Reality-based research – do you know what it is really all about?

I Word Cloudam often asked to explain to both agency colleagues and clients what the Behavioral Insights team does, and how it differs from other kinds of research.

Here is what I tell them…

Years ago, one strategically minded agency leader thought that he could do a much better job helping his pharmaceutical marketing and advertising clients if he knew what was really said when physicians and patients got together for their visits. He was right. Years later, we have recorded over 4,000 office visits and 8,000 corresponding post-visit interviews with healthcare professionals in over 20 therapeutic categories, along with their patients and often their loved ones—creating a whole lot of words and actions to analyze. Now we have a much better understanding of physician and patient dialogue and behavior—and a lot of insight into what goes on during real-world interactions in healthcare.

Over time we have broadened our offerings, but overall, we conduct primary research in real-world settings that focuses on healthcare dialogue and behavior. We do this by accessing techniques such as ethnography to observe our targets in physicians’ offices, their homes and work places, and while on the go. We analyze the data with sociolinguistic techniques. By monitoring social media, we can even take a look at what they write about online in open forums, and analyze their dialogue. We know that when a person feels less inhibited by the constraints they often experience when talking with healthcare professionals in person, they are able to ask questions and raise topics they normally shy away from.

From years of studying human behavior, we also know that what people say they do and what they actually do are not always aligned. We have heard it all, from asthma patients saying their daily lives are not impacted yet they gave away their beloved pet and ripped out their carpets, to spinal cord injury patients saying they accept their condition, but refusing to put a ramp in front of their home. We look to get under the surface and understand what is really happening, where there are gaps in communication, and what the intended and unintended consequences of these interactions are.Dialogue

We don’t stop there. Does the term computational linguistics sound intriguing to you? If so, you’re not alone. We can take a look at millions of words by using industry publications and see what words are most often used together and the frequency of words used to help your clients describe and own the scientific and clinical story.

Knowing so many of my colleagues are curious by nature, I am guessing you really want to know what we learned from our many years of doing this research! Well, you don’t have to wait much longer because we have a white paper, Top 7 Insights from Years of Observing Real-world Healthcare Communication, coming out shortly from our very own sociolinguist, Katy Hewett!

Of course, you can also just ask us! In fact, if you work directly with clients, make sure to talk to us about how we can share these exciting and unique offerings with them, and discuss what benefits these different offerings have for your brand.

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For Optimized Brand Strategies, Look to Market Research

brain_gears_on background_Who knew that Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, knew a thing or two about market research? Proof is in one of his great quotes “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

That’s a comment on discipline, and it takes on a whole different—and cautionary—meaning when it’s applied to primary market research.

As a market researcher, my first order of business is to help clients “get the facts first.” The discipline of gathering the right facts from the right stakeholders―and in the right way at the right time, to boot―allows us to not only uncover our customer’s drivers and motivators, but also to help inspire changes in behavior.

There are certain activities and processes that are important for us, as an agency, to shepherd our clients through. For instance, we don’t want brand team members driving the creative according to their personal beliefs and perceptions about the product. Rather, we want our clients to clearly hear their customers’ voices, and shape their brand strategy accordingly, with our guidance.

As market researchers, we help ensure that clients “hear” their customers by answering 4 key questions:

1. What are the right facts?

  • The right facts can be as simple as the customer’s geography (physical location) and demography (age, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status), or as complex as their behavior (product consumption level, use patterns, frequency, and loyalty), and psychographic profile (interests, attitudes, and opinions)
  • By targeting the specific questions that our clients need to answer, and by understanding how that data are meant to inform business decisions, we determine the right facts to gather

2. Who are the right stakeholders?

  • Pharmaceutical clients often believe they have a “physician problem,” but chances are they could also have a patient, caregiver, payer, or pharmacist problem (And I could go on!). Sometimes it’s even more than one problem! Healthcare is a sector defined by intricate interdependencies among a long list of stakeholders that ultimately impact product usage
  • Well-designed market research takes into account all relevant stakeholders, including them as the research questions dictate. We often talk with clients about, at minimum, viewing patients, physicians, and payers as three legs supporting their product’s stool—the “length” (eg, importance) of those legs can vary by therapeutic area, but they all need to be taken into account when planning brand strategy

