As the pharma industry shifts focus to rare diseases and new types of therapies, healthcare marketing firms need to stay ahead of that curve.

Fingerpaint has created a new consultancy dedicated to emerging gene therapy and cell therapy treatments called Photo 51, named after the X-ray diffraction image that led to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. The group’s launch and growth is being led by Andy Pyfer, a partner at Fingerpaint.

“We’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, as an agency we’re trying to look ahead to anticipate needs and solutions that our clients are looking for,” Pyfer said. 

According to Pyfer, there are more than 70 gene and cell therapies in the development process, though only a few have hit the market so far. These treatments, however, have different challenges than the older class of drugs meant for large populations.

Gene and cell therapies are often much more expensive and require different market strategies, meaning the same-old commercialization plans used for other types of drugs won’t necessarily translate.

“Put yourself in the shoes of a company developing a CAR-T therapy or gene therapy; they have to commercialize a product that is often a one-time dose with a much larger cost,” Pyfer said. “There are challenges inherent with that. They need a different HEOR strategy, market access strategy and communications strategy to demonstrate and communicate effectively about the treatment. The challenges are quite different.”

Fingerpaint will pull in expertise from across the agency to staff up Photo 51. The agency’s acquisition of 1798 Consultants in February will play a particularly big role in the offering.

Photo 51 offers a wide range of services, including market access, physicians and payer communications, data analytics, patient advocacy and marketing.

“It should serve as an area of expertise that allows for us to engage manufacturers in a new way and to understand their very specific challenges,” Pyfer said. “We are drawing on expertise from 1798 in market access strategy and early commercialization and from Fingerpaint in advertising and marketing, along with expertise we have from data analytics, creative campaigns and omnichannel. 

Fingerpaint will announce more leaders of Photo 51 in the coming weeks, Pyfer said. The firm has already received some interest from manufacturers of gene and cell therapies and has “a few” clients already on board, he added, declining to name specific clients.

“Our goal is to meet the needs and demands of folks developing these therapies,” Pyfer said. “We’ve always prided ourselves in delivering very specialized solutions to very specific challenges. Photo 51 is exactly what is needed right now, given where medicine is going.”