Discovery USA overcame one or two budgetary challenges to finish the year with a flourish, beefing up its strategic expertise to better help clients navigate the increasingly complex healthcare landscape. “2015 was a little tough out of the gate, with regard to cuts by some of our clients,” admits Don Young, group MD. “But we ended on a strong note in growth and there’s a lot of momentum this year.”

Though he declines to share agency revenue, Young says the Publicis-owned shop was buoyed by three significant wins in the orphan-drug space. The first, Amicus Therapeutics, is commercializing the first oral therapy for fibroid disease. The second win was a Genentech product for spinal muscular atrophy, a rare and devastating disease for which there are currently no approved therapies.

“Our ability to bring together our core pillars of deep scientific expertise, creative storytelling, and an understanding of the complex ecosystem of stakeholders makes it a very exciting opportunity,” notes Kristin Keller, EVP, director of strategy.

The third win was AstraZeneca’s recently launched ovarian-cancer drug, Lynparza, for which Discovery is AOR. The agency was already handling AZ’s metastatic breast-cancer treatment Faslodex and now claims AZ’s entire women’s cancer franchise, which Discovery helped position strategically last year.

“This shift with some of our clients to a franchise approach naturally lends itself to engaging physicians and patients at a higher-value level,” Keller explains. “It forces them to become more patient-centric from a marketing perspective.”

Discovery added a pair of key people in 2015, both from within the Publicis network: EVP, director of client services Susan Johnson, and VP, finance director Chris Schu. While headcount remains at about 165, Young says that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. He notes that the agency has increased the depth and breadth of its strategy team: “We more than doubled our staff in that area. There’s just a great need for that.”

The reason for this has everything to do with the evolving healthcare landscape. “All of a sudden we’re living in this increasingly complex ecosystem where there’s the physician, the patient, advocacy groups, and also this new customer — the health system — which is very price–value driven. Clients don’t understand them that well,” Keller explains. “The way you go about building a business strategy, and then positioning your product to resonate with all of these different customers, has become very challenging.”

To that point, Keller says that Discovery is constantly pushing clients to think about finding new and fresh ways to solve business problems. But that doesn’t mean simply adding bells and whistles and chasing shiny objects.

“We can’t continue to think about channels as silos,” she says. “Our engagement strategists work with the brand and with the rest of our team to understand the customer journey and how to orchestrate a brand experience across that journey, across platforms, and across channels. Then we apply analytics to measure the true impact versus measuring on a silo-by-silo basis. It’s a shift from a transactional model to being much more of an influence pathway.”