I sensed an atmosphere of determined optimism mixed with uncertainty. I heard diverse speakers from industry and beyond. This year’s eyeforpharma heralded some deep shifts, bringing together those working to remodel the industry with patients at the centre. Here are my key takeaways:
1. Companies are now actively involving patients in decision-making
‘eyeforpharma has taught us that pharma is actually listening.’
Carole Sian and Sonia Hawkins, Patient Experts at eyeforpharma
Patient centricity has been on everyone’s lips for a while, but many companies are now putting it into action.
Finalists for the Most Valuable Patient Initiative were doing inspiring work:
- Bayer’s Einstein Junior program empowers children on clinical trials with age-specific materials co-developed with them and their parents.
- Sanofi’s Moski-Toon initiative seeds the spread of knowledge about malaria prevention in Africa using animation.
- The winner was LivingwithNets, Ipsen’s resource developed with Kanga, co-created with patients living with neuroendocrine tumours.
As for the conference itself, the Patient Expert delegates fed back on a mostly positive experience. Still, I’d like to see more patients taking part in the presentations next time. At Kanga we think the patient voice should be ubiquitous.
2. True multichannel approaches are replacing the assumption that digital means ‘digitalising the rep’
A glance around the conference revealed a wide variety of vendors, from Trustrack (a scientific copyright tracking platform) to 60 seconds (an app for coaching in mobile sales). At one time, ‘digital’ in pharma meant ‘digitalising the rep’. Now, I’m glad to see, it’s an infinitely broad term signalling the central means for direct-to-customer engagement.
Roche have updated all job descriptions to include ‘insight-gathering’, demonstrating a commitment to providing the right kind of information to the right people at the right time. A platform at the conference was given to Share4Rare, an innovative project that uses social media to connect the stakeholders of rare diseases across Europe. True multichannel approaches are now valued and commonly known to be effective, driving value for patients.
Takeda’s MOOVCARE program that improved survival of
lung cancer patients through symptom reporting
3. The industry is starting to explore the exponential power of embedded analytics
Companies are starting to realise that measuring digital activities is essential, as it provides the data they need to propel them into greater customer engagement and personalisation. Analytics and KPIs are a subject of concerted focus for most. Elena Bonfiglioli from Microsoft highlighted that, of all industries, pharma suffers the most from ‘pilotitis’. The accessibility of data is what can enable pharma to embark with real confidence on a broader range of projects to support patients and doctors.
4. Doctors are almost all digitally ‘naturalised’ and industry is catching up
With the concept of a ‘digital native’ almost a moot point now, all doctors are digitally ‘naturalised’. This means they use digital devices and applications as their main professional and personal tools for communication, research, and other activities.
We know that 99% of doctors are using Google for work. It was clear at the conference that the achievement of ‘owning Page 1’ with our brand – a basic brand hygiene factor in any other industry – was still not common, but the imperative to achieve this was stronger than in previous years – at last!
5. Digital is finally seen as a major imperative for strategic transformation rather than just a ‘tactic’
Voices at the conference reminded delegates that today’s customer needs operate in a different plane from the make-up of the industry. One was that of rheumatologist Dr Deepak Jadon (Cambridge University Hospitals), who highlighted that patients very often use ‘Dr Google’ for information on their condition, and HCPs want them to be able to find credible information this way.
The good news is that the transformation required to meet these needs is in progress. Pfizer, for example, have identified their 25 most time-consuming processes and made them more efficient, in order to make room for upskilling. Digital is finally being seen as a long-term reordering requiring strategic business transformation, not just a tactic.
6. AI and virtual reality are starting to be used as real business tools
Innovations that make use of AI and Virtual Reality are finally getting traction as real business tools that can support patients and doctors. Janssen won the Most Valuable HCP Initiative award with virtual reality training for cancer nurses in Multiple Myeloma.
The sheer amount of health data being collected – 90% of the world’s health data has been collected over the last 3 years – is too much for humans to make sense of. Enter AI and machine learning. Google has been rolling out voice-based symptom checkers. Merck is using holograms to help with surgery – the surgeon can call up any image or patient information as needed.
Merck’s use of holograms in surgery
7. Pharma’s future role lies in collaboration with tech and other partners in new collaborations
Google has developed scans of eyeballs to let you know if you might develop heart problems, and wearables predicting IBD flares and diabetes. With Google & co. stepping up to fill gaps in patient need, the question of pharma’s role hung in the air. Clearly, continued investment in research into Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and the 7500 rare diseases for which there is still no treatment, is critical. But how can pharma match what tech has to offer?
Most of us believe that partnership is the way forward
What delegates thought about pharma’s response to tech companies disrupting healthcare
Dr Wolfgang Lippert (Salesforce) spoke about ‘the rise of multi-stakeholder omni-channel engagement’ and ‘PRM (Partner Relationship Management) rather than CRM’. One outstanding example of this was Takeda’s sponsorship of the Cancer Alliance in sub-Saharan Africa, which led to a 70% increase in oncologists, 200% increase in oncology nurses, and more than 120 GPs being trained to spot early signs.
8. Segment-of-one communications will soon allow for better message sequencing and personalisation
Already, machine learning and big data analytics allow for automated segment-of-one communications. This means far better message sequencing and personalisation, and a view, said IQVIA’s John Procter, of patients as valuable ‘assets’ who need careful attention on an individual basis. Pharma will need to get much, much closer to patients. Though pharma is now doing plenty of patient engagement, these activities are too often a ‘point in time activity’ at times that are convenient for pharma, he said. Pharma should have activity with patients throughout the life cycle through a continuum of interactions.
9. Cutting time-to-market through end-to-end digitalisation is demonstrably achievable
An in-session poll of delegates revealed low confidence that technology could reduce time-to-market. Some companies are making headway here, though. Lilly, for example, reported having cut out five years of clinical trials through end-to-end digitalisation of the whole process.
There are many different ways that digitalisation can improve the efficiency of clinical trials. One example is harnessing real-time patient feedback to shape the way a trial progresses. The Christie is doing exactly that in their work supported by Kanga on the Digital Experimental Clinical Trials Team.
10. The future of pharma is as a lifestyle and wellness sector well beyond the pill
Attention is turning to behavioural medicine and lifestyle factors for illness prevention. The challenge before pharma to fulfil its potential as a partner in healthcare is stronger than ever before. Opportunities presented by cloud-based data management, AI, advanced diagnostics, and wearables are real. They mean that pharma’s continued ability to invest in R&D to develop lifesaving medications will require a concerted effort to broaden its role and become a key partner in lifestyle and wellness. It will no longer be simply providing support ‘beyond the pill’ but looking at health from the perspective of the whole person and recognising pharma’s role as a stakeholder in our overall wellbeing and ability to live in a way that prevents disease.
In summary, there’s a way to go – but the industry is changing. Historically slow to meet the needs of a digitally immersed world, pharma is now leading some pioneering collaborations, serving patients and, at last, beginning to disrupt itself from within. The sense of determination in the conference room was palpable, with glimpses of a twenty-first century driver of improved worldwide health.
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