Lisa Anson, President of AstraZeneca UK and Ireland, talks to PharmaTimes Digital about the firm’s work within the field of diabetes, and going the extra mile for patients.
PT: There are almost three million people in the UK living with type II diabetes, and yet a significant number are failing to keep their glucose levels within acceptable ranges. What are the key challenges here?
LA: There are many challenges when tackling this issue, but in my view the main one is the lack of resource for the National Clinical Directors. We need to ensure that they have properly resourced offices that are able to deliver bold and ambitious strategies. Only then will NHS England be able to harness comprehensively not just all the fantastic ideas and projects to improve patient care across the NHS, but also the significant contribution that the life sciences industry and other stakeholders can make.
I do believe that the life sciences industry and medicines are very much part of the solution, too. However, there is considerable variation across the country when it comes to access to medicines, even when they have been endorsed by NICE or the SMC, and have well-established benefit-risk profiles. This is an important issue to tackle to ensure that the right patient has access to the right medicine, at the right time in their disease. One of the goals of the PPRS is to ensure that this happens.
PT: Is AZ currently engaged in any partnerships with the NHS to help improve the management of diabetes?
LA: Aside from offering innovative medicines, we believe that AstraZeneca, and the industry as a whole, has a legitimate role to play in tackling health challenges to improve patient outcomes.
We are involved in joint working initiatives where the NHS and pharmaceutical companies pool skills, experience and/or resources for the benefit of patients and share a commitment to successful delivery. Many such projects have been successfully implemented, across a range of health economies and disease areas.
In terms of diabetes, we are partnering with the NHS and other third parties to support type II diabetes prevention, professional education and advanced care for patients at all stages of their disease. Two diabetes-specific projects are currently underway with the Eastern Academic Health Science Network and North West Surrey Clinical Commissioning Group.
PT: How important in the current healthcare climate is it that pharma offers so-called ‘beyond the pill solutions’, and are there any examples of AZ doing so?
LA: I think it’s very important for industry to offer additional support to health professionals and patients. At AstraZeneca, we have significant scientific and commercial expertise that can offer greater value to the NHS, in addition to ensuring access to our medicines.
For example, our Dialogue patient support programme provides help at key stages of the type II diabetes treatment journey. It has been designed to support clinicians and patients to solve problems and help the NHS to provide successful, cost_effective care. The materials and tools were developed in association with TREND_UK, the specialist diabetes nurse working group. It’s available at https://www.diabetesalliance.co.uk/.
This year we also sponsored Silver Star UK’s ‘Stay healthy during Ramadan’ campaign, which took education about the risks associated with type II diabetes and fasting to the heart of Muslim communities through a series of regional educational events at mosques.
PT: Could and should pharma be doing more to support better knowledge transfer between health professionals on conditions and options for treatment?
LA: At AstraZeneca we devote a substantial amount of time and resource to a broad variety of projects that support health professional education and knowledge exchange.
For example, in diabetes we recently coordinated a series of local events called ‘Diabetes Question Time’ to enable health professionals to share information and debate the challenges facing diabetes care in their particular area. Each event had a tailored agenda with a panel of local experts including a GP, diabetologist, diabetes specialist nurse and local CCG lead, who engaged in discussion with each other and the multidisciplinary health professional audience. There were 23 events held in total with positive feedback from attendees.
PT: Is AZ working on any other innovative approaches to treating diabetes, and which of these are the most advanced?
LA: In addition to advancing our current portfolio, we continue our R&D focus on researching the underlying mechanisms of diabetes that could one day bring us closer to a cure.
AstraZeneca small molecule and MedImmune biologics early research efforts are exploring ways to address diabetes through different approaches aimed at restoring the function of the pancreatic beta cells as well as insulin sensitivity, irrespective of modality.
This year we will also commence a Phase III trial for dapagliflozin in patients with type I diabetes, a patient population dependent on lifelong insulin injections, which present a constant risk for hypoglycaemic events and long-term weight gain.
The investigational combination of saxagliptin/dapagliflozin is the diabetes product in the most advanced stages of our R&D pipeline. The first Phase III data for this combination were presented at the ADA Congress earlier this year.
PT: Do you see the approach to treating/managing diabetes changing significantly in the near future?
LA: With the range of medicine now available for the treatment of type II diabetes, we are now observing a shift in the current treatment paradigm towards early and sustained combination therapy to accelerate the achievement of treatment goals. We are the first company to offer medicines in all of the three most recent classes of diabetes treatment (SGLT2s, GLP-1s and DPP-4s) and believe that we can realise our ambition to be viewed as one of the top three diabetes companies in the world and UK by 2020.
PT: What is the key thing you hope to achieve in your current role at AZ?
LA: Firmly establishing AZ as the benchmark for scientific partnership in our chosen areas (CV/metabolic, Respiratory and Oncology) so that UK patients get access to and therefore really benefit from our medicines.