Up Close And Personal

Ian Talmage’s experience as a patient and carer has left an indelible mark on his life and his career.

When senior pharma leader Ian Talmage had his health, he, like most of us, thought he was “indestructible.” But after surviving two cancer diagnoses, as well as caring for his wife through two cancers of her own, he has gained a new-found perspective.  This has included a great appreciation for the work his colleagues do every day and a belief that pharma needs to promote overall wellness and not just manage disease.

“I realized that what we do is very personal, because when we’re talking about things more substantial than the common cold, we appreciate that our future relies on the work of some very impressive individuals creating something that can target very specific cells to potentially restore your health,” he shares.

“I became very aware of how hugely influential and beneficial the pharma Industry is – built on amazing research, translating theory into practice, and practice into products. That was a significant learning, moving from promoting the use of medicines to becoming a beneficiary.”

Ian, Senior Advisor Global Strategic Marketing at Bayer Pharma, had long been working in the pharma Industry when, 15 years ago, he was hospitalized with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, requiring colon surgery followed by chemotherapy.

More recently, he had to contend with a second blow to his health. “Sitting in the garden, I suddenly realized that my eyesight wasn’t as good as it had been an hour previously,” he says. “The following morning, I woke up with double vision, instability and hearing problems and within a couple of days I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.”

After undergoing a raft of diagnostic procedures, Ian was admitted to hospital for biopsies, underwent intense chemo, an autologous stem cell transplant and growth hormone treatment. “Again, I benefited from what research scientists had achieved with respect to both diagnostics and therapeutics, helping me get through a second crisis and essentially be here today,” he says.

“I learnt a lot through my troubles, understanding what an astonishing group of people I work with – including those in the labs, our Development colleagues, those working to secure access and registration, our manufacturing teams, to the people who enable information about new interventions to be shared with our customers. The different functions all come together to help us get these innovations to patients, and being a part of this industry is something I am very proud of.”

His experiences have had a direct effect on his working practice, informing a more open, pragmatic approach towards healthcare communication. “The first thing I tell people when I’m talking marketing is not to surprise either the health professional or the patient.

“The reality I learned was that when I received a drug, if there was a side effect, I would discover it. If it surprised me, it was much harder to handle, but if I was warned, I understood it and could take measures to ease the symptoms. So, in terms of the execution of my job in the communication of the attributes of products, it made me realise that being crystal clear as to both the benefits and side effects enables everybody, from patient to payer to HCP, to understand the net benefit.”

This, he says, also enables people grappling with significant diagnoses to make judgements as to whether important pharmaceutical interventions are right for them, if the balance between the effectiveness and the side effects is worth it. “I’m very conscious of the fact that it’s critical to build up trust with our different customers. When I think that some 80 per cent of us are likely to be impacted by disease, we’re really saying it is people like us that we’re communicating with."

Preserving health
It is this 80 per cent that Ian has also become impassioned about pharma helping, through keeping people healthy for longer, rather than just treating disease. “If you look at epidemiological data, the vast majority of us are likely to die of an illness rather than of old age,” he says. “We have, as an industry, focused on helping those with ill health – if a person succumbs to something hostile, we try to provide a solution that will enable them to get better. I think, as time has progressed, we are now shifting to preserve good health for as long as possible.”

The increasing focus on keeping healthy, going to the gym and wearing health monitors is something he believes pharma must embrace, with collaborative work and pharma-tech partnerships offering the chance to build a truly transformative healthcare system harnessing the best of big data and pharma’s inventions. “We need to bring together diagnostics, from watches and monitors, to the major diagnostic equipment like MRIs and CTs, as well as to pharmacological interventions. By bringing these together we will move more certainly toward integrated care and with it deliver on the promise of improved outcomes for patients.”

This could resemble the way airline alliances work together for more convenient, comfortable and cost-effective travel. “Our ‘One World’ could see pharma companies create alliances with diagnostic companies in order to provide a more comprehensive care solution for people, so that we are not just treating patients, but we are looking after people and helping to keep them healthy for as long as possible.” he explained.

While acknowledging that pharma firms need to maximize the clinical potential of their products to best support patients, Ian firmly believes this can align with pharma’s role as part of the continuum of care, running from prevention to diagnosis and treatment. “Are we going to be relegated to simply developing the innovation, and undertaking the lab work, passing responsibility for supporting the patients to others? Are we going to be waiting for a person to fall ill, or are we going to participate in preserving their health?  

“How we want to position ourselves as an industry, is a critical question. We need to get ourselves to the point where we are recognized to be a critical part of the solution. We need people to see the contribution that pharma makes to their lives, and that means getting involved in not just the management of illness, but the maintenance of wellness.”

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