Successful New Product Planning

April 1, 2010

Cameron Tew explains why One of the vital roles served New Product Planning groups must serve a cross-functional development role across an organization.

Do pharmaceutical developers fully understand the importance of an effective New Product Planning (NPP) group?
One of the vital roles served by NPP leaders is to serve in a cross-functional development role to provide checks and balances among the represented functions. For example, commercial can point out when the initial plans for a compound have low potential market value, or research can point out that changing a product’s proposed formulation would be too costly or slow to meet project parameters.

NPP can bring in the commercial aspect, driving the financial and market considerations. Though the commercial teams provide input into development, commercial values can take a backseat in organisations focused on the R&D aspect of product development. In fact, it is not uncommon for R&D and NPP to speak different languages and have different priorities that can keep the two groups from understanding and fully valuing the each other.

In many ways, the art of new product development is being bipolar. On the one end you have to be the ultimate champion of the concept, and on the other hand you have to be able to say the baby is ugly; a harsh line when you have people wanting to see something go to market.

So, successful pharmaceutical product development demands a cross-functional approach, beginning in the earliest, pre-clinical stages. The leaders of NPP groups must be skilled negotiators and influencers who can communicate effectively across professional divides. Through their scientific acumen, NPP leaders can slowly win credibility among R&D teams. However, it is their soft-skill competencies that make them effective. These diplomatic skills help them excel in roles that have significant influence, but little authority.

How has the role of the NPP group changed over the years?
External pressures, combined with the ordinary constraints placed upon NPP by dominant structures, similar to other operational units of pharmaceutical companies, have created evolutionary challenges. As the role of NPP continues to evolve, structural adaptations tend to emphasise partnership, participation and collaboration. Major drivers of change include:

  • need for earlier commercial input
  • need for cross-functional leadership
  • need for stewardship of activity in emerging therapeutic areas
  • need for speed in decision-making (especially with in-licensing)
  • need for comparability of assessments (program/portfolio)
  • need to integrate regional perspectives
  • need to develop actionable blueprint for commercial success

What are the primary challenges facing NPP groups?
The primary challenges facing NPP groups come both from externally and internally. They include:

  • growing safety concerns
  • payer-controlled environments
  • depleted pipelines
  • personalised medicine
  • enormous costs
  • competition from generics
  • fewer approvals

But the concerns go far beyond bullet points to how the groups interact with others inside their organizations. Strong cross-functional communication and leadership skills are critical to ensure that sound decisions are made in an efficient and timely manner.

Has the economic downturn had any effect on NPP?
It would seem that the economic downturn is making people focus more on tightening their processes. The depleted pipelines and needs to make go or no go decisions in an efficient manner already had high functioning NPP groups working in concert with other parts of the early stage commercialisation organisation.

If a decision to stop work on a drug can be made at its earliest time, it can save companies hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D.