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The new salesman | Paul Daruwala

Now comes the hard part: marketing an unknown

By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / April 24, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE — Paul Daruwala left a pharmaceutical company known as a marketing powerhouse to go work for a biotechnology upstart where marketing has always been a distant second to science.

And in classic accentuate-the-positive fashion, Daruwala, 42, hired last year as vice president of marketing at Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., describes the transition as “exhilarating.’’

He does admit it was a gamble to trade Merck & Co. for Vertex — and uproot his family — before telaprevir, Vertex’s potential blockbuster drug to treat hepatitis C, has won approval from regulators.

“There’s some risk from a career perspective,’’ Daruwala said. “But the whole commercial team that’s come here has been watching the development of telaprevir over the past eight years. This was an opportunity for us to build the commercial organization of the future.’’

Introducing marketers and salespeople to the mix at Vertex — a deep-rooted science company organized around the mission of finding breakthrough drugs — was bound to be challenging. But mar keting the first Vertex-developed therapeutic was always part of the plan.

“The company has a very strong research and development culture,’’ Daruwala said. “Some people wonder whether adding all these commercial people would dilute the culture or strengthen it.’’

That will depend in large part on the newcomers’ success in selling telaprevir, which is likely to compete in the marketplace with boceprevir, a hepatitis C treatment from Daruwala’s former employer, Merck. Both drugs are expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration this spring. They target a market projected to swell to billions of dollars a year later in the decade.

While it can’t start pitching telaprevir to about 10,000 gastroenterologists and hepatologists nationwide until it gets the FDA’s nod, Vertex has “pre-launched’’ treatment education and nurse support programs, including patient brochures, presentations at medical conferences, multimedia advertising, and a 24-hour hotline. The goal is to draw public attention to hepatitis C, a largely untreated virus estimated to affect 3 million Americans and 100 million people worldwide.

Vertex is preparing to draw a sharp distinction between its drug and treatments now on the market. Daruwala’s catch phrase for telaprevir — which will be taken in “cocktails’’ with other drugs — is “double the cure rate in half the time for most of the patients.’’

Unlike rival Merck, with its established sales and marketing force, Vertex started with a blank slate. Chief executive Matthew Emmens has brought in commercial veterans such as Daruwala to lead the Vertex effort.

“We’ve had to build a bit from scratch,’’ Daruwala said. “But we’ve tried to keep it simple — everything from packaging to making it easy for patients to take their medicine to having only one number they have to call if they have a question or an insurance issue.’’

Daruwala, who grew up in Locust Valley, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Kentucky’s pharmacy school before joining Merck, was surprised to see scientists sitting in on his interviews for the Vertex marketing job.

After he was hired, he — like other members of the commercial team — was assigned an “ambassador’’ from the research side of the company to help smooth his integration into the Vertex culture.

While the two groups remain separate tribes, Daruwala sees similarities. Like the early researchers who left big companies to work on breakthrough science at Vertex, the commercial hires are chance-takers.

“All the chips are on the table,’’ Daruwala said. “Everyone is all in. You don’t see that at other companies. The passions are palpable.’’