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SoCal Chapter Poster Finalist: Launching Drugs During COVID-19

[Editor's Note: The following article is a summary of the paper, "How is COVID-19 Affecting Drug Launches?", which was a finalist in the PDA Southern California Chapter's Poster Competition. A link to the full poster (PDF) is included at the end of the article.]

COVID-19 has created a new normal for all of us through adding conventional words in our vocabulary such as Zoom, quarantine, pandemic, and masks. This pandemic has been an increasing challenge for biotechnology companies including smaller companies, like Cytokinetics, expecting to launch their first drug in the near future. This anticipation leads to the inevitable question, “How is COVID-19 Affecting Drug Launches?”

In present day, the thought of a packed conference hall, gatherings of top physicians and pharmaceutical representatives would be considered a super-spreader event. However just one year ago, this was how new drugs were launched and presented to the public. There would be audible gasps in the crowd when data is presented and excitement in the air. Without these in person events, biotechnology companies must create innovative ways to launch products during this time.

To address this question, primary and secondary market research was used to understand how key stakeholders including: patients, payers, and physicians are adapting to this new normal. By interviewing employees within Cytokinetics and Keck Graduate Institute professors, I was able to best understand how key opinion leaders (KOLs) predict the impact of COVID-19 on their department / specialty. Additionally, weekly consulting reports from IQVIA, TGas Insights and more were utilized to research trends within the industry related to how COVID-19 is affecting key stakeholders.

There were five trends discovered on how COVID-19 is affecting key stakeholders and thus affecting the market uptake of a newly approved product:

  1. Decreased In-Person Sales Reps: As of July 2020, 66% of sales representative have transitioned to a virtual setting (1).
  2. Increased Telemedicine: Telemedicine claims have increased 2000% since the beginning of March with two-thirds of users describing positive experiences with telemedicine interactions (2).
  3. Stockpiling Effect: In March 2020, patients stockpiled chronic medications early which have not recovered since the initial increase (2).
  4. Decreased Elective Procedures: Elective procedures have decreased to 32% below baseline due to patients wanting to limit their levels of exposure.
  5. Decreased Patient Visits: Even with the increase in telemedicine, as of July 2020, there was a 15% decrease in patient visits (2).

Note: These numbers are based on research in summer 2020.

By identifying these trends as well as considering six comparator drug launches across different therapeutic areas, there are three recommendations on how to hire and train a sales team as well as ways of adapting to the rise in telemedicine.

  • Hiring a sales team: With uncertainty of the future or what the post-COVID normal will look like, it is necessary to hire a sales team that is adaptable, tech savvy, and with prior online sales experience.
  • Training a sales team: With a virtual sales model, it is essential to research what online platforms physicians are using and train sales representatives on ways to interact / customize these platforms.
  • Adapting to the rise in telemedicine: As telemedicine increases and may continue as society transitions back to an in-person model, the use of virtual health tools may enable broader range of engagement between key stakeholders.

With the uncertainty of when / what the post-COVID world may look like, it is essential for biotechnology companies to consider how COVID may affect the market uptake of their product and plan accordingly.

I would like to thank Cytokinetics for this summer opportunity and the commercial development team for their continued support and mentorship. I would also like to thank PDA for the opportunity to present my summer poster at the 4th Annual Fall Symposium where I placed 2nd and for the privilege to write this article.

If there are any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected] or connect with me on LinkedIn.

How is COVID-19 Affecting Drug Launches? (Poster)


  1. ZS Consulting Report July 10 2020
  2. IQVIA Report August 7 2020

About the Author

Justin Ratzan-WankJustin Ratzan-Wank is a second year Master of Business and Science (MBS) Student at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI). He obtained a bachelor’s degree at Occidental College studying Cognitive Science with minors in Kinesiology and Neuroscience. He has been involved in PDA as the industry development chair at the PDA So-Cal student chapter at KGI. He has experience in project management, marketing, and data analysis with his most recent experience as an independent consultant with bioStrategies. Graduating in May 2021, he hopes to secure a position within a biotechnology or medical device company in a Commercial / Marketing position.

About Cytokinetics

During summer 2020, Justin had the privilege of interning at Cytokinetics, located in South San Francisco, as the Commercial Development Intern under the direction of Kenna Reehil, Director of New Product Planning. Cytokinetics is a late-stage biopharmaceutical company discovering, developing, and commercializing muscle activators and inhibitors. As Cytokinetics was founded in 1998, they have developed an extensive pipeline in muscle function and contractility with myosin / actin activators and inhibitors for skeletal and cardiac muscle. Omecamtiv Mecarbil, a cardiac myosin activator for heart failure, is Cytokinetics most advanced drug in their pipeline with Phase III data readout in Q4 2020.

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