Truly achieving a patient-focused cultural shift means pharma leaders must build momentum behind the necessity of partnering with patients to capture and incorporate their valuable insights, say Dawn Lobban and Peter Impey

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We live in a time of heightened stakeholder expectations, where businesses across every sector have realised the competitive advantage in clearly defining their purpose so that customers and employees alike feel aligned and engaged with the company values and direction.

In pharma it’s no different, with many signalling ‘purpose driven’ intent and pledging to ‘put the patients at the heart of everything we do’. But how does this actually play out in practice? The concept of patient-centricity is something we all know is incredibly important. So, what has caused the pharmaceutical industry to be slow to implement it systematically – especially compared with progress that other sectors, such as academia and the NHS, have made?

One possible explanation is that the important regulations governing our industry have engendered a cautious approach to any engagement with patients. Consequently, we’ve become over reliant on gaining insights on patients’ perspectives via proxies (often healthcare professionals) rather than directly from patients themselves. Recently, however, many companies are realising the importance of disrupting this status quo, and are actively recognising and measuring the value that patient engagement brings to all stages of the product life cycle.

So, how do we change gear and take patient-centricity to the next level? Effective change needs champions at the top and ambassadors throughout the organisation in order to permeate the culture of the whole company. Truly achieving a patient-focused cultural shift means pharma leaders must build momentum behind the necessity of partnering with patients to capture and incorporate their valuable insights throughout the planning process and across all stages of the development life cycle. Championing key initiatives to achieve effective and ethical patient engagement such as PARADIGM and Patient Focused Medicine Development are a great start, as is creating patient-centric job roles and increasing focus on patients in corporate reporting. But ultimately, these are just the first steps on a journey towards true integration of the patient voice within our industry.

As pharma increasingly prioritises creating a patient-centric culture, what does excellent patient engagement look like in practice? At 90TEN and Envision Pharma Group, our Patient Partnerships teams combine insights, innovative partnership practices, and creativity to improve outcomes and change behaviours. Every behaviour change strategy starts with uncovering true insights by listening and talking to patients, whether via traditional market research or more detailed, transparent discussion during advisory boards. This ensures we can test and refine approaches prior to and during implementation and understand which outcomes are important to patients. Our co-creation approach allows the patient community to jointly own programmes which makes them more likely to achieve geniune change. Supporting patients in taking on authorship responsibilities on key publications is a great example of this. We all have a responsibility to ensure that, wherever possible, initiatives that involve patient insights are published and results shared widely.

Now is the time for all of us within the pharmaceutical industry to deliver on those pledges to be purpose-led, and take patient- centricity from a concept to an embedded and measurable reality. The patient community is demanding this change, and ultimately, it will happen whether our industry is ready or not. What do you need to do to make sure your organisation is ready?

Dawn Lobban is Patient Partnership Strategy Director & Scientific Division Head at Alligent, and Peter Impey is Managing Director at 90TEN Communications (both part of the Envision Pharma Group)