3. What is the right way to gather the facts given budgets and timelines?

  • Do we need one-on-one conversations with customers where we can take the time and latitude to investigate the “why’s” behind responses, and explore topics that might be challenging to articulate in front of others?
  • Do we need small groups of customers to talk with us about our clients’ products’ features and benefits, and the extent to which they produce functional, emotional, and/or personal benefits?
  • Do we need to use projective exercises in which ambiguous or vaguely defined stimuli grant customers’ considerable freedom in their responses? Images and metaphors can sometimes reveal a deeper dimension of thought/decision-making processes and feelings than objective, “correct” responses to explicit research questions
  • Do we need to survey a large number of customers, and on a big enough scale so we can obtain results that are statistically significant?
  • Do we need to survey various types of customers to understand the number and size of diverse market segments, including what those segments look like?
  • Do we need to deploy mobile or app-based methodologies that allow us to track customer thinking and behavior in real time?

4. When is the right time to gather the facts?

  • Sometimes we want to conduct research, either to take the market pulse on the heels of a significant marketplace event, or to get a “snapshot” of the market at a particular moment
  • Sometimes we want to be in the field when the market is quiet, so we can get a baseline against which to compare the impact of future disruptive events
  • Sometimes we want to longitudinally gather the same metrics from the same customers at certain intervals to get a long-term understanding of customer behavior and product usage
  • Sometimes we simply have materials or concepts to test. This might warrant multiple rounds of research, depending on customer response

Contrary to Mr. Twain’s memorable comment, the second order of business for market researchers is to make sure that clients do not distort those facts to fit their own view of their marketplace–or the marketplace they want instead of the one they have.

It’s therefore our job not just to provide the facts, but to give them meaning and to make actionable recommendations. The beauty of being part of the larger Ogilvy CommonHealth organization is that we have a wide and deep network of resources to help us round out our interpretation.

Drawing on our own backgrounds in multiple therapeutic areas, and working closely with our account team counterparts, optimizes our point of view on the research. Having our secondary research, data analytics, and digital colleagues weigh in allows us to ensure that our recommendations are deep and broad, and showcases our capabilities as an integrated agency.

Consider how primary market research can help your organization’s brand teams to get the right facts first (distortion-free!), and use that data as a platform on which to build robust strategies that firmly stake your brands’ positioning in the marketplace.

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Top Picks From CES 2016

Author Pic CES

Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Ashley Evens (left) and Nelson Figueiredo (right)

Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Ashley Evens, senior engagement strategist and Nelson Figueiredo, VP, director of technology, applied their experience as a healthcare communicators to identify the most impactful technologies from their year’s CES.

Each year, technologists, strategists, start-ups, major manufacturers, and consumers gravitate to Las Vegas for CES. This is becoming the premier event to showcase new consumer electronics, technology, and products. With the growth of healthcare as a key technology topic, CES is also an important venue for healthcare brands and influencers.

Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Ashley Evens and Nelson Figueiredo spent several days on the floor at CES and have curated the following list of products and technologies to watch:

CaptureProof: like HIPAA-secure Snapchat…only better

CaptureProof is a new HIPAA-secure platform for sharing media and data between patients and providers. CaptureProof allows doctors to monitor patient progress and symptoms, triage via media, consult colleagues, and link to wearable devices and EHRs.

It’s recently been used in pilots for remote physical therapy (reducing in-person appointments by 75% and resulting in an overall cost savings of $7,500 per patient) and its diagnostic capabilities are currently being studied by the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at MAYO Neurology.

Currently an invite is necessary to set up an account. However, we’re in discussion about the various ways brands and agencies can utilize the platform and looking forward to developing partnership opportunities with them.


Holograms still have show-stopping power

With the exception of Shaq walking the showroom floor, preordering robots, when it comes to show-stopping power, hologram technology still reigns supreme.

The Kin-mo booth caused the steadiest stream of pandemonium and buzz at the event, literally, stopping hordes of people in their tracks and compelling them to ask questions and snap pictures and video.

Here at Ogilvy CommonHealth we’re exploring the practical application of Holograms in medical education and are working on making the technology less cost-prohibitive for use in the field.

