Institute of Clinical Research (ICR).  The book will be published in July 2006, ISBN: 1-905238-09-6, and can be purchased from ICR

Dr Faiz Kermani

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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