BioPharma Sales Recruitment: 2020 Trends and 2021 Outlook

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With most of 2020 consumed by the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918 and arguably one of the most controversial elections in US history, the biopharma Industry has been at the forefront more now than ever. With a Covid-19 vaccine approval on the horizon 2021 is looking to be a positive and exciting time for anyone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry and for biopharma sales recruitment.

Top 5 Trends in 2020

1. Covid-19 Vaccine

Since the first cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the virus has spread to millions of people worldwide. An increased risk of severe disease and death has been noted among the elderly and among people with preexisting medical conditions. No Covid-19 vaccines are currently available, and they are urgently needed to combat escalating cases and deaths worldwide. Moderna and Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccines have just released promising data of over 95% efficacy amongst patients in phase III clinical trials.

2. Remote Based Sales Reps during Pandemic

Among the many shifts wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is the relationship between pharma sales reps and physicians. It could possibly be a good thing. A new Accenture study has actually found plenty of pandemic positives for pharma reps and for biopharma sales recruitment.. Docs didn’t have time to learn about a drug before? They do now. More than half (55%) surveyed said they have more time to learn about new therapies, and 53% said they’re interested in doing so. Healthcare providers also want to know more about pharma support services through reps. Doctors said they want digital patient education (69%), education on remote patient care (67%), specific information on conditions relative to COVID-19 (65%) and information to help patients access labs, tests and imaging (65%).

3. Drug Pricing

There have been concerns about overcharging for generic drugs and this is influencing international markets. Japan and Germany are establishing tighter price controls on new medicine. Big pharma players such as Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Allergan are committed to voluntary price restraints, while companies such as Novartis and Roche are in favor of value-based pricing. With increased concerns about overcharging, pharma companies have to be more transparent with pricing.

4. Collaboration/Joint Ventures Between BioPharma’s

There is an increasing willingness for parties to enter joint venture deals. These deals enable both parties to benefit from the upside of a big product win, whereas traditional licensing deals forfeit upside for near term upfront, milestone and royalty payments. Joint venture partnering allows the parties to securitize value and reduce risk, but keep a part of the potential upside should the product reach the market. Even if the licensor does not commercialize the project they can either sell those rights to the licensee partner or another partner for an amount higher than would have been achieved at an earlier stage licensing deal.

5. Access and Affordability

The rising cost of healthcare is being met by increasing demands for new evidence and definitions of positive health outcomes. As PricewaterhouseCoopers comment in their report, “The growing conflict between drug access and affordability will create fresh pressure for data that show these expensive medications work better than others and are worth the premium.”  Communicating new evidence about drug value to key stakeholders – insurers, physicians and patients – will require additional skills and techniques. Account managers, sales reps and patient engagement specialists will need to collaborate with quantitative analysts or bioinformaticists to tailor new drug information for each different audience. By using new and sophisticated apps, pharma companies in the pharmaceutical industry will be able to customize the new drug information much more quickly and easily, and demonstrate value to payers in new and engaging ways.

Top 5 Trends for 2021

1. Pharma Sales Salaries on the Rise Despite Pandemic

An annual survey of pharma sales rep salaries showed another year-over-year increase, but it also revealed concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Salaries averaged more than $150,000 in 2019, for an increase of 6%. However, three-fourths of the pharma sales reps interviewed said they expect the COVID-19 crisis to negatively impact their incomes this year. That’s according to a MedReps study, which surveyed 520 pharma sales reps about their 2019 annual salaries.  Salary is always impactful on biopharma sales recruitment.

2. Digital Training

From an operational perspective one of the trends that will grow in 2021 is the use of digital training to ensure the proper and efficient use of technologies implemented. This is also for the purpose of achieving regulatory compliance. Probably more than many other industries, employees within pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies must have an excellent knowledge of regulations and be able to navigate the different systems that are implemented in a way that complies with regulations. There’s also the issue of knowledge building for the purpose of maintaining high productivity and overall efficiency. The use of digital platforms for training is also cost-effective because you can train personnel on-demand at any time of the day or week.

3. Use of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a term that is becoming increasingly popular across all industries. It’s essentially the use of computer systems to perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. This includes tasks like decision-making, speech recognition and visual perception. It also enables the translation of information between different languages. The use of AI in the pharmaceutical industry has different roles that are expected to expand, such as accelerating the process of drug discovery and development. Some of the areas that will benefit from AI include clinical trials, fraud detection and the overall improvement of medications.

4. Expanding Biosimilar Markets Due to Biologic Patent Expirations

As the pharmaceutical regulatory agencies grapple with legal safety and procedural standards for biosimilars, and the public clamors for lower drug costs and more access to pharmaceuticals, manufacturing must adapt to these changed markets. Biosimilar drug markets are expected to increase around the world. Latin American countries are a region to watch as these countries have their own research and development for producing and commercializing patent expired biologic drugs.

5. Discounts and Rebates

Periodically, the pricing of medications will hit the news circuit, especially when there is outrage about the high price of life-saving drugs. In an ongoing desire to reduce the cost of medications, there are governmental agencies, such as Health and Human Services, that will increase the offering of discounts and rebates. While there have been efforts in the past using approaches that are market-focused, these efforts are expected to expand. One thing that will continue in 2021 is the examination of drug prices and continued scrutiny to identify impropriety.

We would be happy to discuss any of these trends or your biopharma sales recruitment needs for 2021 further. As always, Smith Hanley Associates is happy to be your recruiting resource for commercial and clinical opportunities in healthcare.

Nancy Ragonese, Practice Lead, Pharmaceutical Commercial Sales, nragonese@smithhanley.com, 203-525-3815

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