We catch up with Daiichi Sankyo Europe’s Garth Virgin to discuss cardiovascular disease in the post-COVID landscape

Why is CVD a key focus area for Daiichi Sankyo Europe?
Aspiring to protect every life from cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a key focus at Daiichi Sankyo Europe – and a professional mission for me. The global pandemic highlights this in a way never seen before. Even prior to COVID-19, CVD was a high-profile challenge for the medical community as it was, and remains, Europe’s leading cause of death.

On a personal note, CVD is a topic close to my heart, as I have experienced its impact personally in my own family and with multiple friends. In addition, throughout my 21 years working in the medical sector I have witnessed the impact of CVD with alarming frequency, first as a clinician, and then in industry. It is my hope that through our work at DSE and our ongoing collaboration with the medical community, we can contribute to the reduction of the 10,000 deaths that occur daily from CVD In Europe.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the cardiovascular disease community?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on CVD patients and the wider cardiac care community. Not only have studies shown that people with CVD have increased risk of more severe COVID symptoms, but also that an infection with COVID can induce cardiovascular disease such as myocardial injury, arrhythmia, acute coronary syndrome and venous thromboembolism, in people previously undiagnosed.

Increasingly there is a need for industry to better understand the needs of clinicians and help them deliver cardiovascular (CV) care that reflects the new environment of patient care. This means optimising patient-centric approaches and employing modern technologies to improve outcomes for these vulnerable patients.

How has the pandemic further impacted the diagnosis and prevention of cardiovascular disease?
Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a 50% drop in the number of patients presenting to cardiology departments, and higher levels of undiagnosed myocardial infarctions in Europe. Furthermore, patients who do present with CVD are doing so at an advanced stage of their disease, making it more complex for clinicians to treat and manage.

The best method to gain control over the rising impact of the pandemic is to focus on disease prevention. Guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology also reflect this approach and support clinicians to work with their patients to reduce the risk of CV events, prevent fatal episodes and encourage better outcomes for CV patients across Europe. As an industry, we must support healthcare professionals (HCPs) with going beyond the provision of medications.

How can the pharma industry enhance post-COVID engagement with the medical community to improve care for these patients?
The pandemic has forced – or perhaps better allowed us the opportunity – to adapt to new ways of living and working, the pharmaceutical industry being no exception! We now need to be more agile to respond to the requirements of HCPs. We need to adopt a learning culture and interact in a more convenient way with physicians.

By upskilling our medical science liaison teams in digital and online capabilities we can communicate with physicians in a COVID-conforming manner, and at times that work around their diary. Our goal should be to deliver HCPs the information they need at the right time and in the right way, to secure better patient outcomes.

What are the challenges in stimulating change and what will the possible benefits be?
With more data at our disposal, we can better understand the real impact that COVID-19 has had on CVD patients and the complications arising from longer-term COVID-19 symptoms. We must continually challenge ourselves in the way we look at CV care by no longer relying on pre-pandemic understanding, but working with data now available and delivering solutions that reflect the current healthcare environment.

We also need to escalate the speed of implementing change, which is difficult when primary care is overwhelmed and hospitals have long waiting lists to clear. We saw rapid implementation of new care models during the peaks of the pandemic. To continue to address the CV health needs in Europe, we must continue with this momentum and not slow down.

Additionally, there is a need to confront the challenges in awareness and understanding of CVD. I believe that educating people and encouraging them to seek immediate medical attention if they notice any signs of disease is vital.

Not only will this reduce the number of deaths we see arising from CVD, but also alleviate the strain placed on our emergency healthcare systems. I believe that as an industry, we have a role to play in collaborating with HCPs – and where possible, directly with patients – to empower them with the knowledge, skills and assets they need to improve patient outcomes.

How will Daiichi Sankyo’s methods lead to compelling relationships and increased knowledge across the cardiovascular community?
For me, the key to collaborative relationships is to create a culture of sincere interest and understanding; by truly listening to HCPs we can continually assess, adapt and innovate our methods of communication based on the needs and preferences of the healthcare community. This is equally as relevant internally as it is with external stakeholders. Through asking for regular feedback and embracing the findings we can implement relevant changes, thereby nurturing trust and value.

Through these relationships we have found many opportunities to facilitate the sharing of knowledge across the cardiovascular community. Our recent Hackathon, CardioXplore, is one example where we have convened a wide variety of stakeholders, from students to patient representatives, medical professionals and technology experts, to facilitate the sharing of insights and ideas.

Such collaborations help us to co-create new solutions that can improve the treatment journeys of cardiovascular patients by exploring entirely new approaches to cardiovascular care for tomorrow and beyond. From a medical perspective, these insights are hugely valuable in helping to understand how we can optimise patient care and develop even more effective solutions aiming to improve patients’ quality of life.

What will the future of care look like, potentially, in the next few years and beyond?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone; however, it has also presented a unique opportunity to evolve the way that we approach healthcare as professionals and individuals. As we look ahead, I hope that patients – and by that I mean all of us – can begin to feel more comfortable with visiting our general practitioners and hospitals again.

This said, the uptake of telemedicine and virtual consultations over the past months will surely continue to play a large role in future medical care, helping to meet increased patient and HCP demands. Wearable digital technologies such as atrial fibrillation monitors, provide patients with excellent tools to help monitor their health status remotely, especially as we see the trend to patient empowerment.

By embracing these new solutions, applying them to further improve our partnership with HCPs and empowering patients to take more responsibility for their cardiovascular health, I believe that together we can make great strides to reduce the impact of CVD that we see across Europe today.

This article is sponsored by Daiichi Sankyo Europe and has been reviewed to ensure compliance with the ABPI code of practice.
Date of preparation: March 2022

Garth Virgin is Executive Director, Medical Affairs Specialty Medicine at Daiichi Sankyo Europe.