Best Practices in Competitive Landscape Development

Jennifer Sayers

To succeed, life sciences organizations must enhance secondary research with primary intelligence. 

As therapeutic areas constantly evolve with new treatments, regulatory advancements, shifts in reimbursement, and M&A activity, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies must evolve new strategies which lead to sustained competitive advantage. To best inform their strategy, it’s critical that these organizations have a comprehensive view of the competitive landscape to position them for success today and in the years ahead. However, many organizations struggle to go beyond the basics and establish a complete view of their markets.

Information available on the public domain, such as clinical trial data, company websites, analyst reports, and press releases, serves as a foundational step in assessing the landscape. However, relying solely on these sources often leads to an incomplete, unvalidated, and potentially outdated view of the landscape.

To develop a truly complete view of the landscape and prepare for market changes, life sciences companies must adopt a comprehensive strategy that combines secondary research with primary intelligence. Primary intelligence consists of human interactions with key opinion leaders, industry experts, and competitor sources, often over the phone or in person.

Integrating primary intelligence with secondary research enables life sciences organizations to:

  • Fill gaps in knowledge, confirming or refuting their assumptions.
  • Expand, triangulate, and validate their understanding of the landscape.
  • Uncover insights into potential changes in market dynamics, allowing companies to develop preemptive strategies.

This holistic approach enables companies to develop a more accurate and nuanced understanding of their competitive landscape, ultimately empowering them to make well-informed strategic decisions and stay ahead of the curve.  Without primary intelligence, companies are likely to miss critical insights when making decisions.

To ensure primary intelligence is conducted legally and ethically, it’s critical that life sciences companies work with external providers. Unfortunately, organizations must navigate a field of look-alike vendors to uncover those with true primary intelligence expertise. This evaluation is especially critical as many primary intelligence providers use similar language in their sales and marketing materials to describe their primary research capabilities.

Here are some key attributes to consider when evaluating primary intelligence offerings:

  • Dedicated, Professional Primary Intelligence Researchers: One warning sign is primary intelligence conducted by the same client engagement or project team handling day-to-day project work. To be most effective, primary intelligence researchers must be trained in information elicitation, have deep relationships with industry sources, and adhere to specific ethical standards and practices around primary intelligence.
  • Access to a Global Network of Sources and Researchers: To achieve timely results, providers should have an existing, up-to-date network of researchers and sources. Without this, most providers are essentially limited to interviews conducted at industry events, which can delay projects and limit the quality of results.

Regardless of which phase of development a company’s product is in or which therapeutic area it competes in, primary intelligence can be adapted to develop a comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape.

Below are three unique real-world examples of how this integrated approach enabled companies to develop more successful competitive strategies.

  • Large global biotech
  • Oncology (solid tumors and hematological malignancies)
  • Multiple products on market and in development

Company Needs and Challenges

A large global biotech with multiple products across various cancer types planned to launch a new product. To build a successful launch strategy, it was critical that they develop a comprehensive understanding of their competitors’ commercial strategies. Specifically, they sought to learn:

  • How competitors organize their sales teams
  • Competitor sales force size and structure
  • Messaging strategies used by competition
  • Key positioning and differentiating strategies

Solution: An Integrated Approach

While secondary research methods, such as information in the public domain, competitor key personnel LinkedIn profiles, and off-the-shelf datasets, provided a baseline of knowledge, the information was outdated and lacked the level of detail the company was seeking.

To overcome this limitation, the company leveraged primary intelligence to provide up-to-date and in-depth information directly from credible competitor sources. Examples included:

  • Interviews with current and former competitor sales reps to uncover insight into commercial infrastructure (PDUFA dates, launch plan, size of team, sleeve organization, rep incentives), messaging and positioning (differentiators, counter-messaging against company), and share of voice (products carried, product weightage).
  • Interviews with current and former competitor marketing professionals to uncover specific tactics being used (launch plan, marketing budget, HCP programs, copay programs, KOL engagement, branded and unbranded campaigns (disease awareness, influencer / celebrity endorsements).

This targeted approach filled the company’s gaps in knowledge and provided a comprehensive view of the competitive landscape. By triangulating information from multiple sources, the company developed a reliable picture of the competitive landscape ahead of their launch.

Positioning the Company for Success

Having detailed insights on the competitive landscape enabled the company to strategically plan and allocate resources, benchmark effectively, and tailor marketing and sales efforts. These insights allowed the company to craft unique, compelling messaging and a strong value proposition, resulting in a successful product launch.

