European Expansion: The Partnering Question
Executives from three biotechnology companies--Biogen, Gilead and Pharmion-told attendees at Windhover's 2d annual Marketing Pharmaceutical Innovation conference how the stark partnering/go-it-alone choices biotechs used to face (launch on your own, with a multinational, or in a network of local drug firms) are becoming far more nuanced as the partnering infrastructure available to the newer generation of start-ups expands to meet the broader opportunities.
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In buying rights to market Lilly's Sarafem, Galen figures it can compete with Pfizer and GSK by detailing where they don't--Ob/Gyns. And in growing its valuation, Galen aims to compete with other public European small pharmas by focusing on the US.
Europe presents a big opportunity--but also significant challenges--to niche players seeking to expand. Some firms--such as US group Cephalon--have bought big in Europe, others like Shire and Celltech have made do with smaller acquisitions onto which they hope to build their own tailored infrastructure. No single approach is the same, and none has yet proven a clear winner. But all depend on finding the right products.
Gilead plans to maximize the value of its newly-approved anti-HIV drug Viread by launching the product in all major world markets within a year-and by promoting it with the same look, messages and image everywhere. Gilead's campaign will make the point that its product helps patients' drug combinations work better, even if they're failing. By positioning the product this way, Gilead may avoid head-to-head competition with far bigger players. The company got into position to globally market Viread by acquiring NeXstar in 1999, then quickly re-organizing and filling out the very skinny marketing groups it inherited in major European markets. The relatively small company is betting that the cost efficiencies of global branding will bring it a better return on investment, and so help it grow a business that is already highly valued.