June 1, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 11)

Cancer Diagnostic Firms Must Develop Effective Marketing Strategies for this Key Customer Group

In the competitive oncology diagnostics market, diagnostic companies need salient marketing strategies to ensure that their tests are on the oncologist’s radar. By understanding oncologist needs and preferences, companies will be able to focus their efforts on those that will lead to the incorporation of their test into clinical practice.

In late 2010, Frost & Sullivan surveyed 50 oncologists. The majority of oncologists surveyed believe that test vendors’ marketing efforts were only somewhat effective or not effective at all. This result illuminates that more often than not, diagnostic firms miss the mark when targeting their key customer.

The complexity of cancer characterization and its multiple stages produces multiple needs in patient management like screening, diagnosis, prognostic prediction, therapy guidance, and treatment or relapse monitoring. When asked what they believe is the greatest unmet clinical need in patient management, 62% of the surveyed oncologists indicated that they currently need the most help in therapy prediction. This topped the list of patient-management areas with disease screening ranked next with only 20% of oncologists indicating this was an area of unmet need. The remaining patient-management areas—monitoring, prognostic prediction, and diagnosis—were rated at 6% each.

Oncologists were also asked for their opinions on molecular-based diagnostics. One in four of the oncologists surveyed believe nucleic acid-based markers are significantly more reliable than protein-based markers. Over half of the oncologists feel less strongly, but still believe that nucleic acid-based markers are somewhat more reliable than or as reliable as protein-based markers. Only 4% of respondents believe that nucleic acid-based biomarkers are less reliable.

These findings confirm the growing acceptance of a molecular approach to cancer diagnostics. Moreover, 18% of respondents didn’t have an opinion, indicating a strong need for additional knowledge and learning. Despite the abundance of products, there is market demand for new tests to address the toughest challenges in patient-therapy prediction. In addition, molecular diagnostics will play a significant role as oncologists are turning to molecular tools to solve current and anticipated challenges in their practice

Tumor expression profiles are viewed as having the greatest potential benefit in providing therapy guidance to oncology patients.

Marketing to Oncologists

Frost & Sullivan’s analysis was designed to provide guidance for marketing to oncologists. The most popular source for learning about new tests was clinical guide recommendations, followed by clinical journals and publications and attending conferences.

In summary, oncologists’ top preferred sources for learning involve groups that provide extensive committee review and validation. In fact, oncologists place greater trust in associations that establish clinical guidelines and journal publications than in information gleaned from their peers or vendor outreach.

When asked about molecular diagnostics specifically, oncologists in this survey reported that the necessary tools to facilitate their adoption of new molecular diagnostic tests were those that interpret the molecular findings (73%), enabled consolidation of all lab-based findings (64%), or consolidated lab-based and image-based findings (48%).

These results reflect the current reality in which oncologists are faced with increasing volumes and modes of patient information. Data synthesis and results interpretation are a growing challenge with the introduction of new technology or testing. Although the oncologists in the survey identified the need for consolidated analysis, it is unlikely that this function will become the responsibility of the oncologist.

In fact, complex interpretation is more suited to the training of a pathologist. The oncologist and pathologist clinical decision-making team will continue to be important as more patient information is produced. In light of this interdependence, vendors must also target pathologists in marketing new diagnostic testing.

Winny Tan, Ph.D. ([email protected]), is a senior analyst in the drug discovery technologies and clinical diagnostics group of Frost & Sullivan.

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