Information is good medicine for company

Drug data aids doctors, pharmaceutical marketers

August 20, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Bigger is better for Medicalliance.

The Columbia-based medical education firm, which works with physicians and pharmaceutical companies, dropped its smaller clients this year and went after the largest names in pharmaceuticals - AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer.

The results for the firm and its recently formed executive team have been solid.

With five accounts - all of them new - the company said revenue is up by 17 percent and profit by 30 percent compared with this time last year.

The company expects to sign one more client before the year is through and has its sights set on another year of 20 percent growth next year.

"We're very selective about the clients we go after," said Jay Katz, vice president of corporate development. "We're so much more focused on our strategy and clear on our core competencies."

The growth at the 13-year-old company demonstrates a new stage in its development.

Drug company go-between

Founded by husband-and-wife team Jill Rathburn, a nurse and former pharmaceutical sales representative, and Don Croce, a pharmacist, the firm combines medical education with pharmaceutical marketing. It serves as a go-between for drug companies with new products or new uses for their products and the physicians who need information on how best to use the medicines.

Regulations by the Food and Drug Administration prevent pharmaceutical companies from marketing products for uses that have not been approved by the government. But while the companies are testing to see whether a drug can be helpful in other ways, doctors want to know what's going on, said company President Susan Torroella.

That's where Medicalliance steps in, providing medical education conferences for physicians to discuss drug testing and results.

"By understanding the physicians' needs, we understand what are the relevant things to communicate," Torroella said. For example, with a drug that is used to prevent heart attacks or strokes, "the most important thing [to a doctor] might be how to control bleeding."

More drugs being approved

In the last several years, thanks to a streamlined FDA approval process, the pharmaceutical industry has been producing more drugs each year. According to an FDA report, the agency approved 98 new drug applications last year, compared with 62 in 1994. During this period, the approval time and agency review time have steadily decreased, the report showed.

As long as that trend continues, the demand for the services of medical education companies will be strong, according to Harry A. Sweeney, president of the Healthcare Marketing and Communications Council, a trade association.

"The information is at least as important as the product itself, because if the product is not used properly, it can cause a lot of harm," he said.

Medicalliance works closely with drug companies to help them market and target potential users of the drugs before they are approved, by introducing industry experts to the companies' research on a drug, and gleaning advice from them. In essence, Medicalliance forms a team of experts who can discuss the drug once the product launches.

"This is what ensures the success of the product," said Torroella.

"We say these are the key things that need to be communicated to show the value of their product," she said. "We start working with some companies two years before they come to market."

New executive team

Last year, Croce and Rathburn stepped down as president and vice president; they brought in a new executive management team at the beginning of this year - Torroella, who was promoted to president, Kathleen Case, who was promoted to vice president of business development, and Katz, a former medical publisher.

During the next nine months, the company dropped most of its 20 drug company clients, and is now working only on drug products for areas that Medicalliance has strong experience with - cardiology, endocrinology, respiratory and infectious disease, and neurology.

"We're experts in publishing and organizing information so that it's relevant to practicing physicians," Katz said. "What's important is getting our foot in the door with a product and building our relationship."

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