As CI professionals, we are, by now, well aware of the many changes and challenges that the pandemic has brought upon us. Attending CI congresses makes no exception. In pre-2020 times, attending a CI conference was a great opportunity to break out of the office routine for a couple of days, hop on a flight, interface with others from the CI community and have engaging conversations as we stood in queues for coffee. However, If COVID-19 taught us one thing, is that we as CI stakeholders, need to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and be always prepared for the ‘next normal’, including virtual CI congresses. With this in mind and eager to interact with like-minded professionals in the healthcare space, we very much enjoyed taking part in the Competitive Intelligence in Pharma and Life Science virtual meeting just a week ago, organised by @ScaleUp_360.

At this year’s conference, our very own Senior Manager Jacqueline Kourieh, spoke about how CI can be used to enable pipeline optimisation. Traditionally, CI has been thought of as a service that Pharma uses to support drugs that are in their clinical or commercial phases. However, the flexible nature of CI and its versatility makes it a suitable if not an important tool to enable Pharma to identify and navigate the ‘white space’.

COVID-19 has reinvented traditional pharma activities. Armies of sales representatives have found themselves off the road, billions of dollars of office space lie empty, and the doctors themselves have become integrated into telemedicine and home healthcare. On the R&D side, while some drugs faced regulatory delays, other emerging therapeutics were accelerated to meet the urgent demands of the pandemic. This was particularly evident in the mRNA vaccines space, an area that suddenly saw a spike of commercial activity coupled with widespread adoption by the medical and patient community. This case study calls for a mindset shift about ‘the white space’, how to find it, and more importantly capitalise on it.

From the initial inherently complex step of identifying the science, CI methodologies can help untangle the many underlying variables in this effort. For example, CI can and has been used to map academic centres of excellence, conduct primary research with leading scientists, and explore trends in the universities’ tech transfer offices and incubators to assess emerging fields of technology and research. Evidently, close collaboration with the Pharma’s clinical and R&D team is required to generate optimal leads.

Moving on to defining the need; it is no longer enough to just identify the unmet need. In fact, market research and CI go hand in hand to understand what has shaped the behaviours in the landscape that this new technology or science is intended for. In addition, CI can help you define or even redefine how subpopulations are thought of in the disease space you are targeting, to better evaluate your next move.

Assessing competitiveness comes next: how will you win? Who else has caught wind of this emerging science? And how are they going about capturing it? Merck’s Keytruda’s journey is a clear example that it is never too early to keep sight of your competition. The development of one of the world’s most well-known oncology drugs was in fact discontinued in 2010, but upon hearing that BMS is achieving positive results with their own early stage PD-L1 inhibitor, Merck reinitiated development and accelerated the program to gain approval in 2014 for the drug that has now become synonymous with the company, generating over $14Bn in 2020.

Finally, scenario planning. This is not something that pharma should reserve until the product is in Phase 3 or on the market. the earlier scenario planning occurs the better. In 5-10 years will pharma be the only competitors? How will Gen Z and Gen Alpha interact with your new product? Can you incorporate what they look for into your program and trial design? And so many other questions that Pharma need to be optimally informed about when navigating early research.

All in all, despite the multiple limitations and challenges of our time, it is platforms like this conference that really help us come together as a community and push the narrative around the evolution of CI in the context of new challenges and innovations. This year, we may have not been able to chitchat face-to-face in hallways, but the great attendance we had at our presentation, together with the productive conversations that stemmed from it, give us reassurance that everyone’s interest and drive lies unaltered behind laptop screens, and will come to full life once again when in person meetings will resume.

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