Thoughts re in-licensing research


We all read daily about the patent cliff and pipelines becoming more costly/ less productive.   For this reason, Pharma companies increasingly need to augment their in-house development efforts by in-licensing promising new drug candidates from Biotechs.   At the same time, shrinking market research departments have an opportunity to strengthen their position by developing proficiencies in in-licensing market research alongside the more traditional in-line projects.
This article sets out to explain some of the differences between in-line and in-licensing MR for those who are new to the latter.

In-licensing research is truly about....

1 – Time   – it is unusual in our experience to be given more than 3 weeks from absolute start, to finish, and these days the studies cover at least Europe and the USA.   That is the commercial reality.   Don’t get involved in this type of research if you have anything at all planned for the intervening weekends.   And be prepared to clear the decks, this is a game for the senior team and while it’s on they won’t have time for anything else.

2 – Late data is no data   - understand that the client will take your results and use them to create or adjust their forecast and make their offer to buy, or not.   The pitch for an exciting new product is usually highly competitive.   Anything you embellish or alter after the deadline is irrelevant at best and can even be counter-productive.   There is only one chance to make your recommendation.

3 – Team   - although client and agency working as a team should be the goal in all types of research projects, it is an absolute necessity in in-licensing.   The questionnaire won’t have been honed to perfection by piloting.   The venues, if required, may not be the plushest – you take what is available.   You ideally will work more closely with the client – at all levels – on an in-licensing project than on anything else you are likely to do.

4 – The brief   – this one is fun.   As likely as not, the client researchers will know no more about a new indication area than you do.   Sometimes you know more.   Often the areas are quite esoteric, so don’t expect much of a brief.   You will probably be given the product profile and the pitch date.   For the rest, as the Americans say, ‘go figure’.   You have the opportunity to help build the client’s knowledge right from the off with a bit of Googling.

5 – Iteration   – Everyone on the project, client and agency alike, will be learning as the project progresses.   It is a truly iterative process and adjustments will be made to the interview/ discussion guide, right the way through fieldwork.   There is no room to stand on ceremony with in-licensing research.   You may not like only having the latter half of the sample being asked a new question but some information is usually better than none.   For any changes suggested to the research, the only question to ask is whether the change will help or hinder the final forecast.   It’s that simple.

6 – Speed   – Beware the untried fieldwork agency.   Work with your best partners and hold them to a high standard, but don’t beat them up if the sample is two respondents short.   In our experience an Excel template should be produced and circulated to all fieldwork agencies right from the start.   We use a question by column format but whatever works for you.

7 – Fieldwork agencies   – their role is to email their results daily.   Newer records may not yet have the open-ended questions translated but at least you and the client will benefit from having the pre-codes added in to your results virtually as they happen.   Obviously, the translators translate the open-endeds into the same spreadsheet so the client has total access to the raw information if a query arrives.

8 – Interim feedback   – ideally the agency will have produced a master spreadsheet with filters and sorts in place.   Clients usually know more about using those than the agency so no teaching is involved.   The master spreadsheet ideally has charts created even before the research starts and the charts automatically update as more and more respondents are added in.   This brings a new meaning to daily updates, but don’t just send them the data, talk to them daily as well, give them your interpretation, chew it over, arrive at a consensus.   That way they won’t have any nasty shocks at the end.

9 – Output   – meaningful, unambiguous and accessible, rather than fancy, is the credo.  Assume the client will throw off-the-wall questions at you and structure the data to allow flexible interrogation.   Excel as your data engine and with the appropriate formulae to ensure rows filtered out are not counted – you can capture and paste any chart into PowerPoint in minutes.

10 – Presentation   – invariably you’ll be web-conferencing the results because the client team is in several countries and the key players are probably on the other side of the world getting ready for their pitch.

And that’s in-licensing.   It’s about as exciting as research gets. You can really make a difference here.   Just remember, there are millions riding on your data and sleep comes later.

Enjoy - Errol