Holograms from CES2016

Meet flic, the wireless smart button that could revolutionize the way patients communicate with providers

Flic is a small wireless button that you can stick anywhere. It can be programmed to send data and commands to apps on Android or iOS devices.

Swedish developers, Shortcut Labs, designed flic with simplicity, accessibility and safety in mind. It’s currently being used to streamline everyday tasks like controlling your connected home, selecting entertainment and ordering food and taxis.

But the ease of use makes it an intriguing solution for things like symptom reporting and tracking between patient and provider, treatment adherence, atmospheric or environmental controls, and accessibility for patients with limited mobility.

VR was king at CES and controller tech is on the rise

This year the Virtual Reality headset manufacturers exhibiting at CES were too numerous to count and VR environments demoing experiences in space, tech, automotive, entertainment, health and fitness were among the most engaging booth draws on the showroom floor.

While everyone seems to agree that VR is going to revolutionize medical education, it’s recent advances in VR controllers and the impact that they might have on rehabilitation and treatment methods that we found most inspiring at CES this year.

Two groups in particular, 3DRudder and Rink, are leading innovation in foot and hand controls, respectively, and are excited to explore applications for their devices in the healthcare space. Each offer the opportunity to gamify the treatment process in new and exciting ways and extend mobility exercises into the VR realm.


Sensum, the marketing industry’s new emotions experts

Turning emotions into data, measuring advertising’s effect on the subconscious, tracking the cognitive unconscious, things that used to be qualitative can now be quantitative thanks to Belfast-based Sensum.

They’re already working with some of the biggest media companies and agencies in the world to measure the effectiveness of messages, customer engagement, and usability.

Whether it’s a live event, or a product that needs to be tested for implicit response, new packaging, or a video message, Sensum has the platform and technology you need to capture the real-time emotional response from your audience.

They’re also the creators of the EmoCam.

CES is proving to be a venue for innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their solutions for healthcare. As the empowered patient and modern physician begin to leverage new technology for better outcomes, there is an increasingly more important role for connected medicine, wearables, and mobile technology to help us live healthier lives.

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At the crossroads of health, wellness, technology, and marketing

2015 Marketing Summit Template_BLOGIt was a privilege to attend the 2015 Marketing Summit hosted by Ogilvy CommonHealth and eConsultancy. As the producer at the event, I was able to spend some time with each of the presenters. I was also able to hit the 10,000-step mark on my Fitbit by 3 pm—I’ll circle back to wearables later. I was most impressed by the diversity of speakers who are playing at the crossroads of health, wellness, technology, and marketing. The people I met and the messages I heard made me extremely excited on two different fronts: as a human being, and as a marketer.

As a human being, I was excited about the ideas surrounding personalized health that we heard throughout the day—especially since I moonlight as a fitness instructor.

Among them was Jeff Arnold from Sharecare, who is empowering consumers to take charge of their health by delivering personalized resources and expert advice through their online health profiles. Melissa Bojorquez of Physicians Interactive talked to us about technology’s unique power to help people connect with each other, and in doing so, defying the isolation and fear that accompany serious health conditions. Bill Evans from Watson Health showed us how Watson is changing the face of medical research with its ability to “read” thousands of medical journals and white papers in unimaginable speeds in an effort to increase the safety and efficacy of clinical trials drugs.

Our Healthcare Startup Sharktank brought innovative thinking to the forefront of consumer health. Movi Interactive is incentivizing fitness tracker users in unique ways by gamifying their experiences to drive usage. Through their platform, Medprowellness is connecting consumers with clinicians, nutritionists, and personal trainers to provide a personalized layer of accountability to their 360-degree approach to health and wellness.

The marketer in me was excited about all the new ways data will continue to fuel our insights. Finding new ways to visualize data is critical, according to David Davenport Firth, particularly since 75% of physicians admit to not understanding the statistics in journals. Back to the topic of wearables… For a while now, marketers have been talking about the endless data streams being collected from wearables. Patrick Henshaw and his startup, Strap, can aggregate data from wearables, smartphones, and other apps, allowing marketers to draw insights from real-time human data. On a similar note, there was Pranav Yadav, whose company Neuro-Insight can help marketers and brands optimize their creative by analyzing the neuro-responses of their consumers.

