Posted: 28 Oct. 2021 8 min. read

Is pharma ready to focus on the consumer?

By Vicky Levy, Global Life Sciences sector leader, Deloitte Consulting, LLP

Patient centricity isn’t a new concept in life sciences. It has always been a core purpose for the industry…and has only grown in urgency over the past 10 years. But truly delivering value in a patient-centric way—and making difficult trade-offs where patient considerations are weighed more heavily than (or at least equal to) other issues—often remains more of an aspiration than a universal business practice. This scenario, however, appears to be changing.

Last November, I hosted a provocative webcast on Patient Equity with my colleague Lucien Engelen and the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. Among other issues, we discussed whether the life sciences industry was ready to fully embrace the concept of patient equity. Since then, I’ve remained determined to understand, support, and accelerate organizations on the journey to patient equity.

I’ve always been interested in how life sciences companies might become more consumer-focused. Early in my career, I was a marketer for a global consumer-product company. The organization’s business model was truly designed around the consumer. We worked to fully understand the consumer’s unmet needs and then fed that insight into research and development (R&D). There was a thorough understanding of the consumer’s setting, purchase patterns, and their overall experience with the product. This was all done at a granular level. Truly consumer-centric companies make a science out of understanding their customers, their needs, and what drives their behavior at large—not just with their products.

On November 9, I’ll be leading a session—Making the pharma industry more patient-centric—at the Financial Times’ annual Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology conference. We will explore some of the barriers pharmaceutical companies should overcome to become more consumer-centric. My panelists will offer a behind-the-scenes look at how this is put into practice.

What is patient centricity … and what is changing?

As we noted in our 2020 report, Striving to become more patient-centric in life sciences, there is no standard definition of patient centricity. Some pharmaceutical companies might consider themselves patient-centric because they develop and market products that help patients live healthier lives. The patient’s perspective, however, is typically only seen through the lens of the physician, the payer, or the regulator.

The growth in cell and gene therapies, advancements in digital, data, and analytics (especially data interoperability and integration of data sources) and changing patient expectations all contribute to the increased focus on patient centricity.

Cell and gene therapies are more curative, more complex, and more personalized than traditional therapies, as my colleague Rajesh Singh noted a recent blog post. As the science behind those therapies evolves and grows, pharmaceutical companies should gain a deeper, more granular understanding of their patients, their settings, their full context, their end-to-end treatment experience, and their usage experience. That’s the science of consumer centricity that other industries have already introduced, and we are starting to see it in life sciences.

Big data, advanced analytics, and the application of artificial intelligence (AI)—combined with the volumes of data being generated by patients through remote monitors, virtual interactions, and wearable devices—help provide a more granular understanding of patients and make it possible to pivot further toward patient centricity. AI is already being used to accurately predict a patient’s likely outcome, which can help prevent adverse events and deliver a more consumer-centric experience.

Six tensions to consider on the journey toward consumer/patient centricity

As health care becomes more digital and virtual, pharmaceutical companies should engage in a more human and empathetic way to keep pace with the changing health care delivery model, which my colleague Dr. Stephanie Allen described in Deloitte's 2021 global health care outlook. Here are six tensions that pharmaceutical companies will likely need to navigate as the sector becomes increasingly patient-centric:

