A Defining Moment

AstraZeneca is going back to basics by publishing a definition of patient centricity, moving the focus from what a company does to how it does it

Patient centricity has been a powerful buzzword in pharma over the last five years, shaking the foundations of the industry and shaping many companies’ approaches to their products and the market. Yet, as with all buzzwords, it runs the risk of losing any real meaning.

In response to calls from patients, AstraZeneca has ‘walked the walk’ and published the first definition of patient centricity, co-created with patients and carers.

For Guy Yeoman, VP Patient Centricity at AstraZeneca, this publication – in the journal BMJ Innovations – is both timely and necessary.

“We formed our patient centricity team internally a couple of years ago with a clear goal to deliver value-added patient engagement across research and development,” he says. However, the team soon realized that its definition of patient-centricity did not exactly match that of patients, prompting what Yeoman admits was a “difficult learning curve”.

“The message from patients was very clear – stop solely focusing on what you do, it’s how you do it that matters. If you get the ‘how’ bit right, the ‘what’ is much more impactful,” he says.

When AZ sought to validate the resulting definition of patient-centricity and its guiding principles through online patient communities, it was immediately obvious that it had struck a chord, says Yeoman. It was about more than simply delivering medicines that they believe would improve patients’ lives.

“That approach is no longer fit for purpose,” he says. “As patients are becoming increasingly empowered, they want to be able to shape their future, and they want medicines that are meaningful for them, so they can engage with them in ways they haven’t done before.”

The time was right to publish a definition because there are two burning issues for industry right now – getting patients engaged in clinical research and developing medicines that patients can better relate to, says Yeoman.

“Right now we struggle to get patients involved in our studies, to stay in our studies, and when they do stay, we struggle to get them to comply with the protocol we have set out,” he says. “We need patients that want to stay involved in the trials because they understand the scientific validity of what they are doing and the value of it for them. This way we will get faster, more efficient studies, and medicines to them far more quickly than we have done in the past.

Medicines must also have real value for patients. “Instead of putting in endpoints to simply address regulator concerns we need to find endpoints that are more meaningful for patients, that will enable them to understand the value of that medicine. These are medicines patients are more likely to take.”

The published definition of patient-centricity has led to a more practical framework for working with patients, he says. “Our internal standards for patient interactions are very much based on those principles and we have modelled and developed an infrastructure to allow us to live by that definition and those principles.” This soon-to-be-published framework will show how to implement these defined principles of patient-centricity within the life cycle, says Yeoman.

The benefits of getting patient engagement right are huge. “Once you’ve defined what patient engagement looks like, what is the value, in terms of the value for the patient, the value for the other stakeholders, and the value for the pharma company itself, because I do believe there is a financial return if you get it right,” he says.

Measuring exactly how these solutions impact the patient directly is not something the pharma industry does routinely. “We need to look at the impact from the patient perspective,” says Yeoman. While generic measurements can be taken, he advocates looking specifically at the solution that is being delivered, and working directly with patients to understand the impact.

Along with another company and an online patient community, AZ is now seeking to develop a specific scale to measure how engaged a patient is in a research study. “Once we validate that tool, we will be able to understand what interventions are occurring in a study to help the patient, so that they are more likely to stay in the study and want to comply with the protocol. We need more of these types of measurements that are patient-specific. The industry is finally waking up to this opportunity.”

This work illustrates the need for a fundamental shift in industry attitudes towards working collaboratively to deepen relationships with patients, says Yeoman. AZ is also working with cross-industry organisation such as TransCelerate to demonstrate that patient engagement in research is delivering value. “We understand that the whole of our industry needs to move in this direction if we are going to fundamentally make a difference,” he says. “In this pre-competitive arena, we all need to move together, sharing our best practice and developing accordingly.”

This article first appeared in Trends in Patient-Centricity. For more articles on patient engagement, and to download this publication for free, visit www.eyeforpharma.com/patient/trends

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