Posted: 02 Sep. 2021 8 min. read

Channel strategy may be key in commercializing specialty Rx

By Jason Eldred, managing director, and Brian Corvino, managing director, Deloitte Consulting, LLP

Specialty pharmaceuticals make up a growing share of the pipeline for many biopharmaceutical companies. Over the next five years, these drugs are expected to account for nearly half (47%) of the revenue generated by the pharmacy industry—up from 38% in 2020 and 29% in 2015.1 To be successful in this space, biopharma companies should determine how to work effectively with their specialty channel partners to build automated and secure data systems and next-generation analytics. Those that do it well can have a more complete picture of the patient journey, a closed-loop feedback on the effectiveness of their commercial activities, and information about patient outcomes, affordability, and access. This could create operational efficiencies and generate real-world evidence related to health-economic outcomes that biopharma companies can share with payers and providers to improve benefit designs and clinical guidelines.

A new report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions takes a deep dive into channel strategies and analytics for specialty drugs. We wanted to understand the landscape and interplay between various participants in the specialty drug channel (e.g., biopharma companies, specialty pharmacies, hub service providers, and distributors). We also wanted to consider the value each channel partner brings to the table, how these partnerships work, how organizations make channel decisions, and where opportunities might exist. Between February and April 2021, we interviewed 20 industry experts from specialty pharmacies, biopharma companies, industry associations, and technology companies developing solutions around specialty drugs.

We propose a product-archetype framework that can help biopharma companies develop strategies and make informed channel decisions. These archetypes are based on product, patient, and market characteristics, such as an understanding of the disease, clarity around the standard of care and reimbursement pathways, competitive intensity, and patient characteristics. Some product archetypes, like oncology, would align with a single therapeutic area (TA). Other archetypes may include products from multiple TAs, like treatments for rare diseases.

The report uses product archetype examples to guide the reader through three elements of channel strategy and execution:

1. Formulate strategy (ask questions to guide strategic choices):

  • How open should the distribution model be? 
  • What is the site of administration?
  • What level of clinical services and adherence support is needed?
  • What reimbursement support and financial assistance is needed (e.g., copayments, vouchers, free drugs)? For how many, and for what types of patients, is support needed?
  • What are the regulatory and compliance considerations?

The report illustrates how answers to these questions can result in vastly different channel strategies depending on the product archetype:

2. Operationalize with data: Well-designed data capture and management can provide insight into the patient journey. It can also improve visibility into market activities around product usage and movement through the supply chain. 

The report provides examples of key business decisions that organizations should be able to answer with channel data:

3. Evaluate with analytics: Although the value of data and the sophistication around its use is growing, channel data doesn’t always translate into insights and action for the right user. Our view is that biopharma companies should double down on analytics. A modern analytics platform should compliantly deliver role-appropriate insights and recommend action steps to the right user at the right time.

Automated and secure data systems—along with next-gen analytic platforms that enable an enterprise-wide view into channel and product dynamic and support legal and compliance activities—can be essential for successful commercialization of specialty drugs. These data and analytics capabilities can help biopharma companies create a complete and close-to-real-time picture of the patient journey and a clear understanding of the effectiveness of commercial activities and channel partner performance. The resulting ability to make business decisions timely and agilely can position them to compete effectively in an increasingly complex landscape.

Specialty pharmaceuticals make up a growing share of the pipeline for many biopharmaceutical companies. Discover five key questions that can help in developing a pharmaceutical channel strategy that integrates with market access strategies, and aligns with the future of specialty pharmacy.


1. The 2021 Economic report on US pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers, Drug Channels Institute, March 2021

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