We are at the crossroads of health, wellness, technology, and marketing. Ryan Olohan from Google reinforced the fact that like all successful companies, healthcare brands need to innovate or die. Companies like Kodak and Blockbuster didn’t, while companies like Uber and Expedia have changed their respective industries forever. As marketers in the healthcare space, we all need to look beyond our comfort zones. We need to encourage our brands to look beyond, as well.

This article was originally posted on Ivan Ruiz Graphic & Web Design.

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Infographic: Smartphone Use Among Physicians

In my first of a series of infographics on Digital Health, I look at smartphone use as a metric of digital acceptance and adoption among physicians. Like us, physicians are unquestionably connected through their smartphones, and are conditioned to receive digital content. The newest generation of physicians entering the field are digital natives, and do not know a world without the Internet or constant connectivity. These physicians will play a huge role in shaping the future of digital health. The key will be to understand how and when to best reach them, and those are topics we’ll cover in future posts.

Smartphones and the future of Healthcare

This article was originally posted on Ivan Ruiz Graphic & Web Design.

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Mobile in Healthcare: The Future?

Mobile Healthcare Blog ImageIn the past few years, mobile technology has changed the way consumers interact with their service providers. Whether ordering a cab to one’s exact location within minutes or getting groceries delivered in a matter of hours, there seems to be an app for everything. The healthcare industry is no exception to this trend. Mobile health data helps patients, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies in new and innovative ways.

Mobile technology is changing the way doctors and patients interact with both the healthcare system and with one another. The fitness wearables trend has put the power of transforming one’s health and body into the hands of the consumer. People use wearables and other mobile devices to get constant data feedback on their heart rate, steps, calories burned, etc. Many of these apps then organize and share this information in an easy-to-understand way, allowing consumers to make better decisions about their health. Patients can also use new apps, such as ZocDoc, which provide up-to-date appointment availability, enabling users to schedule visits with doctors as quickly and conveniently as possible. In fact, even more specific apps exist, such as Castlight, which compares prices of MRIs and other tests to find the most affordable options in a given location.1

Healthcare professionals also use a number of different apps to improve patient care and treatment. Indeed, there are entire sections of Apple’s App Store devoted to apps for doctors.2 Perhaps one of the most useful features in many of these apps is the ability to look up information right at the patient’s bedside. Quickly searching for certain symptoms can save crucial time for both the doctor and patient and may facilitate a more accurate diagnosis. Moreover, certain apps will soon offer on-the-go monitoring functionality, providing live feeds of patients’ vitals right to their doctors’ mobile devices. This continuous supply of information can optimize patient care and improve the healthcare system on a wider scale.

These mobile technologies are not just changing the way healthcare works in developed countries. Mobile has been incredibly helpful in transforming and improving the healthcare systems of many third world countries. This technology helps serve underprivileged societies by “addressing challenges such as reducing material and infant mortality rates, combatting infectious disease, creating awareness of HIV and delivering nutritional health and treatment for a variety of health conditions remotely.”3 CliniPAK360 is one app that has transformed treatment in Africa. The app works by allowing healthcare workers to input symptoms and information about a patient, which is then used to analyze and diagnose serious conditions. Other hospitals in Africa are using phones or tablets with preloaded medical information, which can be critical for saving time and effort in diagnosing and treating patients.

Mobile is also changing the way that healthcare marketers target consumers. Instead of simply “pushing pills,” companies now make their brands interactive and interesting to consumers, helping to change their brand image. Mobile apps help patients track their own health and progress and supply pharma companies with more data to effectively target consumers. Merck created MerckEngage, which provides health tracking services and has over 100,000 users from whom Merck can collect new insights and information. Geisinger Health System also launched an app on a small scale that studied “metrics like patient acceptance and treatment adherence to decide which solutions to these issues could be deployed on a broader scale” based on data they received from the app. Additionally, mobile apps can also help with medicine adherence by understanding which patients do not follow their prescription instructions and targeting them with more precise reminders. Pharma companies can leverage this data revolution to obtain the most accurate and useful marketing information yet.4

I have seen this mobile technology in my short time here at Ogilvy CommonHealth. In the past few weeks, I have helped work on an app which tracks a user’s sleep habits through either manual input or syncing up with a wearable device like Jawbone or Fitbit. This app is mutually beneficial as it helps the owners collect data on sleep habits nationwide, and helps users achieve greater awareness of their sleeping behaviors.

