Current Edition

Novel Drugs: Challenging Entrenched Prescriber/Investment Behaviour is not Just About Education

Behavioural science’s time has come in the pharma industry, as medical communications adapt to a more ambitious and diverse treatment landscape. Drawing on examples from across public health and life sciences, Alpharmaxim’s founder, William Hind, brings to life the science of behavioural change and how its strategic, structured application within medical communications could help deliver important new drugs into the hands of the patients who need them.

Behavioural science, long proven to influence consumer behaviour (e.g. nudging the public to make greener or healthier choices), is rising swiftly up the pharma agenda – and for good reason.

Novel therapies, often with expensive price tags and more targeted patient populations, require strategic new positioning if they are to have a maximum positive impact on patients. Whether to challenge established prescribing practices or to effectively get across a therapy’s value to health authorities and investors, drug developers and licence holders must adapt to the increased sophistication now needed in their communications strategies.

This isn’t simply a case of educating the market about the new product’s benefits, however. Other factors keep decision-makers coming back to habitual choices. It is here that behavioural science comes in, and in particular, the need for methodology when identifying how to use omnichannel communications to maximum impact.

What is Behavioural Science?

Behavioural science draws on psychological theory and the social sciences to understand why individuals follow or resist certain behaviours.

In a public health or ‘responsible citizen’ context, behavioural science has been used successfully across a range of high-profile cases. These include encouraging people to follow COVID-19 guidelines,1 or adapt behaviour in line with climate change recommendations,2 for example by reducing air travel or meat intake. Behavioural science has also been used to encourage vaccine uptake,3 and motivate people to make healthier lifestyle choices, such as increasing physical exercise, reducing obesity and driving up the number of people who stop smoking.4

The Opportunity in Pharma

In Life Sciences, behavioural science has a powerful role to play in medical communications – specifically in overcoming barriers to changing prescribing behaviour.

This is important so that healthcare providers (HCPs) don’t automatically default to their habitual choices of medical or treatments but become more open to emerging options that may improve patient outcomes. So much so that the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) is now advocating the use of behavioural science in the design of interventions such as marketing campaigns, to ensure that important new biopharma innovation fulfils its potential for patients.

Evidence of Inertia & Other Barriers to New Treatment Pathways

While it’s possible to make an educated guess about HCPs’ reasons for falling back on tried and tested treatment choices (including officially recommended first-line treatments, budget restrictions, and/or a lack of knowledge of the emerging options), the reality is usually more complex.

The established COM-B model for behavioural science sets out 93 different techniques and how they can be successfully combined to address barriers to change, based on the relative roles of Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation (M) as determinants of current behaviour. (Examples follow below.)