Guest Column | March 8, 2024

How Competitive Intelligence "Detectives" Gather Data for Pharmaceutical Brands

By Vicki Tsao, Consultant, Lifescience Dynamics

Competitive Intel_Data Detective_Getty_1273843154

Navigating Ethical Boundaries

Data is power in the pharma, biotech and medtech industries, but how you acquire that data is just as important. From clinical trials to the latest research and development activities, competitive intelligence (CI) can offer valuable insights that help you build your business strategies. Ensuring the integrity of research practices when gathering this information is essential because CI must be reliable and align with ethical and regulatory standards.

Understanding competitors can impact areas such as product development and timelines across industries. In fact, 90% of executives use CI to analyze market and competitor activity. There are many ways to gather intel on competitors. Nowadays, there is a lot of data already out there, ready to be sifted through with a few clicks. While anything on the internet is fair game, it still needs to be verified. This article will focus on trustworthy tactics.

CI Sleuths

Vicki Tsao
A forensic investigator collects different types of information from a crime scene to build a picture of what happened to help authorities catch a perpetrator. A CI ‘detective’ gathers snippets of information which are then analyzed and brought together to create a clear picture. This includes asking questions but knowing what to ask and how to ask it in an above-board manner. There is no substitute for high-value, high-impact primary human intelligence.  

Building trust requires a delicate balance between extracting valuable insights and respecting the boundaries set by industry professionals. However, once you build a rapport, you might be surprised how often sources are willing to open up to you without giving away proprietary information. If you are interviewing someone at a health conference, for example, and your source tells you they cannot disclose regulatory information, you can still ask about other topics.

You may come away with insights about potential R&D and/or marketing strategies. Are they really looking into a certain therapy, or what is the message, and not the message? What are they planning to put on the label for that current drug and current trial? Those pieces of the puzzle, when analyzed, can add up to a more complete picture.

The Cardinal Rule Of CI

Never misrepresent yourself. Transparency is essential when you reach out to sources such as KOLs, physicians, and healthcare professionals. Consultant practices and methodologies must maintain the highest standards, which means you do not pay sources to disclose information.

Engaging in open conversations about recent developments is a legitimate and valuable form of information gathering. Experienced consultants will be able to pick out relevant information, using their own research along with source material, to provide as much insight as possible, allowing clients to make informed, data-driven decisions.

A New Age Of CI

In an era defined by technological innovations such as AI and virtual reality, traditional CI-gathering methods have failed to keep up. You can now use software programs and services to stay abreast of the latest industry developments. This means taking advantage of computing power to design and program CI tools that are automated, faster, and easy to use. By automating repetitive tasks, you eliminate human errors, increase flexibility and agility, and reduce turnaround times. This allows more time for your team to focus on the kind of critical thinking that machines cannot replicate.

Using CI tools for a deep dive into research and data mining can provide a comprehensive view of behavior by competitors. Digital tools can provide real-time insights from diverse sources such as alerts, earning calls, primary human intelligence, medical conferences, and a range of databases. A cloud-based platform, for instance, could keep track of clinical and commercial data from primary and secondary sources, transforming multiple, filtered datasets into visual graphs.

These digital tools could be part of a holistic approach combining CI with market research, helping to create a more complete picture of the business landscape. Each source provides a unique piece of the puzzle and allows corroboration as well as triangulation of hard-to-find information. These resources help clients stay one or many steps ahead of the competition.

Emphasize Effort-Based Primary Research

When it comes to the pharma, biotech, and medtech sectors, public trust, regulatory reputation, and ethical research are paramount. The same goes for the CI gathered to give organizations a competitive advantage.

Firms can gain data and information about their competitors, be it through accessible information and hidden information. CI combines information from multiple sources to enable actionable insights and recommendations. Consultants should emphasize the importance of putting forth genuine efforts to extract information. Every piece of data, no matter how small, contributes to building a comprehensive hypothesis and providing valuable insights.

Consultants must never misrepresent their professional background. On top of the potential legal ramifications, ethical behavior in competitive intelligence is the foundation of a trustworthy and reliable industry. Maintaining transparency and highlighting effort-based primary research are key principles that CI consultants should uphold. By adhering to ethical guidelines, the industry can foster meaningful collaborations, and enable organizations to make informed decisions to gain a competitive advantage.

About The Author:

Vicki Tsao is a consultant based in San Francisco with experience in CI monitoring, deep-dives, primary research, and conference coverage for a broad variety of therapeutic areas. During her Ph.D., her work focused on neurotransmitter receptors uncovering molecular mechanisms underlying ion channel function and drug modulation. Prior to joining Lifescience Dynamics, Vicki gained experience working in drug development, target prioritization, competitive analysis, and business strategies with early-stage biotechnology companies.