Creating a framework for a successful launch: Science sells
William McClellan, Center of Excellence Leader, Launch Excellence
Maneesh Gupta, Senior Principal, Brand & Commercial Strategy, IQVIA
Jul 30, 2018

Incivek’s disease awareness campaign was a key product differentiator that enabled the company a unique position in the HCV market.

This is the second blog in the five blog series: Creating a framework for a successful launch. IQVIA analyzed launches globally to identify common launch challenges and pitfalls. Four launch archetypes were identified, "science sells", "market shaping", "who benefits" and "emphasize the difference", each had very specific critical success factors.

For the "science sells" archetype, where there is a high unmet need in the market and high product differentiation the critical success factors are:

  • Disease/MOA awareness pre-launch
  • Optimized pricing
  • Risk mitigation plan
  • Public policy activity
  • Patient advocacy group engagement

Additional challenges for emerging biopharma include:

  • Early preparation for disease awareness
  • Appropriately valuing science

In this blog we examine the example of:

Science sells: Vertex Pharmaceuticals' first launch in the hepatitis C market

Incivek (telaprevir) is a protease inhibitor and was approved in the U.S. and Europe for the treatment of hepatitis C infection in 2011. 

The window of opportunity for success in a drug launch is very short. The launch trajectory is set in the first 12 to 16 weeks after the launch, and only around a fifth of brands can change their trajectory once the drug hits the market. This means that there is a huge benefit in preparing the market before the launch. 

Large pharmaceutical organizations have many resources to call upon in the pre-launch period, This includes more capital, more people, more experience, and more opportunities to start preparation early, sometimes up to five years before launch. In comparison, an emerging biopharma company may only be able to begin preparation around two years before a launch. Therefore, emerging biopharma have to choose how to use their resources more carefully.

Building the tools

Not only was Vertex facing a new market with an all-new commercial team, it was up against a top-ten biopharma company with a product in the same class that was launched within 10 days of Incivek. 

However, Vertex had two benefits. Firstly, the hepatitis C area was one of major unmet medical need at the time of the Incivek launch, providing a market with many opportunities. In 2011, there were around 3 million people infected with hepatitis C in the U.S., with around 78% of them unaware of the infection. And secondly, Vertex created a key differentiator – its disease awareness campaign. 

The pre-launch disease awareness campaign targeted both physicians and patients. For patients, its aim was to provide scientific information and health education with a patient voice. The campaign featured patient stories and videos, a hepatitis C screener and practical advice, through an unbranded site. Vertex also initiated partnerships with HCV advocacy groups more than a year before approval. 

For physicians, Vertex created an unbranded site as well, to jumpstart non-product scientific dialogue and provide access to the latest thinking from thought leaders. The site was designed to make it easy for HCPs to share information with their colleagues. 

The campaign meant that Vertex could become recognized for offering products and solutions to the hepatitis C community, from the perspectives of both healthcare professionals and patients, even before Incivek was on the market. 

The success story

By making the most of its market need and key differentiator, Vertex managed to capture around a 75% share of the market, especially for those with an urgent need for treatment.

While Incivek’s disease awareness campaign was a key product differentiator that enabled the company a unique position in the HCV market, it is important to remember that this was only one element of a much larger launch strategy. Other critical success factors were also important in the launch of Incivek.

To get more insight into the “science sells” archetype visit: A framework for successful biopharma launches for the recorded webinar, supported by a slide presentation.

More about the Authors:

  • William McClellan
    Center of Excellence Leader, Launch Excellence
    William is an expert in the field of pharmaceutical launch excellence with over 20 years of experience. He leads the Launch Center of Excellence for the U.S. at IQVIA where he focuses on launch readiness, tracking, and performance diagnostics utilizing patient data such as predictive modeling and quantitative and qualitative research.


  • Maneesh Gupta
    Senior Principal, Brand & Commercial Strategy, IQVIA 
    Maneesh is a Senior Principal with Consulting Services at IQVIA. He focuses on launch, brand, and commercial strategy. He has been helping organizations excel at launches and become more customer centric for more than 20 years. His papers on these topics have been published in several industry journals.