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Redirecting your patient strategy

Pharma’s efforts to update its approach to patients often start at the top
Patient-centricity overlap

The words 'patient-centricity' are uttered so often in relation to pharma's intentions and obligations it would be all-too-easy to dismiss them as idle industry buzzwords. But that would be a mistake.

Increasingly the noise about patient-centricity is not being generated by hot air, but by action as companies make strategic decisions to put patients first.

Of course, such a declaration must come with a  caveat - it's not a new direction for pharma to be focusing more on patients, the road it is now following is one that sees patients, and their views, being more integrated into decision-making than ever before.

As Sanofi's executive vice president, global divisions and strategic development Pascale Witz told PME: “Everybody who is working in a pharma company does have the patient in mind, and they mean well for the patient.”

But Witz, who joined Sanofi nearly two years ago and has responsibility for setting its strategic direction, has really pushed the company to move much closer to a patient-centric approach.

“Two weeks after I arrived, I said, 'Look, we are doing so much for the patients, but what is surprising is that we don't really take the patient into consideration as a consumer'. Now, of course, the drugs are prescribed by doctors, they are covered by payers, so they are very important stakeholders.  But when people are dealing with their condition for so long, it is important that you understand how they're actually managing it, how they're using the drug.”

It was this thinking and, crucially, its application that led Witz to hire a chief patient officer in the shape of paediatrician and public health specialist Dr Anne Beal. It also made Sanofi the first big pharma company to have such a role.

“What the chief patient officer does is working with the people,” Witz explained. “It is really about understanding how they use products and in what context. This is important, because you can't understand what is driving adherence and compliance to the treatment if you don't really understand what counts for the person as an individual - and what may work for you may not work for me.

“Therefore, it's important to to see these things through the eyes of the patient, gather all these inputs, but then do something about it by bringing them back into the solutions that we design.”

Understanding needs
This sort of thinking about patient involvement can be found within many pharma companies these days.

At Lilly, for example, a spokesperson told PME: “We recognise that good health is about more than just medicines. We want to better understand patients' needs and their experiences of living with a condition, which in turn helps us build a clear view of the role our medicines play in the wider treatment of a condition."

The key to this, the spokesperson said, will be how it makes most effective use of data. “As well as working with patient groups and key thought leaders to better understand the experience of patients and their carers, we hope to find opportunities to make life better for patients by using data insights to work constructively with the NHS and healthcare organisations in the private sector.

“Anonymous, aggregate level patient data helps us understand healthcare trends and pathways, and also offers insight into the real clinical and economic impact of new medical treatments and technologies that we hope will ultimately help improve patient care."

In the UK the government is working towards opening up patient information through its scheme, but it's still a work-in-progress. Meant to go live last year, it remains to be seen whether can gain public backing, and even what form it will eventually take, but the opportunity is tantalisingly close for the industry.

Digital transformation
One opportunity that is already at hand for pharma is that offered by digital communications channels. As patients become more involved in their care the long-term dynamic between patient and doctor has been changing. This is especially true of, though far from limited to, the younger generation of patients with chronic, lifelong conditions who want more control over their care.

One way this is happening is via the growth of social media platforms that are linking patients and healthcare professionals as never before and where patients have successfully developed grass-roots groups, organisations and affiliations for themselves for some years now. Digital initiatives from a new generation of marketers and communication teams are also doing much to open up pharma to the patient, and the patient to pharma.

Lilly, like many other firms, is looking to its digital strategy to help open up communication between itself and the patient via a number of social media platforms.

Its spokesperson explained: “We aim to use online platforms like LillyPad [its blogging site] and Twitter to provide simple explanations to complex issues, share corporate responsibility initiatives and support greater access and understanding of policy matters that impact public health.

“And through engaging online, we believe people will understand that we're a company committed to finding answers to some of the world's most urgent medical needs. We're convinced that real-world data will play a leading role in transforming our business and the UK to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

Real world experiences
As Lilly notes, there are major clinical advances that can be gleaned from patient input on these platforms via online community groups, such as PatientsLikeMe. These new companies have developed novel business models based on sharing the data and conversations of its members on how they are finding specific drug treatment, their experience of side effects, and how they live with their disorder day-to-day.

PatientsLikeMe, for example, already has a number of tie-ups with firms such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Roche, Merck & Co, Actelion and Sanofi to help the companies gain real-world experience from patients with conditions such as psoriasis and cancer.

This sort of information can help pharma spot safety patterns and help develop the next generation of drugs, while also understanding the direct marketing experience of those using their products. But gaining real-world experiences and data is not limited to the virtual.

Companies are also bringing patient-input to their clinical studies. At Celgene the company has been actively talking to patient organisations about its clinical studies. In fact the company told PME that it works with patient groups on a number of activities in this area. These start with the design of its trials but also encompasses endpoint selection, results interpretation, trial recruitment and the evaluation and development of patient-reported outcomes and quality of life tools.

Efforts by Celgene, Lilly, Sanofi and others in the industry are, at last, providing evidence that patient-centricity can be seen in terms of actions and not just words. There are clearly more miles to be covered on the industry's journey, but pharma's heading in the right direction and picking up speed.

Article by
Dominic Tyer

is editorial director of PMGroup. He can be contacted via or, on Twitter @Dominic_Tyer

8th June 2015

From: Marketing



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