The central theme among all of these healthcare apps is optimization, data collection, and a better understanding of disease perception. Large databases of patient and consumer information now exist, which can be analyzed to streamline and improve patient experience, outcome, and overall health.5 It remains unclear how far these apps can take us, or if a piece of technology will ever be as good as a doctor’s intuition, but the continuing innovations provide a glimpse into the future of healthcare.

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Helping Clients Navigate Compliant Communications for FDA-regulated Products

Helping Clients Navigate Compliant Communications for FDA-regulated Products IMAGE_EDVANITY URLS: Google Paid Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Changes
• Redirecting ad changes effective January 12, 2016
• Prohibiting ads where vanity URLs are utilized and dramatically different from the destination URL

Google has announced significant changes in their paid search engine advertising policies with regard to pharmaceutical products. The change that we are addressing here deals with vanity URLs, and their respective redirecting ads, that will take place in January 2016. The bottom line is that Google will no longer allow vanity URLs in an effort to provide consumers with more “clarity and transparency.”

Google has a long-standing policy prohibiting any ads where the destination URL differs dramatically from the display URL. Please note, this prohibition is not exclusively for pharmaceutical products—it has been Google’s practice across the board. Up until now, the pharmaceutical industry had been the exception to the rule. The reason for the exception was because in many cases, information seekers will not know the name of a drug, but will understand and know the symptoms/disease state information.

FDA background information
Previously, the FDA never objected to marketers utilizing vanity URLs and/or redirecting ads. These URLs/ads typically do not directly promote the name of a prescription product. Instead they lend themselves more to a disease state or descriptive nature, and then redirect users to another location or URL where they will see branded information specific to the prescription drug and/or disease state. Vanity URLs/redirecting ads are not exclusive to online SEM use, and are also used in print ads, television commercials, billboards, postcards, and more.
In March 2009, the FDA sent out 14 violation letters regarding search engine marketing practices of 48 brands. Thirteen of those violations referred to SEM ads running on Google. The FDA noted four types of violations in 2009:

  1. Omission of risk information, failure to meet requirements of 21 CRF 202.1(e)(5)(ii)
  2. Inadequate communication of indication
  3. Overstatement of efficacy
  4. Failure to use the required established name

Google’s reaction—what exactly is Google implementing?
Beginning in January 2016, Google will not permit pharmaceutical advertisers to have vanity URLs (such as “”) that redirect users to a website.

Pharmaceutical marketers will have the following options for vanity URLs:
Option 1


Sample ad showing company name as URL

Option 2
They can add “.com” to the company name.


Sample ad showing company name plus .com as URL

Option 3a (for prescription drugs, biologics, and vaccines)
They can display the phrase “Prescription treatment website” as the display URL.


Sample ad showing prescription treatment display URL

Option 3b (for medical devices)
They can display the phrase “Prescription device website” as the display URL.


Sample ad showing device display URL

All of these ads will be able to drive to pages on the or website.

At the present time, this change has been instituted by Google only, and doesn’t lend itself to print, television, or other advertising mediums.

What does this mean for our clients?
Review and reassessment of live and proposed Google SEM campaigns where clients utilize vanity URLs need to be completed as soon as possible. New campaigns need to take these new rules into consideration during the tactical planning phase. Funds can be shifted to Yahoo and Bing, however there is the possibility that they may also follow suit.

Google has indicated a willingness to work with pharmaceutical clients to minimize potential negative impact to paid search campaign performance. Testing of the new formats will determine which type of units work best with various campaigns.

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Wearable Wonder: Will They Improve Patients’ Quality of Life?

LeanneLakeBlogImageSizedClearly wearables are “all the buzz” in our industry. Soon our Fitbits, watches and the like will become an essential part of connected healthcare, monitoring our bodies and feeding important data about our health to the cloud to be analyzed by our healthcare professionals. More data in, better outcomes come out—it’s fantastic news. But what if these devices can go the next step and actually respond to the data they are monitoring? Can you envision a future where a wearable device can improve our body’s function and a person’s quality of life in real-time? I recently learned about one that just might.