  • Small biotech
  • Undetermined indication focus
  • Multiple molecules in development (pre-clinical)

Company Needs and Challenges

A small biotech company with multiple early-stage assets was faced with the challenge of choosing which indication(s) to pursue, taking into consideration where they had the best chance of successful clinical development as well as the maximum commercial opportunity. To inform this decision, the company needed obtain an in-depth understanding of the competitive landscape for each of the nine indications they were considering.

Solution: An Integrated Approach

While solely relying on secondary research allowed for an assessment of each indication’s SOC, on-market products, pipeline products, and timelines for new market entrants, it came with a risk of incomplete information and a one-dimensional view of the landscape.

Given the criticality of the impending decision, the company chose to take an integrated approach to assessing each competitive landscape. Building on an initial scientific, clinical, regulatory, and commercial analysis, primary intelligence offered the deeper and contextualized insights needed to inform their decision. Examples included:

  • Interviews with trials sites to ascertain feasibility and enrollment, and whether there are specific barriers for conducting clinical trials in each indication. This information can be critical when planning clinical trials, especially in situations with rare diseases and where there is a need to accelerate the clinical development timelines.
  • Interviews with HCPs and KOLs to understand emerging trends in that indication and how they view the evolving SOC.
  • Interviews with sources from competitor regulatory functions to identify innovative regulatory approaches (use of accelerated approval pathways) which could enhance clinical or regulatory strategies.

Positioning the Company for Success

This integrated approach uncovered nuanced, in-depth insights from trial sites, healthcare professionals, and regulatory experts, mitigating the risk of incomplete information, and ultimately facilitating more informed decision-making. As a result, the company better prioritized indications with the highest chances of successful clinical development and commercial viability. The analysis enabled the company to pursue two indications with a detailed understanding of what it would take to compete and win in these indications.

  • Midsize global pharma company
  • Rare disease
  • On-market product

Company Needs and Challenges

Having the only on-market product in a rare disease space, a midsize global pharma company needed to keep a close eye on the competitive landscape for emerging assets. With significant competitive clinical development activity, it was crucial that they develop their strategies based on a thorough understanding of each competitor’s time to market and potential impact on their revenue.

Solution: An Integrated Approach

To build a baseline of knowledge, secondary research was leveraged to map out competitors in development, assess their timelines based on publicly disclosed information, and monitor their initiatives as they get closes to data readouts and regulatory filings. This provided a surface level understanding of when to expect competitor launches and how that might impact the client’s revenue, but lacked specificity, depth, and validation. Additionally, in rare disease spaces information is scarce and often fragmented and outdated.

Given the indication in this situation was a rare disease with limited addressable patient population, having a detailed understanding of the specific timing for competitive entry and commercial strategy was crucial. To provide clarity, primary intelligence was utilized, focused on the following areas:

  • Timeline for Entry: Interviews with sources from clinical trial sites to understand how the competitor trials are enrolling, how are they ensuring they meet their enrolment timelines, how are they positioning their treatment across trial sites, and whether trials will read out as expected or before the projected primary completion dates listed on
  • Commercial Strategy: Interviews with active and former competitor sources helped understand commercial strategies (early access to product), disease awareness initiatives focused on HCPs and patients, and planned partnerships with advocacy groups (including investment).
  • Commercial Infrastructure: Interviews with active and former competitor sources also helped frame out how the competitors were building their commercial infrastructure (size of sales force, MSLs team structure and size, patient advocates/nurse managers).

Positioning the Company for Success

This integrated approach enabled the company to have accurate predictions of competitor timelines, deeper insights into commercial strategies, and an understanding of competitors’ commercial infrastructure. Consequently, the company was able to proactively reposition their market strategy, ultimately mitigating risks, improving decision-making, and enhancing market agility. Having the benefit of knowing their competitor strategies in advance avoided any surprises for the company and they were better prepared to respond to the competition.

These case studies underscore the importance of adopting a multi-faceted approach to competitive landscape analysis that combines secondary and primary intelligence. By leveraging secondary research as a starting point and supplementing it with targeted primary intelligence, life sciences companies can comprehensively understand their competitive environment, including competitor strategies, clinical trial progressions, and commercial initiatives. Importantly, primary intelligence can fill information gaps, triangulate findings, and provide more current insights than secondary sources alone.

When to Consider Primary Intelligence

When considering this integrated approach, here are some key takeaways for other companies to consider:

  1. Identify your specific needs: What questions do you need to answer to make informed decisions?
  2. Assess the limitations of secondary research: Can you find the information you need from publicly available sources? How validated does the information need to be?
  3. Consider the value of primary intelligence: While it may require an investment, primary intelligence can provide unique and actionable insights needed to obtain competitive advantage.

By following these steps, companies can determine if a blended approach is the right fit to meet their needs.