  1. Prioritization: Pharmaceutical companies don’t necessarily generate revenue by being consumer-centric. How to meet the needs of patients is just one of many considerations when making R&D study-design choices or when determining how capital will be allocated. For example, some patients might value products that improve their quality of life or are simply easier to take. Such products might be second- or third-generation versions of existing mechanisms. Those drugs typically aren’t prioritized because they don’t consistently produce the same level of revenue as first-in-class drugs therapies.
  2. Personalization: The existing business model isn't designed for personalization…at least not yet. The primary activities of a pharmaceutical company (R&D, manufacturing, distribution, and commercialization) are still typically executed from a model designed for segments rather than for individuals. There is a whole rewiring of organizational activities that needs to take place before a company is capable of executing personalization at scale. This rewiring will likely be expensive and is often perceived as risky.
  3. Data and the source of truth: While advances in data and analytics are fueling patient centricity, there is one tension that continues—the balance and judgement of traditional clinical data and patient-reported (or even patient generated) data. The pharma industry likely isn’t yet ready to co-create innovation. The industry understands traditional clinical data. If patient data is included, it is typically an add-on or an addendum to the randomized clinical data, which is still considered the more valid dataset.
  4. Motivation: Many consumers need to be motivated to seek treatment for an illness. They might also need motivation to discuss therapy options, potential side-effects, likely outcomes, and costs. The patient also has to be motivated to provide feedback to their doctor, and to contact the insurance company if a claim is rejected. Patient-centric pharmaceutical companies can be effective at keeping patients motivated.
  5. Trust: Trust is a barrier that should be overcome as companies try to become more consumer-centric. Early this year, Deloitte’s US and UK Centers for Health Solutions tried to assess how much consumers trust pharmaceutical companies in four countries—the United States, United Kingdom, India, and South Africa. About half of the US consumers said they don’t trust biopharma companies. How can companies be patient-centric if they are not seen as trustworthy? How can clinicians and pharma companies overcome their perceptions of patients (in effect their trust of patients)? Greater trust across the board will likely take more bravery (e.g., to listen, to balance, to engage, to be more transparent).
  6. Adaptation: After COVID-19 emerged, many pharmaceutical companies demonstrated an ability to quickly adapt to a new environment. The pandemic helped accelerate the use of virtual care, at-home monitoring devices, and other digital technologies. Moreover, in less than a year, the industry developed vaccines and therapies to prevent and treat COVID-19. Patient-centric pharmaceutical companies should maintain if not accelerate this speed.

Can personalized medicine become patient centric?

Personalized medicine and patient centricity are not the same thing. While there is overlap, it’s more of a Venn diagram. As a young adult, I had a severe and frightening cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, it was detected in the early stages and the innovative targeted therapy was highly effective against the particular mutation causing my cancer. That’s the promise of science. While this therapy might be described as personalized medicine, it was not a personalized experience. The company that developed the therapy understood the science, but it wasn’t focused on my individual journey. For example, likely side-effects weren’t explained to me, nor were the costs and challenges in getting and then maintaining my health plan coverage. While I have persisted with my medicine, I know there are other patients with the same diagnosis who were unable to persist with drug treatment. A more patient-centric approach might have helped.

Historically, pharmaceutical companies have been health care provider-centric, or health system/government-centric. Being patient-centric means the business model is truly designed around the patient. In his 2021 US outlook, Mike Delone, who leads Deloitte’s US life sciences sector, predicted that life sciences companies would start to push past their 20th century business models this year and take significant steps toward the Future of HealthTM.

Around the tables of almost any pharmaceutical leadership team you will hear people declare, “We must be more patient centric”; or “Patient centricity is vital to the evolution of health care”; or “Patient centricity is our core purpose.” These are heartfelt business objectives. However, pharma executives should ask themselves how far they are willing to push for greater patient-centricity. They not only need to push their organization to become more patient-centric, they also need to help move the entire health care industry. This is what I plan to explore with my fellow panelists on November 9th.

Deloitte is once again proud to be one of the lead sponsors of the Financial Times Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology conference. This yearly event, scheduled to be virtual this year from Nov 8-10, brings together the leading life sciences and health care leaders from across the globe to discuss the top trends shaping the industry.

This industry-leading annual conference helps participants stay up-to-date on the innovation and key areas in pharma such as drug discovery, clinical trials, pharma pipelines, biotech investing, partnering, digital therapeutics, R&D and AI, mRNA technology, workforce transformation, and new frontiers for business and growth. Learn more about the conference. We hope to see you there.

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