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Moving to a New State of Affairs

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Words by James Coker

That pharma must undergo a reformation, moving to a whole new model of technological innovation, patient centricity, and prevention strategies, is no longer a matter for debate. A question that remains is who will be the captain who navigates this vessel of adventure and discovery? In a similar manner to the way the reformation of Christianity in the 16th century was facilitated by the dissemination of ideas and information, medical affairs’ attributes in engagement and communication are surely the lynchpin upon which this change in pharma will also be driven. “MA is uniquely placed to address these challenges provided we adopt a patient-centric and value-orientated model”, says Pol Vandenbroucke, Chief Medical Officer, Hospital Business Unit, Pfizer.

For this to occur, a much broader remit engulfing all aspects of pharma is required. “I see the role of MA as being much more holistic across the product life cycle, interacting with our R&D and commercial colleagues earlier on and externally also, especially with patients and the medical community”, outlines Vandenbroucke.

To move in this direction, MA must take a more overarching, centralised approach to their work. Going about such a transformation is challenging, especially considering the devolved manner in which much of pharma is structured. Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) is one company taking giant strides towards centralising procedures and strategies across the entire organisation with the purpose of optimising MA’s attributes. “What we really wanted to do was understand how we could be one BMS to all our customers”, explains Chris Keenan, Head, Worldwide Medical Customer Engagement, Medical Capabilities, BMS. Within MA they have a section named medical capabilities that’s divided into five pillars, one of which is called medical effectiveness. “That’s to enable standardisation throughout the world in how we engage with HCPs and also how we engage with one another internally as well”, says Keenan.

You have to overcommunicate and bring others along on your journey or else you will reach your nirvana and realise no-one else is standing around

Employing this approach has enabled MA to use their talents to complement the work of commercial teams at BMS, with the result of enhancing customer engagement. This is particularly in regard to the provision of information. Keenan adds: “It’s working with commercial, and it’s working with the early development team to create that one customer touch. It doesn’t matter if it’s an early stage in a clinical trial if you’re a patient or doctor or if it’s post-marketing; they just want that one simple way to get the information they need from us.”

For many pharma companies, however, a central MA strategy can be difficult to achieve due to the nature of their businesses. Pfizer, for example, holds numerous therapeutic areas within its portfolio. “If Pfizer was not organised in terms of business units then medical would probably not be organised in that way”, outlines Vandenbroucke. “You cannot go against the grain; if you’re working in a decentralised company it’s very difficult to have a centralised MA organisation. The other issue is that our business units are very different; not only from a commercial perspective but also very much from a regulatory perspective.”

Nevertheless, a centralised approach to the implementation of certain vital functions in MA is a necessity. At Pfizer for instance, a central patient group has been established which looks at how the company as a whole should approach patients and at what stages of the R&D process.

Another important area where MA can strongly influence the work of an entire company is in evidence and data. “Although Amgen operates in functional silos, we have an evidence generation group and centralised that process, establishing it within each of the regions and then having a global forum for it”, says Emma Booth, European Medical Head of Strategy and Operations, Amgen. “This means that we can make strategic decisions across the portfolio based on priorities: so not within therapeutic areas, but really across the board. It’s also allowed us to work and discuss things cross-functionally and ensure that we’re not repeating evidence generation within our different silos.”

It’s important to make people see the benefits of the model, to understand what their concerns are, address them, and get their buy in

And how can a global organisation, full of separate functions and silos, be brought together in this way? “You have to overcommunicate and bring others along on your journey or else you will reach your nirvana and realise no-one else is standing around there. And all that does is create greater problems, especially if you’re trying to integrate further functions within pharmacovigilance, early development, or commercial — so bring them along on the journey”, states Keenan.

Vandenbroucke concurs: “It’s important to make people see the benefits of the model, to understand what their concerns are, address them, and get their buy in.”

MA is becoming increasingly adept at communicating externally with stakeholders. To utilise these capacities to their full extent and lead the transformation of pharma so often talked about requires thinking globally under a central command. This in turn requires pharma to work on partnerships internally, as well as externally, in this brave new world.

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