Seated woman wearing kerchief, reading; pharmaceutical innovation concept

How Patient Voices Power Pharmaceutical Innovation

In nearly every other sector, businesses build their strategies around a clear customer-company relationship. But in the healthcare and pharmaceutical fields, “customer” is an imprecise term.

There are patients and payers and healthcare providers and patient advocates and care centers, any of whom could count as a customer. Medical affairs teams know this all too well. It’s one reason their jobs are so complex — and crucial.

Here is how medical affairs can leverage their access to patients, generate insights from patient voices, and help drive pharmaceutical innovation efforts in their companies.

Why the Voice of the Patient Is So Important

Pharmaceutical companies orient their activities around the needs and the health outcomes of patients. Usually. Sometimes we lose sight of what problems these folks actually have, says Moritz Hartmann, global head of information solutions at Roche.

“So one question that I constantly ask is, ‘What customer problem do we want to solve?’” Hartmann said in a 2022 episode of The Venture, a podcast by McKinsey. “And many times, we don’t know this, especially as an organization that follows the science and is sometimes more driven by opportunities than needs.”

The role of medical affairs today is to reorient the organizations they work for back toward patient needs. And the best way to understand those needs is to develop sophisticated, robust processes for capturing the voice of the patient and to get those perspectives into the foundations of R&D and pharmaceutical innovation.

Doctor going through results and medication on tablet with senior patient; pharmaceutical innovation concept


Looking Beyond Patient Journeys

In 2022, Vicky O’Connor, strategic solutions director at Origins, published an excellent essay on how illuminating the voice of the patient can be, especially for researchers whose focus can sometimes narrow and miss the big picture.

“Patients are commonly viewed in the context of their treatment journey, whilst patients view treatment in the context of their life,” O’Connor wrote. “We need to consciously challenge our approach to be sure we are unearthing authentic insights based on this broader more holistic position.”

Medical affairs professionals are uniquely positioned to help organizations see this holistic picture, but they can only do this when they themselves are communicating and interacting with patients.

As we wrote previously: “It’s important, then, for MA teams to tap into their experience as healthcare professionals. They are knowledgeable about caring for patients. The more they can instill that mindset into their organizations, the better for all stakeholders.”

Within the narrow framework of a patient journey, sometimes the thoughts and feelings of patients themselves got lost because that data didn’t fit neatly into what researchers were recording. Fixing that requires effort from MA teams, but it also requires “significant company investment in patient listening,” writes Fabio Gratton, CEO of inVibe.

“Companies must now commit time, money, and resources as early and as enthusiastically as possible. By building trust and nurturing patient relationships, pharma benefits downstream when critical patient insights translate into successful brand decisions.”

That relationship can be a fountain of innovative ideas. Case in point: In 2022, Bryn Pharma shared findings from its own voice of patient report regarding what people with life-threatening food allergies need from treatments whenever they have an anaphylactic attack. Bryn’s research found that these patients need a treatment that’s easier to use than an autoinjector like EpiPen, the leading product in this category.

“Patients need a product that is easier to carry and easier to administer,” company CEO David Dworaczyk said in the press release. “More innovation toward needle-free alternatives that provide rapid absorption of epinephrine are needed immediately, and this new report shows that patients, parents and caregivers are demanding it.”

Doctor and patient discussing something using tablet; pharmaceutical innovation concept


MA’s Toolbox for Patient Listening

As we’ve noted before, the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on medical affairs, whose teams before had a much larger focus on scientific knowledge and communication with researchers than they did with patients.

The ad hoc webs of interconnection we all created during 2020 and 2021 ended up elevating patients’ voices to new levels.

“I recently had the privilege of facilitating and delivering a patient advocacy and members engagement workshop for one of my favorite network organisations of patient groups,” writes Leslie Robertson, CEO of Open Audience. “It was a truly global experience, connecting with patient advocates from all corners of the world.

It’s the scale of these global connections and the diversity of perspectives they contribute that make them so powerful for engaging with patients and patient advocates, Robertson says.

Further, MA teams have access to all kinds of tools that allow them to hear more clearly what patients are saying. Those include “increasingly complex array of data sources, including real world evidence (RWE), health economics and outcomes research (HEOR), market access data, phase IIIb/IV data, social media, and more,” write Isabel Vollenweider and Bill Shimp, principals at life sciences consulting firm Blue Matter.

Large pharma companies like Bristol Myers Squibb are building out their own capabilities, as well. In 2020, the company announced it had implemented a formalized process for working with patient advocates, a program called Patient Expert Engagement Resource (PEER).

“With PEER’s launch, we’re seeking patient insights as we develop protocols for clinical studies, and I believe that is going to make a big difference for the lives of the patients participating in clinical trials and beyond,” Samit Hirawat, chief medical officer, said at the time.

Further, new generative AI tools have “the potential to transform the way patient voices are heard and incorporated in healthcare innovation by analyzing large volumes of patient-generated data and gaining insights into their needs, preferences, and experiences,” healthtech entrepreneur Benita Yon writes.

Turning Patient Empathy Into Pharmaceutical Innovation

Patient perspectives, voices, and opinions should be helpful to the researchers creating treatments and therapies. The patient’s experience provides the larger context in which a treatment takes place, and understanding the quality of that experience helps researchers understand how effective that treatment is — and how it can be made better.

“Since Medical Affairs is very closely connected to R&D and Commercial, it is important to visualize the concepts of digital innovation in healthcare through an enterprise lens and have an ‘outside in’ perspective (such as customer experience alignment with touchpoints beyond Medical Affairs) for solutions targeted for customers and patients,” says Bristol Myers Squibb’s Shaji Kalathil.

Medical affairs need to be empowered to hear patient perspectives, document and track those insights and translate them into meaningful pharmaceutical innovation.

To learn more about how Anju’s Medical Affairs Services can empower your medical affairs teams to bridge the gap between patient voice and innovation, request a demo today.

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