How a small Australian biotech company turned adversity to marketing advantage and took on global competitors many times its size.
Many of our hi-tech clients compete in very crowded markets, ranging from IT and Electronics to Biotech, Biomed and FutureTech. In most of them, there are other solutions whose vendors claim similar benefits. How do smaller players stand out from the crowd – especially if it includes global players?
Here is how one Aussie Biotech company gained profile, credibility and investors in a global market of mega competitors. Read more about how we market Aussie biotechs here.
Aussie Biotech in a revolution
This client has developed a unique gene-silencing technology with the potential to cure not just treat many human diseases. It's based on a natural pathway called RNA interference (RNAi), by which cells can turn off harmful or unwanted genes. It was revolutionary when the pathway was discovered in 1999 and many pharma and biotech companies were salivating at its potential to cure disease.
Early promise and some setbacks
Our client holds many patents for its Australian technology; it was developed by Australia's premier research organisation, CSIRO, and licensed exclusively to our client. The technology is unique amongst RNAi technologies: it is directed by DNA, whereas all theirs are directed by RNA.
This had clear benefits (see below) but, instead of being able to focus on development of this exciting breakthrough, our client found itself distracted by patent battles for nearly a decade. During this critical time, competitors were defining the RNAi market and gaining momentum.
At the beginning, the global RNAi prospects were intoxicating but, by 2009, several big pharmas had entered and exited the market, and some of the shine had come off RNAi therapeutics. This was when our client, fresh from its patent victories, was ready to re-enter the fray and re-position the company with a fresh image for a new era. That's when the CEO engaged us.
We applied took 3 vital steps to reposition the company and to grow the company's profile and credibility globally.
Step 1: Articulate
The science was particularly complex, especially as the differences between DNA-directed RNAi (our client's technology) and RNA-directed RNAi (others) are at the molecular level. That said, the benefits were very clear to us: authors in respected peer-reviewed journals had compared the two approaches and concluded (in our words) that our client’s approach:
- Requires a minuscule dose (5 copies vs nanomoles for others)
- Persists for up to 3 years (compared to 48 hours)
- Causes lower ‘off target’ effects (like immune activation, inflammation and toxicity)
- Was suited to chronic life-threatening diseases (where high doses can’t be tolerated).
The key difference which separated our client from everyone else was this: its unique, patented technology removed the drawbacks that had led several RNAi companies to discontinue their quest. This was the key way to set our client apart from every RNAi competitor. All we had to do was explain it, in terms that private and institutional investors, analysts and the media could understand.
To us, the science was vital, as the molecular differences were the advantage. Our client’s competitors, who were up to 100 times bigger in market capitalisation, were focusing on the opportunity rather than the science, and perhaps for good reason. As a small Australian player with eight global competitors in a market worth over US$20 billion, we felt our client needed to focus on its superior science, to back it up by references in peer-reviewed journals and explain the difference in terms that non-scientists could understand.
When we first met, the MD expressed doubts that we could do this, telling us that even an eminent scientist we knew had struggled to grasp the nuances of the technology. Later on, he gave us a testimonial ending with: ‘I can’t think of another company that could have done this.’ We were more than pleased.
Step 2: Communicate
It wasn’t just a matter of getting the science right; we had to communicate the company’s story to the marketplace as well, being sure to be legally correct so there were no patent or ASX issues. After giving the client a new corporate identity, we started on the main project: the website which was weighed down with impenetrable science, lacked key financial details and company insights, and had few in-house or external publications, yet we knew there was a library of them.
Three of the most important elements we added or expanded were deep sections on:
- The technology (how it worked, how it was different, a detailed glossary of RNAi terms, and a bibliography of in-house and external publications)
- Investor information (updated share price, company info, ASX announcements, analyst rports, reasons to invest, FAQ, details about meetings and governance)
- Pipeline programs (the in-house and licensed programs focused on various human conditions and diseases).
We gave other communications a fresh look as well - Research Updates, Corporate Presentations and the Annual Report – and added new forms of communication to give the company more personality: CEO Perspectives, Program Insights and People Insights. The company has some very experienced, impressive and passionate individuals, and we wanted to showcase them, share their stories and explain their passions. This was another deliberate differentiator: our client’s competitors had slick corporate facades with little scientific depth, laden with lots of bland, superficial messages.
Another addition was an Investor Newsletter, to keep investors informed about the company and the industry, with program progress, media coverage, scientific and investor presentations, RNAi industry news and analysts' commentary. The trick was to keep it brief and punchy, using simple terminology that everyone could understand and link to the technical detail for those who craved it.
Step 3: Disseminate
The collateral we created was put to work in multiple places to achieve many outcomes:
- Website to create a knowledge hub
- Email campaigns to update a global database
- Analysts to explain the technology in business terms
- Investor events to explain the financial opportunity
- Media events to back up presentations
- PR team and the media to explain the technology simply
- Investor relations team to bring out the financial benefits.
Massive in-house effort too
Our client didn't just sit back and let us do the work; senior executives put enormous effort and focus into increasing profile, credibility and investment. In addition to our efforts, the company:
- Acquired an advanced program based on its technology
- Progressed this program to Phase I/II Clinical trial
- Advanced all its other other in-house programs
- Opened a new laboratory in the USA
- Expanded its headcount by 100%
- Licensed its technology for several new external applications
- Appointed specialist PR and IR teams for greater exposure
- Raised significant capital to support all activities
- Raised its profile through countless appearances in the media, investor events and scientific conferences.
The company and its technology are now routinely reviewed by global analysts, who compare it favourably with competitors - who are still many times its market value.
The company is regarded as a serious contender in RNAi therapeutics, and has attracted investment by several leading US-based institutional investors, which is further fueling interest in this innovative Australian biotech.
The company's market capitalisation has increased manifold, it's recently set aggressive targets for all its programs and, recently, listed on the NASDAQ, raising its profile and even more capital to advance its programs. Our client is potentially the next great Aussie hi-tech success story, and we're very proud to be playing a part.
More about how we market Aussie bio-technologies here.
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