Zephyr prom­ises Big Pharma a peek in­side your doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion pad

Zephyr Health says it can help track the most valu­able doc­tors “You’re des­per­ate for data to make those key de­ci­sions”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents - -Caro­line Chen Edited by Jeff Muskus Bloomberg.com

Physicians are worth bil­lions of dol­lars to drug­mak­ers, who see the pre­scrip­tion pad as a path to prof­its. But it’s grow­ing harder for Big Pharma to get doc­tor’s ap­point­ments. Since 2010, Oba­macare has slowly curbed the mass travel jun­kets and fancy meals that drug com­pa­nies once used to sway the doc­tors most valu­able to their ef­forts to sell prod­ucts.

Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are now search­ing for ways to re­fine their mar­ket­ing ef­forts, to tar­get the doc­tors most com­pat­i­ble with the med­i­ca­tions they’re pitch­ing. “You’re des­per­ate for data to make those key de­ci­sions,” says Lance Scott, a for­mer mar­ket­ing man­ager at med­i­cal-de­vice maker Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries. “But while there’s lots of data out there, it’s re­ally chal­leng­ing to bring it to­gether.” Scott is now chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Zephyr Health, a data an­a­lyt­ics startup promis­ing to help drug­mak­ers iden­tify key med­i­cal per­son­nel and find ways to ap­proach them.

Zephyr builds dig­i­tal dossiers on in­di­vid­ual doc­tors. It starts with ba­sic in­for­ma­tion on pre­scrip­tion pat­terns from data clear­ing­houses such as IMS Health and Sym­phony Health So­lu­tions. Then its soft­ware, with some hu­man as­sis­tance, scours the Web for more de­tails. For ex­am­ple, a cal­en­dar of speak­ers sched­uled for a prom­i­nent med­i­cal con­fer­ence may point to a spe­cial­ist well-re­garded by her peers. Steady pub­li­ca­tion by an­other doc­tor in sci­en­tific jour­nals of­fers clues to the kind of re­search he does. A physi­cian who’s a board mem­ber of an in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion might have a hand in writ­ing treat­ment guide­lines—and thus be­come the fo­cus of a drug com­pany’s out­reach.

Gath­er­ing th­ese strands, Zephyr gen­er­ates pro­files that score each doc­tor’s in­flu­ence and abil­ity to drive sales on a scale of 1 to 10. The soft­ware’s slick, mo­bile-friendly in­ter­face lets a drug com­pany search in broad or spe­cial­ized dis­ci­plines (from “on­col­ogy” to “nonHodgkin lym­phoma”) and ranks each per­son’s in­flu­ence in the cho­sen field. It also spec­i­fies whether a doc­tor ap­pears to in­flu­ence col­leagues or sim­ply writes a lot of scripts. The data can guide de­ci­sions about whom to in­vite to a con­fer­ence or whose pre­scrip­tion pad is most valu­able, says Wil­liam King, Zephyr’s chair­man. “De­pend­ing on where I am in the drug’s life cy­cle,” he says, “be­ing able to seg­ment and en­gage at the right time is crit­i­cal.”

“Work­ing with Pharma is akin to get­ting pecked to death by a flock of ducks.”

-Zephyr Health Chair­man Wil­liam King

Zephyr says it has 10 ma­jor clients, in­clud­ing drug­mak­ers Am­gen and Glax­osmithk­line, as well as de­vice maker Stryker. The com­pa­nies have con­firmed they’re cus­tomers but wouldn’t say how they use the soft­ware.

King, a for­mer sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor at John­son & John­son, founded Zephyr in 2011, frus­trated by the frag­mented mar­ket­ing in­for­ma­tion at his dis­posal. “I in­vested in tons of data, and yet I had no way of bring­ing all that data to­gether,” he says. The com­pany has raised about $34 mil­lion in ven­ture fund­ing from in­vestors in­clud­ing Google Ven­tures and Kleiner Perkins Cau­field & By­ers. (It wouldn’t say whether it’s prof­itable.) Lynne Chou, a part­ner at Kleiner Perkins who worked at Ab­bott with Scott, says that within min­utes Zephyr’s soft­ware can com­pile con­tact lists her mar­ket­ing teams used to need months to build.

Some com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing many drug and med­i­cal-de­vice mak­ers, al­ready have more in­for­ma­tion than they know what to do with, says Pratap Khed­kar, man­ag­ing prin­ci­pal of con­sult­ing firm ZS As­so­ciates. “Ev­ery­one in Sil­i­con Val­ley wants to start with data. They think, If we get all the data, then magic will hap­pen,” Khed­kar says. More im­por­tant, he ar­gues, is ask­ing the right ques­tions, which can of­ten be an­swered with just a few sources.

Scott says Zephyr up­dates its physi­cian pro­files in near-real time, a se­ri­ous ad­van­tage over hand-culled data­bases. His 100-em­ployee team is work­ing to re­fine the soft­ware’s pre­dic­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties and add more data on which pa­tients take what drugs. “There’s noth­ing pri­vate any­more,” says Chi­rag Patil, a neu­ro­sur­geon at Cedars-si­nai in Los An­ge­les. While doc­tors may not ex­actly be psyched about Zephyr track­ing their ev­ery move, King says, even they should ap­pre­ci­ate the com­pany’s abil­ity to nar­row mar­ket­ing cam­paigns. For a physi­cian, “work­ing with Pharma is akin to get­ting pecked to death by a flock of ducks,” he says. “Do you want nine sales­peo­ple queued up to call on you?”

The bot­tom line Zephyr has raised about $34 mil­lion in ven­ture fund­ing to track doc­tors on be­half of drug and med­i­cal-de­vice mak­ers.

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