It’s called the WAK, short for the Wearable Artificial Kidney. This wearable innovation has the potential to be truly life-changing for the more than 400K patients with end stage renal disease who are currently undergoing hemodialysis every day in our country.

For the majority of these patients, treatment is their lifeline, but it can also take over their life. Hemodialysis patients receiving treatment in centers spend on average 4 hours a day, 3 days a week completely immobile—tethered to a chair, tied to a machine. Much like chemotherapy, the treatment that is saving them often makes them sick for hours afterward. In the absence of a successful transplant, they will undergo dialysis until the end of their life.

The WAK is designed to help patients get out of the chair and back into life. It is a miniature battery-powered dialysis device that is worn like a tool belt. It is connected to the patient by a catheter, weighs approximately 10 pounds and offers dialysis 24/7. Some experts believe that in a perfect world, more frequent dialysis would yield better control, however this comes with a tremendous burden to the healthcare system. If proven successful, the WAK could improve outcomes and deliver new hope for patients, reducing their time in the chair and giving them the mobility to go about activities of daily life—a more “normal” existence. The FDA fast-tracked the WAK, and it is currently undergoing its first human trial in the United States. Human clinical trials conducted in Italy and London already concluded successfully.

For me, following the progress of this wearable technology is personal. I lost my dad to end stage renal disease and its complications three years ago this June. During the five years he “survived” on dialysis, I watched his body and spirit wear thin. Early on, the dialysis center gave him the personal connection he needed to share with patients having a similar experience, but soon after getting into the three-day-a-week routine, he and my mom longed to get back the flexibility that every retired person deserves. The ability to hit the driving range with his buddies on a Tuesday, attend his grandson’s football game on a Thursday, or even make the trek to NJ to visit me and my family on a Saturday afternoon.

Looking back, I wonder how the WAK would have changed my dad’s dialysis experience and the burden it placed on both him and my mom.

What’s your wearable wonder?

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Product Launch Made to Work

Product Launch Blog ImageIntroducing a new product into the highly diluted pharmaceutical market is no easy feat. Our industry spares no time for coming up short of flawless, where the barriers to entry are a proverbial North Korea for the inexperienced and unprepared. The road to success is windy and narrow, but once achieved, the view is unmatched.

In today’s marketplace, suppliers are red-flagged for doing things the way they have in the past, and the competitive edge gained is in the ability to differentiate completely in some cases, and only partially in others.

How can we differentiate ourselves?

For a baseline, any transaction within the pharmaceutical space is a complex sale. The traditional model of selling a product, handling the logistics, and looking forward to a reorder does not cut it. As suppliers, we must adapt to the notion that we are no longer offering or launching a product, but rather have entered the era of solution-based selling. We must come to terms with the reality that being “geared” toward a client or industry is no longer acceptable, and complete customization comes at little or no extra revenue.

Make no mistake: selling a product is still physical, but an in-depth understanding of the customers’ base is now essential to the sale of a creation. The utilization of that understanding is to align our goals to match the customers’ needs. The result of a properly executed alignment is the transformation of the supplier into the partner. By outgrowing the paradigm of being the wholesaler, and embracing a newfound cooperative mantra, trust becomes the foundation of our rapport.

But trust isn’t just a way in, and a share of the market isn’t the only measure of our success. We have to continually push the limits of our capabilities to stimulate fresh ideas, and remain at the forefront of innovation to our clients. The growth driven from market advancement is what will allow us to maintain our business and simultaneously cultivate new opportunities. With trust, our new partners will expect us to act on our promises and will be more critical of our deliverables. We are no longer reacting to a signed Statement of Work (SOW) or Request for Proposal (RFP), we are building a proactive and cooperative plan of action. Suppliers cannot simply provide a product; they must also act as consultants.

The stigma of “Big Pharma” having deep pockets and quick trigger fingers is far from the truth. Pricing is critical and partners will expect us to eat a slice of the risk pie when entering into an agreement (you are a partner now, why wouldn’t you?).

We optimize the product for the consumer experience through the ability to launch a solution directed toward a specific client and their void. This style is undoubtedly the wave of the future, and the relationships formed via this approach will be more personal, more customized, and ultimately, more lucrative.

Differentiation begins with common interest, and results in great success.

