Headliner: Nancy Lurker of Novartis

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Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., the US arm of Swiss firm Novartis AG, is launching four new drugs over the next year. Naturally, that means ramping up sales and marketing efforts. One of the company's biggest steps: hiring Nancy Lurker this year as chief marketing officer, a new position.
Lurker, a native of Portland, Ore., who scales peaks in the Rockies and Cascade mountains for fun, is a marketing impresario whose credits run longer than a climber's rope. These include managing the Bristol-Myers Squibb cardiovascular franchise globally, launching blockbuster bladder pill Detrol for Pharmacia & Upjohn, and most recently heading her own market research company, ImpactRx. But Big Pharma still has plenty of worthwhile summits.

“I've always loved bringing drugs to patients and the science behind it,” says Lurker, who majored in biology and chemistry at Seattle Pacific University and later completed an MBA via night classes while at BMS. “There's something about the combination of science, medicine and drug development and being able to bring those breakthroughs to patients that's so fulfilling. And you really can never replace that.”

Hence her return to the client side and to Novartis, where she is the US unit's second highest executive with overall responsibility for several franchises and a member of its executive committee. Lurker wants to change the marketing efforts for those upcoming launches: Galvus (Type 2 diabetes), aliskiren and Exforge (hypertension) and Reclast (postmenopausal osteoporosis). An older Alzheimer's drug, Exelon, is being re-launched as a patch. “We will be experimenting to continue to innovate and advance our go-to-launch models,” says Lurker.
Novartis has a track record of using direct-to-patient marketing in support of its Diovan and Lotrel hypertension franchises. Patients taking the drugs can log onto a Web site to manage their blood pressure and receive customized newsletters by mail.

Will aliskiren (whose brand name, Rasilez, was under FDA review at press time) and Exforge patients see the same approach? It's likely, says Lurker. “I am very impressed with the sophistication of our relationship marketing and the integration of our marketing strategies across alternative communication channels. The company has done a very very good job knowing where to use it, where not to use it, the best products to use or services and technologies.”

Couple that with training—internal and external—to make sure the organization and sales forces know the key messages and attributes of each product. Priorities include “making sure that we are clear about our messages, that we have powerful campaigns to communicate the hope and the promise of these drugs…coupled with the right patients to use them in,” she says.

And the firm hasn't forgotten the importance of old-fashioned sales muscle. The field force has grown by 1,000 reps this year and is set to add 1,000 more to hit 7,000 by year's end, while marketing and sales expenses rose slightly during the first six months of 2006. “You can't launch all these drugs without having the resources behind it to make sure they're successful, while maintaining your inline products,” she says.

Lurker says the industry's greatest task involves communicating the value proposition that pharmaceuticals bring to patients, an oft-repeated aim that may have lost some of its meaning. “But when you really understand what pharmaceuticals bring today and, even moreso are going to bring in the future as far as extending and enhancing life, it's imperative that we do this.”
Her two young daughters—ages 3 and 8—are reason enough. “If the full ability of the biotechnology and genomic and personalized medicine revolution is to be realized, they have the possibility of leading a high-quality life easily until 100, maybe beyond. And yet if we're not careful, we could end up stifling that because of government regulation, price controls.” That means pharma leaders can't relax their public advocacy efforts.

Lurker's no stranger to steep challenges. She's reached seven of Colorado's tallest peaks—known as “the 14ers”—as well as three mountains in the Northwest's Cascade range. She relishes spending time with family in the outdoors, as well as reading, running and weightlifting.

HEADLINER STATISTICS:

Nancy Lurker
SVP, chief marketing officer, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.

2003-2006
ImpactRx—president, CEO  

1998-2003
Pharmacia—Grp VP, global prescr.

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