Online engagement tools put drug developers in touch with patients

January 29, 2015 Erin Righetti

Mobile_eHealthGetting life saving and innovative drugs to market is a big job. It starts with ground breaking science, built upon decades of discovery and failure, and from the moment of promise involves years, decades even, of negotiations, funding rounds and partnerships. It can be hard to keep the original vision alive. It can be hard to remember the reason behind the grueling work, the hurdles and hoops, the high expectations.

At every stage of the life science partnering process, waiting in the wings is a patient in need.

Everyone understands the high stakes, that failures could mean lives lost waiting for cures. How do big pharma companies “keep the dream alive,” so to speak? How do they keep the patient in the center of the work they do? And importantly, how can they engage patients in the process?

The January 2015 issue of Life Science Leader features an interview by Rob Wright of Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, the Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer. The article, “Pfizer: Putting the Patient at the Center of Its Drug Development Universe,” revealed an open discussion with Lewis-Hall about how Pfizer moved to ensure that they would never lose sight of why they do what they do.  In 2013, Pfizer formalized their patient-centered strategy.

Pfizer found that it had been off target for a couple of anticipated blockbuster drugs in not understanding patient behavior and lifestyle. Reading between the lines, they were out of touch. The first step was for Pfizer to get face time with patients, caregivers and patient advocates. But how?

The answer, in short, was social media. In 2014, Pfizer created the office of global patient affairs. Instead of losing touch with patients after a clinical trial, Pfizer created online platforms to keep in touch with patients, to both access and cultivate community. Patients were given care information, tools and notice of future clinical trials. They found ways to interact with patients in a more personal way, to ask them how they were doing. In exchange, they gained invaluable insight into what drives patient groups and how they can best meet patients’ needs.

In measuring the success of a patient-centered approach, Lewis-Hall said key metrics include reach, patient engagement and measuring patients’ intent to act. In launching your own patient-centered approach, social media, from traditional patient forums to microblogging sites such as Twitter and Facebook, can be a starting point to gauge patient interest and availability. New phone apps and technologies also make it easier to have two-way communication with patients. Steve Dickman of CBT Advisors recently spoke about these “Apps as Drugs” at Biotech Showcase 2015 in San Francisco.

Another starting point can be engagement on existing forums for both patients and those in the drug development chain. partnering360® is one such tool. partnering360 is an open online community of life science dealmakers designed to enhance partnering experiences throughout the year. Connecting with other decision makers about ways to create a more patient-centered approach is just a start. Tapping into clinical trial patient registries, staying in touch with patients through online discussion forums and meeting with caregivers are other ways. In the end, you just have to design an engagement tool that you, yourself, would want to use. Patients are people, and personal outreach still is the golden standard.

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