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At Face Value

At Face Value ImageThe recent 60 Minutes episode on the “eye popping” cost of cancer drugs painted pharmaceutical manufacturers and community oncologists as greedy scoundrels only interested in making huge profits at the expense of desperate cancer patients.

Reporter Lesley Stahl keyed in on a common target in the debate over rising healthcare costs—drug price, and a new term being used by oncologists: “financial toxicity.”  The program singled out ziv-aflibercept (Sanofi-Aventis) as a high-priced agent for metastatic colorectal cancer that cut its price in half only after three doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering wrote a negative op-ed article in the New York Times suggesting that manufacturers determine drug prices similar to how one shops in a Turkish bizarre.

To emphasize the industry’s greed, the producers highlighted imatinib (Novartis), and although they acknowledged it was indeed a true advance in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia when it was approved, they chose to focus only on how the price has more than tripled over the past decade despite the availability of several newer, more effective treatment options.

Media coverage like this, along with ongoing policy discussions, continue to focus on whether the cost of new cancer therapies is putting urgently needed, life-saving therapy out of the reach of patients.

The Personal Side

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide supports a number of organizations, including a number focused on cancer and oncology patients. One such nonprofit is the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), an organization founded in 1953 and dedicated to harnessing the power of the body’s own immune system to conquer cancer. Through their efforts, and the efforts of other institutions like them, a promising new class of therapy called immune-oncology (IO) has emerged.

Think about that—over six decades of research, funding, clinical trials, and education has led to some of today’s most promising IO agents. I imagine there are a lot of lost bets along the way; despite the millions of dollars that go into the research and development of new cancer treatments, only 13% of all compounds in development are ever approved for use in patients.1

But through the perseverance, commitment and investment of many, including the pharmaceutical manufacturers, what today is a reality would not have been possible.

I had the opportunity to attend CRI’s annual event and had the pleasure of meeting many post doc fellows and researchers, and I can assure you the value they saw in their work was not the profit their research would have for their companies, but the life-saving impact it would have for patients urgently awaiting new treatments.

One such person I met at the CRI event was “Sue,” a young woman recently married and living with a rare form of cancer (angiosarcoma) diagnosed in less than 300 people per year. She told me about how appreciative she was of the funding from CRI, manufacturers, and industry to the work she was doing and the hope that she’ll one day play a role in helping cure people like herself living with a deadly form of cancer.

Which made me think… If manufacturers and nonprofit organizations like CRI did not sustain the commitment and investment (in the billions) in search of new therapies, including areas of rare disease, what would become of patients like Sue, without the combined efforts and commitment of these institutions?

The Flip Side

So today, patients are being asked to absorb a larger portion of their prescription costs as a result of more aggressive payer cost management and growing pressure on healthcare budgets overall.

However, it’s important to recognize the overall savings to the system cannot be recognized in terms of savings for a patient individually. And the true value of cancer medicines goes well beyond the cost of a particular drug.

R&D of novel treatments has the potential to not only help patients today, but also provide longer-term value by investing in therapies for tomorrow. By limiting our view to a short-term cost savings approach, the potential to develop new, innovative treatment approaches, like IO, may never occur.

So when considering the price of drugs, remember this reflects the cost and risk of medicine development, the complexity inherent in treating cancer, as well as value to the patient, the healthcare system, and to society. So don’t take price at face value!

The Rest of the Story

So while the producers of 60 Minutes focused solely on the “devastating” side effect of cancer (the bill), a far worse side effect would be if manufacturers chose to cut the amount (billions) they now invest at risk to commercialize new therapies. This would be especially detrimental in rare disease areas like angiosarcoma, where the investment will outweigh the profit—and ultimately the patient would have the most to lose.

Through an environment and policy framework incentivizing and rewarding research, a healthy competitive environment will pave the way for new advances so desperately needed, and everyone benefits.

One thing is for certain, the path forward should focus on continued (albeit targeted) investments, improving access to these important oncolytic advances, development of biosimilars, and for crying out loud, doing a better job communicating the value proposition (aka, demonstrate product value) of emerging therapies to providers, payers AND patients.

Reference: 1. DiMasi A, Reichert JM, Feldman L, Malins A. Clinical approval success rates for investigational cancer drugs. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2013;9(13):329-335.

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