The Top 60: The Navicor Group

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When the Navicor Group opened its doors nearly four years ago, it did so with a twist on the healthcare agency model: It would only work with clients in the oncology and immunology fields. “The thinking was that companies have so many specialized products. There should be an agency that has a similar level of specialization,” recalls Navicor president Garnett Dezember.

Which isn't to say that the positioning proved an immediate hit. Both internal and external doubters had to be assured, and “there was probably more skepticism within our own organization, to be honest,” Dezember notes. “It was up to us to define to [pharma companies] what our special expertise was. Once we did, they had a lot of regard for what a specialized experience can do for them.” It's that regard which has allowed Navicor to grow steadily during its first few years, jumping its headcount from 40 at the start of 2007 to 60. The firm's flexibility has something to do with it as well, as it happily works with global oncology and immunology behemoths and cancer/AIDS/hepatitis upstarts alike.

Navicor spent the last 12 months immersed in its work on Genentech's cancer drug Tarceva, won at the end of 2006, which sated the firm's desire to “be a part of something on the targeted edge of therapy—not just the molecular edge, but in terms of the most appropriate patients to receive treatment,” Dezember explains. The company won Biogen Idec's chronic lymphocitic leukemia therapy Lumiliximab and added hepatitis B therapy Viread to its list of assignments from Gilead Sciences, joining Hepsera. Additionally, Dezember proudly touts Navicor's relationship with companies like Merck and Biogen Idec by noting “we're basically their scientific agency of record.” The agency continues to work with longtime client Roche Laboratories on Xeloda and AstraZeneca on Ethyol.

The challenges faced by Navicor over the last year were different than those encountered by other companies. As opposed to client defections and the accompanying staff reductions, Navicor contended with the preservation of its culture. Given that so many employees have encountered cancer and AIDS, the agency tries to instill a sense of mission in them. “It's usually not so hard, to be honest. It's why we don't have to recruit as hard as generalist agencies,” Dezember says. “Our people feel that if they're not doing something to enhance the treatment of patients, it's probably not worth coming in. That's not something we want to dilute.” To that end, a percentage of the Navicor staff works with Camp Sunrise, an oasis for children impacted by HIV/AIDS.

At times, Navicor's work boasts more urgency than that of other companies in the pharma-marketing biz. “In the areas we work in, if a patient misses out on an opportunity to get the best possible treatment, he or she might not get a second or third chance. That's not a responsibility we take lightly,” Dezember notes.

Moving forward, then, it's no surprise that Navicor plans to focus on remaining true to its positioning, even if it means turning down other opportunities. The company hopes to work on more global projects.
“Marketing, especially the kind of marketing we do, has to change,” Dezember says. “Not every patient is going to be right for every therapy. It's incumbent on us to reach out, whether directly or through healthcare providers, to the right people.”
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