The Big Trends Transforming Pharma

The industry is fast approaching a promising new future. How is it getting there?

For all the world’s afflictions, the 21st century has been a relative triumph. Since 2000 infant mortality rates have dropped by half, to 5.6m. Life expectancy has reached 71, an increase of five years, and HIV-related deaths have fallen dramatically.        

From smartphones to the looming prospect of driverless cars, the lightning pace of technological progress also shows no sign of slowing down.

And as tech and medicine converge, the pharmaceutical industry is at the forefront of this change.

How will this shape pharma’s future? We asked the industry’s thought leaders to weigh in on this brave new world.

Find your niche 
Pharma’s inroads into personalized healthcare are animating expectations far and wide. The principle driver of this evolution is pharma’s vast data pools, says Sebastian Guth, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

“I am convinced that the vast data sets today in healthcare will help us to determine much faster and more efficiently the next best intervention for each individual patient. This will be enabled by data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

Personalization tools are a major boon to physicians and the way they conduct their practice, says Christi Shaw, Senior Vice President and President, Lilly Bio Medicines, Eli Lilly. Doctors have a deep well of data at their disposal and can provide patients with a much more tailored treatment plan than ever before, she says. Greater personalization could also drastically reduce the risk of a misdiagnosis, she adds.   

“50% of patients are misdiagnosed with or without Alzheimer’s. That can affect today how we treat patients. Even though we don't have cures for Alzheimer’s disease, if we could intervene sooner, we could potentially slow the progression,” says Shaw.

Clinical trials are ripe for such targeted interventions. Precision tools could pin-point indicators of Alzheimer’s disease for example, and systematically select people for clinical trials with these indicators, she says. This could help to provide greater assurance that the most efficacious medicines are being used on the right patients.

Providing a more personalized service to patients could also boost adherence. How? By better leveraging a powerful intermediary: the mobile phone, she says. “How do we make better use of the technology that patients use every day? They don't want to adhere, but they frequently engage with their mobile phones, how do you integrate the two? How do we leverage what apple and amazon, and google are all trying to do?”

Pharma’s march towards personalized healthcare will evolve the role it plays in society, says Kris Sterkens, Company Groups Chairman, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Janssen. Supported by leaps in machine learning and AI, the industry is pivoting towards disease interception and prevention. “We are on our way to a world without disease, where basically it is not about treating disease but managing health, our version of the circular economy.”

Many hands make light work
If the intractable issue of pricing offers a glimmer of hope, it lies in the growing awareness that all parties must band together to break the pharma-payer impasse.

Shaw bangs the drum for greater collaboration: “Let's stop fighting about drug pricing and come together with payers, with the government, with policy makers and let's actually do something that shows what the value is. I need somebody to help measure this because we don't have all the data; typically, the payers do to prove whether it works or not, and I am confident we will demonstrate positive outcomes.

We can't do it ourselves. No one industry, no key stakeholder is going to be able to do it alone.”

Nathalie Moll, Director General, EFPIA, strikes a similar sentiment. She advocates going beyond the parameters of pharma to form a multi-stakeholder discussion. Going into conversations with governments on healthcare budget sustainability as a group – with hospitals, nurses, pharmacists and patients – should improve the probability of finding solutions that can accelerate access for patients, lead to better patient outcomes and benefit the entire healthcare system.

“We keep going alone, and then the hospitals go alone as do other stakeholders everybody defends their budget which is not helping the credibility of the healthcare system as a whole,” she says.

Sterkens agrees that collaboration is fast becoming the byword for credibility. “If we are not seen as a credible partner at the table, we will be on the menu. Sustainable healthcare is a joint responsibility. The key solution.” 

There is cause for hope, he says. “There are long-term framework agreements being made in specific countries between government industries and payers to really give pharma a sustainable environment in which innovation can thrive.”

Patients are increasingly at the rudder. Can we help them navigate?
The galloping pace of science and technology is creating truly informed, engaged and empowered patients. Against this backdrop, it is becoming increasingly clear that pharma companies must think long and hard about the role they will need to play and the additional services they will need to provide to patients. 

At Bayer, the focus is on improving the health literacy of patients, says Sebastian Guth, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Bayer Pharmaceuticals. “We are doing this, for example, by changing the language in the disease related materials that we create for patients, and by rediscovering the power of listening.”

For Shaw, it is about facing up to the stark reality that there will be far fewer physicians than patients in the future. To help health systems cope with the increasing demand, pharma companies must help patients to become more empowered, they must provide them with the digital tools they need to make their own healthcare decisions, she says. This will require companies to look at the patient journey more holistically than ever before.   

Pharma has a ‘duty’ to be an information provider, says Julie Gerberding, EVP & Chief Patient Officer, MSD. “No one knows more about our drugs than we do. We know how they work, in whom they work best, what the side effects are. We have a depth of knowledge about our products — and we either have to find fair and transparent ways to bring it to patients and consumers directly or we have to impart that information to trusted intermediaries who then bring it to patients.”

The industry must go beyond being a knowledge supplier however, she says. “Listening to the patient is really critical. The biopharmaceutical industry is good at knowing, but not necessarily good at listening.”

This will require the industry to “engage authentically” with patients, says Jim Robinson, President & COO, Alkermes. To do this pharma companies must abandon all preconceived notions about what value means to a patient.   

“Patients care about the bottom line. You cannot hide behind the regulatory and legal framework, they can smell jargon, they can smell ulterior motives, they can smell when people don't really care about them. If you engage with patients authentically, you are open to new ideas and hearing things that don't necessarily fit in with your world view. You will listen. You will be willing to be a partner with us.”

Moll takes a slightly different tack to engaging the patient. She believes the industry needs to do a better job at articulating the value that it brings.  A trusted partnership can be better forged through this prism, she says.

“We have the opportunity to explain the opportunities that science is driving, that science brings and what we can do for and with patients,” she says.   

You must tread carefully when articulating your value however, says Andrin Oswald, Director of Life Sciences Partnerships, Global Health,Gates Foundation. Trust comes with expectations and you must have clarity on what to expect and to make sure there is no overreaching in that, he says.

“Risk of misunderstanding will always be very high,” Oswald says. With executive teams on seven-figure salaries and companies generating billions of dollars in share-holder value, there will always be inherent tensions. Acknowledging this is equally as important as acknowledging a therapy you may have that could save lives, he said.      

“Think what a company can do and what it is good at but also what a company cannot do and what it should not do and know what the limits are.”   




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