According to a 2021 study by Statista, 40% of prescriptions written in 2005 were for brand-name medications. By 2020, that percentage plummeted to just 8%.1 How is this possible, given that more than 20,000 prescription drugs are currently in circulation in the U.S.2 and over a million actively licensed physicians3 are available to prescribe them? Before you can drive scripts and maximize the impact of your pharma marketing budget, you have to account for three key trends that have impacted how drugs are prescribed.

1. Branded drug prescription volumes have declined over the past 15 years as generic alternatives freely flood the market. While it’s unsurprising that patients flock to these cheaper alternatives to treat common conditions, generic medications aren’t as accessible for specialized conditions, which gives pharma marketers an opportunity to drive scripts where the market is less crowded.

2. Pharma companies have shifted their focus to specialized conditions such as multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis. Of the 50 new drugs approved by the FDA in 2021, a majority treated conditions affecting small patient populations.4 The drug market for specialized conditions is small, but it’s where pharma companies can generate the most revenue. Brand-name medications for specialized conditions have a longevity that brand-name medications for prevalent conditions do not.

3. A recent spike in script consolidation has made it harder for pharma marketers to reach the high-value patients who matter most to their brand. A recent WriteMD analysis found that of all the doctors who prescribe a given brand-name drug, approximately 20% of them write 80% of the prescriptions.5 To put that in perspective, this recent increase in script consolidation means that of the approximately 205,000 doctors who prescribed the diabetes medication Ozempic between March 2020 and February 2022, only about 40,000 accounted for 80% of the prescriptions. For Nurtec, a migraine medication, the numbers are even more skewed—only 14% of prescribers accounted for 80% of prescriptions between March 2020 and February 2022.

With a decline in branded drug volumes, a flood of generics, and a shrinking consumer base, pharma companies must market their branded products to only the most high-value patients. High-value patients are not only commercially insured and qualified based on their condition, but are also more likely to visit a specialist who will prescribe your brand.

The data show that if you cast a wide net in the hopes of reaching all patients, you’ll waste your budget trying to reach consumers on the way to doctors who rarely, if ever, prescribe your brand. To drive prescriptions, you must focus your marketing budget on patients who are researching treatments for specialized conditions and about to visit only the small number of physicians and other healthcare professionals doing the prescribing.






5. Symphony Health Solutions, practitioner insight’s data, 2022. The 80/20 ratio varies by drug and the data sample of the top eight deciles ranges from 15-35% of prescribing doctors.

  • Mukund Jain

    Mukund Jain serves as Senior Vice President of Commercialization for Healthgrades’ WriteMD and Healthcare Professional (HCP) businesses. He has over 16 years of experience in marketing and strategy across a variety of industries including 11 years with Healthgrades.


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