It might surprise brand leaders to learn that over a third of recent pharma launches are considered failures1. The difference between beating market expectations and underperforming often comes to brand teams reimagining and adjusting their approach to launch. For the expected 530+ launches over the next six years (contributing $1.39 trillion market size growth by 2026)2, following the traditional playbook and checklist of launch activities is no longer good enough. This market growth – combined with personalized treatments and an increase in volume and cost of launch – is forcing pharma companies to focus on maximizing their prospects for successful launch. But how?   

With approximately $252B sales at risk by 20262 due to the rise of generics and biologics, upcoming patent expirations and increasingly crowded, competitive markets and therapeutic areas, pharma companies need to develop tailored strategies for each individual launch, fueled by simple operations and versatile talent for each individual launch. To best position an asset for competitive threats, launch teams must generate targeted commercial strategies, which include customizing launch planning and execution according to the asset's market position and unique strengths/differentiation. Effective, but simple, launch operations enables a team to thoughtfully execute modernized commercial strategies and achieve success.  

Success comes from bold, focused strategies that either develop or disrupt the market 

Accenture Life Sciences recently assessed how pharma companies can position themselves for success and analyzed launches that reached or missed analyst revenue targets over a 3-year period1. With over 35% of assets underperforming on market expectations1, we discovered an unmet need: pharma companies must adjust their approach to launch, especially as it relates to modernized commercial strategies.  

No matter if the product is a “first mover” or entering a crowded market, there are two commercial strategies that increase chances for success: develop and disrupt. To identify which strategy should be leveraged, launch teams must first define how the asset can pull on key levers to unlock their potential.  

Assets that are first-in-class need to create an appetite for novelty and must be laser focused to develop the market. Due to the unknown territory, launch teams are responsible for extensive market shaping and healthcare provider (HCP) engagement to ensure proper education.  

  • When introducing a first mover, launch teams must find innovative ways to monitor how their strategies and messages are landing (even before launch). Teams must constantly ask themselves: Is the target patient profile optimal? Are we reaching the right customers? Are we generating real-world evidence (RWE)? Are we having the impact we expected? And if something is not right – pivot fast. It’s never too early to prepare to defend a product’s market position against future competitors. 

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In the severe asthma space, a race to a self-administration via an autoinjector device began to form between two competitors. One competitor shifted their focus to developing novel formulations and accelerating clinical trials – and won. As the first mover, this competitor was able to maintain market share by monitoring its competitor and staying relevant for its customers3.

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Assets that are not first in class must disrupt the market by leveraging an innovative go-to-market (GTM) strategy that highlights their unique features:  

  • If an asset has superior clinical efficacy and safety, launch teams might double down on their Health Economics Outcomes Research (HEOR) and RWE strategy in order to appeal to customers.  
  • If an asset has similar clinical efficacy and safety as competitors, launch teams might differentiate through other levers like a reimagined customer journey and/or reduced patient burden (e.g., superior dosing schedule, administration method, location of administration). This goes beyond traditional positioning approaches as brand teams need to prove the value of their differentiation, develop the market and change customer perceptions. 

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In the diabetes market, a key competitor was able to make a splash, even with a product that had similar efficacy to its peers. This competitor redefined the customer experience by not requiring reconstitution, needle attachment and reducing administration steps. This reduced the patient burden and won over patients compared to similar GLP-1 injections4.

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A modern commercial strategy is fueled by ‘brilliant basics’ and tailored to each launch’s unique needs  

Competitive landscapes and customer needs are changing more than ever before. Products are becoming more complex – often combining new mechanisms of actions, manufacturing and distribution challenges, devices and administration, and personalized patient services or customer experiences as an integral part of the offering. In order to achieve excellence, launch teams must follow the ‘brilliant basics’: the right tools and infrastructure to marry operations and competitive strategies, and adapt to changing market scenarios.   

The basics are table stakes for any successful launch, and when done the right way and with intention they can enhance a launch and play a role in achieving success. For example, instead of identifying a checklist of operational activities to be completed before launch, focus on what is ‘mission critical’ by ensuring that all operational activities are in service of the commercial strategies or patient and customer needs. Instead of each function building their own launch plans in tactical silos, create a ‘one team’ mindset with central and digitized launch plans and practical governance that encourages teams to be transparent and solution orientated.  

We find this level of streamlined decision making that utilizes automation and easy-to-use tools, gives teams the ability to increase efficiency and reduce meeting time by 20% to focus more on the things that matter: identifying and executing on the right commercial strategies and improving patient access. It also eliminates clutter and results in the discovery of new market insights. 

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Focus on what is ‘mission critical’ by ensuring that all operational activities are in service of the commercial strategies or patient and customer needs. 

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Exceptional talent is critical to building modern commercial strategies 

In the increasingly competitive launch market, launch teams must have versatile talent that makes connections across functions, strategies and priorities. We recently evaluated over 500 life sciences launch-related roles to understand that the most sought-after skills were centered around business strategy and specific therapeutic area knowledge – with project management lower on the list5. Project managers that only track milestones, risks and the overall project goal often lack the ability to prevent each of the workstreams from operating in silos, focusing instead on short-term objectives. In comparison, a multidisciplinary ‘launch architect’ that binds each of the separate workstreams operationally and aligns them to a focused, cross-functional launch strategy as early as 4 – 5 years before launch can help accomplish longer-term goals.   

For example, a major pharma company that was launching a new therapy in a saturated therapeutic area had a large brand team, co-commercialization alliance and a complex strategic initiative structure which made it challenging to coordinate tactical efforts and the overall brand story. The launch team created a ‘one stop shop’ that united the strategic and operational needs of the product to find connections across historically siloed functions – this was especially important as the brand considered new administration methods, lifecycle implications and overall strategic shifts given the competitive landscape.   

By identifying clear competitive strategies, pulling on the appropriate levers at the right time and incorporating a launch architect to harmonize the operations and strategy, thoughtful execution can be achieved.  

The bottom line 

Achieving launch success is more challenging than ever and it is imperative for pharma companies to identify each product’s competitive edge and create operational excellence to execute it thoughtfully. Pharma companies must combine these key ingredients (modernized commercial strategies, brilliant basics and multidisciplinary talent) to achieve success in this complex, competitive and growing market.  


1 34 of 96 total assets analyzed by Accenture Life Sciences. Analysis completed on 2019 EvaluatePharma data. Launch success defined as products that beat analyst expectations of performance. 

2 EvaluatePharma® World Preview 2020, Outlook to 2026 

3 Accenture Life Sciences Research, FiercePharma, 

4 Accenture Life Sciences Research, BioPharma Dive, Diabetes Spectrum 

5 Accenture’s Burning Glass Data Research analyzing 500+ jobs over 9 years on top ‘Launch Specialist” skill requests 

Katie Boyd

Managing Director – Life Sciences co-Lead, Strategy and Commercial Launch

Frances Tulley

Senior Manager – Strategy and Consulting, Life Sciences, Europe

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