The Top 75: Cambridge BioMarketing

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When asked about his firm's expertise, Cambridge BioMarketing CEO and chief creative officer Steve West comes out with the sort of straightforward, self-knowing comment not heard often enough. “We don't do big drugs. We don't do the big diseases,” he says plainly. “No hypertension. No asthma. None of that.”
Those are the words of a CEO secure in his agency's positioning—in this case, products marketed to specialists and tightly focused patient communities. And within that space, few firms have thrived over the last few years like Cambridge BioMarketing has. It expanded steadily over the last decade. It was ahead of the digital curve, snapping up a rare digital media/marketing firm with healthcare experience, RDVO, before the calendar turned to 2010.
This left Cambridge in prime position. At the same time, it faced unexpected competition from agencies pushed out of the big pharma picture. “Those big categories we don't work in, they're all going generic,” West explains. “None of that has affected us, but it has heated up the competition for specialty drugs.”
West has his doubts that such organizations can shift their focus to a different sort of product and approach, just as he doubts that digital generalists can elbow in on healthcare marketing firms with in-house expertise. He likens the current state of affairs to the explosion of DTC work years back: “Companies would go to their regular agencies to do the ‘ask your doctor' ads, but it didn't work. They knew media and TV commercials, but they didn't know physicians or the science. To do digital the right way, you have to know the drugs, the doctors, the rules, the lingo.”
Cambridge scored a handful of big wins. It added Biogen Idec's hemophilia franchise to its slate and claimed two new assignments from longtime client Genzyme, for thyroid cancer drug Thyrogen and for surgery adhesion barrier Seprafilm (as global AOR). Genzyme also expanded Cambridge's work on renal drug Renvela to include a disease-awareness effort.
Cambridge also did well with orphan drugs. The firm had pitched PTC Therapeutics in 2010 for a muscular dystrophy drug; Cambridge didn't get the assignment and the drug's development stalled. When PTC refiled for approval, it brought in Cambridge for marketing help.
When asked about challenges or setbacks, West downshifts into deadpan: “There's no bad. There are no headaches. Not here.” The firm did, however, lose AOR designation for Alexion's Soliris. It continues to do project work for Alexion, which prompts West to add: “It's gone, but it's not dead-gone.”
In years past, West had waved off talk about geographic expansion. But given the slate of recent successes, Cambridge could well add an office within the next year, with the company targeting the West Coast. “We have assignments from Genzyme and Biogen Idec that can grow, but we're looking to get into other midsize/large specialty companies,” West says. “You get one of them and you do a good job, hopefully they give you more. So, the next year could be interesting in that sense.”
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