Interview with Isabelle Bocher-Pianka
Isabelle Bocher-Pianka is Chief Patient Affairs Officer, Global Medical Affairs at Ipsen. We spoke to Isabelle about several topics, including the importance of the patient perspective, the biggest challenge for pharma in becoming a more trusted industry, and the most memorable moments from her impressive career.
We have a noble and unique mission to help improve patient lives
As a champion for the patient voice, how important was it for you to align yourself with a company, such as Ipsen, that shares your dedication to improving patient lives?
It was quite easy. Patient centricity was not a new venture for the company. Ipsen had some foundation from a cultural point of view. During my previous positions at Bristol Myers Squibb, or more recently at Ipsen as Senior Vice President of the Neurosciences franchise, I worked with many patients on numerous projects. My first mission as Chief Patient Affairs Officer was to design a global patient centricity strategy and engage the organisation to execute it! Alignment with Ipsen was easy thanks to the support of our CEO and Executive Leadership Team who want to make patient centricity a reality at our company. They supported the creation, as well, of the first Ipsen guidance for patients and patient organisation interactions based on the highest ethical principles. It starts from the top!
How does your role as Chief Patient Affairs Officer allow you to implement the patient perspective across other departments?
Ipsen has anchored this new role into the Global Medical Affairs (GMA) department. It offers huge opportunities to work cross functionally, across countries under an overarching common medical goal: to help improve patient outcomes and quality of life, whether they suffer from oncology, rare, or neuroscience-diseases. GMA colleagues are working with project teams all along the value chain. They help bring the patient voice into projects from the start and raise awareness of unmet medical needs.
Patient organisations expect a continuum of work from early development stages to post commercialisation. At Ipsen, patient centricity is approached pragmatically, through working with patients on concrete projects all along the value chain. I also serve as a member of the Global Leadership Team, which I find very valuable. It provides many opportunities to connect with senior cross functional and cross-country leaders. They, in turn, influence and spread both a ‘patient centred’ mindset and concrete actions. Their support and encouragement of their teams to listen to, work with, and embrace patient perspectives is vital to scale up my efforts.
What is the main challenge in working towards an environment where patients can educate pharma to improve patient centricity?
Rather than a challenge, I see this as a great opportunity! The more educated pharma can be about patients, the better. I see the opportunity whenever we invite patients onto a project and seek their advice: we work hand-in-hand together, so they become like a colleague to us. They have a voice and can say, ‘I was a really important part of this clinical development. With the knowledge I have from my disease, I contributed to this protocol.’ We are working with patient organisations to support their initiatives and mission to help patients and caregivers.
Do you think that to lead a successful career in the pharma industry, you need to be primarily motivated by the desire to improve the lives of patients?
Yes – you absolutely need to be. This is a must for gaining an appreciation of what you’re doing: we have to know who we are working hard for every day. To progress in a pharma career, it is also helpful to work with patients across different countries and different therapeutic areas. As Chief Patient Affairs Officer, I interact with different countries and very different functions including HR, marketing, finance, procurement, and manufacturing. I help make the link between their daily jobs and the patients they/we serve; this important link is at the heart of everything we do, however, it sometimes proves difficult for them to grasp. We are very motivated at Ipsen to serve patients as much as we possibly can.
What will be the biggest challenge in pharma’s mission to become more trusted by patients, as more complex technology and data collection software continues to be developed?
The biggest challenge is to make our patient efforts transparent and simple while ensuring we protect privacy along the data collection process. To earn patient trust, we need to be transparent on our intent, clear in the language we use, and deploy safeguards to protect patient and caregiver privacy.
To become more trusted, pharma needs to open their doors and show how we use complex technologies in our research and development labs, in our manufacturing sites, etc. Complex technologies help advance the science needed to discover new treatments for unmet medical needs. You build trust when you show patients the quantum leap technology can help achieve to better serve them in the future.
How important is it for pharma executives to continually seek out and share knowledge, both internally, across functions, and across industries?
It is critical. We operate in a complex and fast-changing environment. More than ever, we need to get a range of perspectives from different countries and different functions. This is the way to create value: through the sharing of knowledge, time, energy, and talent, we produce much more, at a higher value. When I joined the pharma industry, it was often told that ‘we are different.’ Why is that? We have a noble and unique mission to help improve patient lives that other industries don’t have.
Looking back at your experience in the pharmaceutical industry, is there a defining or memorable moment for you?
There are so many; it’s hard to pick just one! I would probably say the day we gained a sense of urgency about patients suffering from rare diseases and the need to extend our mission to work for all patients. There should be no underserved patient populations.
I see the opportunity whenever we invite patients onto a project and seek their advice: we work hand-inhand together
Also, I would say the day we started to see patients as individuals and started working directly with them and their healthcare professionals made a significant impression on me. There was also a turning point in the industry to better identify sub-populations of patients in our clinical development process. Finally, the time when we began to recognise the importance of caregivers. As an industry, we realised the importance, not only of being personal to patients, but in engaging and including caregivers in programmes to find out what was important to them. For example, developing education and coaching programmes for parents to support their sick children and contribute to improve