The Case For Collaborating With Patient Platforms
In the bid to become pioneers, pharma companies could be missing a trick.
Another day, another launch of a pharma patient initiative. But while focusing on core channels and standalone platforms can seem appealing, patients are often already engaging with other platforms.
Bringing patient-centricity off the drawing board increasingly means pharma meeting patients where they are – and this can mean collaborating with existing patient-focused platforms. But with much of the innovation in this space coming from outside pharma, how are people making such partnerships work?
One tech start-up has come to pharma’s attention, thanks to its huge repository of patient-reported outcomes in the migraine space and other neurological conditions. Healint, makers of app and thriving online community Migraine Buddy, which has some 1.3million registered users, has recently partnered on different projects with firms including Teva, Novartis, Amgen, Sanofi and MSD.
“When we knew that Teva was going to be prominent in the migraine space for years to come, one of the first things we did was to try and better understand how the patient was engaging around their condition now,” says Timothy White, Head of Digital at Teva. In Migraine Buddy they discovered a “wealth of such insights” and began looking for synergies between their firms, resulting in their first collaborative project which will “live and breathe in the digital space.”
This mines Migraine Buddy’s data to create monthly digital content aimed at key healthcare professionals (HCPs), including neurologists and general practitioners. “We’re developing this to be the bridge in bringing the patient voice and insights through to HCPs, both building up our credibility in the migraine space, but also shedding more light on the reality for patients, and hopefully supporting HCPs in their daily practice.”
Why partner outside of pharma?
Non-pharma companies can offer specialist knowledge, innovation and fresh perspectives. “One thing is the resource and focus,” says White. “Also, culturally, pharma companies are structured in a way that means we aren’t always able to be as responsive and have the agile thinking necessary to build a growing digital company like this.
“There’s the hard side of the deal we have, but there’s also the inspirational part of a company like this giving us a different perspective. I always come away refreshed with new ideas about how to use this patient engagement to also create better outcomes.”
Partnering with established market leaders who have the resources to continue to develop their platforms makes commercial sense, but the relationship needs to be symbiotic.
“Our joint interest is to improve patient outcomes, so it is quite natural for us to collaborate with pharma companies,” says Maryline Marquet, Chief Commercial Officer at Healint. “Many pharma companies operate in hundreds of countries, so partnering with them helps us to extend our reach and create awareness for conditions that affect millions of people.”
“They have a cultural understanding of what it means to be a tech company, while we have the more robust medical side to our business,” adds White. “We’re able to find that middle ground with advantage on both sides. Teva is engaging stakeholders within the healthcare community on a daily basis, be that the NHS, neurologists or nurses, so our ability to bring insights from their platform through to the healthcare community is the win-win.”
That’s not to say such partnerships aren’t without their challenges. “The positive can almost be flipped around,” says White. “Culturally we are two different types of companies, so that requires a lot of education and honesty on both sides. Obviously, there’s a commercial relationship between us, so it’s not just based on ideas sharing, but we still want to make sure that their communities are actually getting value through the types of activities that we’re doing.”
“Traditional pharma companies operate quite differently from highly innovative digital companies,” agrees Marquet. “However, we see it as our opportunity to transform the healthcare ecosystem to be more agile and efficient with highly scalable and affordable digital solutions. All ecosystem partners need to work closely together to solve the burden of disease that patients are suffering from daily.”
Healint has partnered broadly with pharma companies and the research community, which White feels is part of a growing trend towards open collaboration, in part inspired by companies like Verily and Apple entering the medical space.
“These tech companies are trying to democratise and have their platforms used by as many different people, so the minute you start tying things down to one brand or one product, it starts to really restrict the ability to create that broader tech ecosystem that everybody dreams about.”
Such thinking can prove challenging for those accustomed to forming exclusive deals. “I personally take it the other way around,” says White. “If we’ve found a way that is mutually beneficial for Teva, why would we not work with a company like this just because they are working with others? Having that more open approach is going to be important for companies like us.”
The patient-platform model is clearly rubbing off on Teva, evidenced by the recent launch of web portal . Providing patient-focused, but more notably, patient-produced content around four key conditions – multiple sclerosis, asthma, depression and migraine – its articles, videos and podcasts offer first-hand accounts into life with a chronic condition. Contributions are made directly by patients and reviewed by experts for accuracy.
“We’ve seen a lot of research that patients have a hard time of finding credible information online, and if you pair that up with the fact that patients also like to listen to the experiences of other patients, you get to this middle ground,” says White.
“It’s us taking a step into the online world in a much stronger way, by having patients produce relevant and high-quality content, and ourselves curating it and bringing it out to the patient community. It’s a very different way of pharma generating content.”
These varied initiatives seek to demonstrate a commitment to patients. “We can all go on stage and say, ‘We’re a patient-centric company,’ but more and more in this day and age you have to walk the talk,” says White.
“In reality being patient-centric often means looking at the patient holistically, and that includes how they gather information, how they emotionally react and what they do when they’ve been diagnosed. Nothing makes me prouder than knowing that we are actually trying to understand patients and work with them.”
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