Medical information in precision medicine

Natasha Cowan|14th June 2018

I work in the global medical information team at a large pharmaceutical company. My team’s role is to provide balanced, scientific information for our customers and to answer their questions about our products. However, my primary focus is on our strategic partnership with a small but innovative biotech.

The biotech is dedicated to advancing cancer care through precision medicine. It carries out genomic testing and provides a data insight service, which helps doctors match patients to different therapies and clinical trials.

We are not treating the partnership as just another oncology medicine – it’s a molecular information service, and that requires a great level of scientific understanding. The test is highly technical, so we are broadening our knowledge to ensure we are comfortable answering customers’ questions.

Currently, my focus is on bridging the gap between the two companies and aligning our teams on knowledge transfer. I’m also creating a strategy for supporting our customers and engaging with them scientifically to help them understand the complexity of the data, once the genomic testing report has been generated for patients.

The organisational DNA

There are some obvious differences in the way biotechs and pharmaceutical companies operate. Smaller companies tend to be more comfortable taking risks and are a little more agile in their approach to challenges. However, they might lack the structure needed to grow a business sustainably.

As a more established pharma company, we have the opportunity to leverage our existing infrastructure to navigate out of that start-up phase and ensure seamless patient and healthcare professional customer experience. This will give us greater ability to support questions from customers in different countries around the world.

"We will have to shift our focus to producing the treatments with the most significant impact, even if this means giving up a share of certain products"

The process of sequencing the DNA of tumours and zoning in on the genetic drivers of disease is magical and the people working behind the scenes are driving that magic every day.

The team is small and many of them have worked at the biotech since its inception. It’s only natural to be heavily invested in a company’s success if you follow it, as an employee, right from the outset. The team’s passion shines – they really want the organisation to succeed.

Immunotherapy 2.0

Treating patients down to the molecular level of their disease is incredibly exciting. We’re moving away from treating every patient with the same medicine, based on one indication, towards tailoring treatment for the individual patient’s benefit. This will have huge implications for the patient, with the potential for fewer side effects and greater efficacy.

The immunotherapy market is hypercompetitive. In the future, the challenge will be differentiating products in this space. All of the major players have invested significantly in this area. We will have to shift our focus to producing the treatments with the most significant impact, even if this means giving up a share of certain products.

"We could see an entirely different model, in which we move away from the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and actively provide the best possible treatment options for a patient based on their genetic profile"

It is going to take cross-industry collaboration and cross-industry trials to understand the best combinations for patients, as well as matching these combinations to patients’ genomic profiles and ensuring we understand the exact mutations the medicines can target. This will help us to focus trials on the patients who will respond best to treatment.

As the cost of sequencing continues to drop, it will become feasible to sequence the entire human genome easily. We will be able to understand an individual patient’s risk of developing diseases across the course of their lifetime and treat them proactively.

We could see an entirely different model, in which we move away from the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and actively provide the best possible treatment options for a patient based on their genetic profile. With new gene therapies, we could even prevent the disease developing in the first place.

Giving patients a voice

As an industry, we do not do enough to engage with patients, often because of regulatory boundaries. However, in biotech, there is a fantastic opportunity to partner with patients to provide information, tools and resources to help them manage their experience.

Sometimes we can get a little lost and assume we are giving the patients the things they need. The patient and caregiver populations in the rare disease sector are highly engaged. The molecules are complex and the diseases are unique, so providing tailored resources is critical.

Media technology, such as social media and online forums, has made it easier to engage with patients. However, the industry has not yet unlocked the full potential for creating an active dialogue or at least listening to the conversations on those platforms.

"Now is the time to start thinking about the population globally"

Navigating the sheer amount of data and scientific information produced in the biotech sector is overwhelming for both patients and physicians. As a result, the medical information community is looking for smart solutions and innovative technologies to simplify information processing while remaining objective, independent and non-promotional.

Technology, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, will help us to process and share vast amounts of data. Industry has a role to play in providing the infrastructure and space for clinicians to collaborate and share this data.

One way of achieving this collaboration is by engaging with patient organisations and clinical trial partners to bring the voice of the customer back into the organisation. Academic institutions are driving tumour boards, which bring together clinicians with interesting cases to discuss how patients can be managed, based on both their genetic profile and tumour profile. By pooling this information, we could make it far easier for customers to communicate, while providing a platform for healthcare professionals to exchange their experiences of managing patients at a molecular level.

This would mean a doctor in South Africa and a doctor in the Netherlands could share their knowledge and experiences, improving their treatment strategies.

Now is the time to start thinking about the population globally. Although navigating the data is complex, innovative technologies are giving us the power to collaborate and engage customers in a way that could bring patient populations together from across the globe, leading to the next big breakthrough in precision medicine.

Blue Latitude Health is an award-winning strategic marketing consultancy. We are experienced in medical information projects and are experts in precision medicine. Contact david.cooney@bluelatitude.com to find out more.

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