My focus, for the most part, has been and continues to be on consumer and patient marketing. So when I hear a term like “personalized medicine,” I think “personalized patient experience.” However, in the current vernacular of specialty drugs, and specifically oncology, “personalized” is a clinical description that essentially means targeted to one’s genomic makeup. These clinical advancements in genetically targeted therapies are nothing short of incredible. However, the rate of these clinical advancements is outpacing the development of individualized services to support how patients feel physically and emotionally, and how patients navigate through treatment and their own lives. When it comes to cancer, many pharmaceutical manufacturers and the medical community have lagged in providing the kind of beyond-the-pill-or-product services that help patients through their entire personal journey, but given the current oncology environment, focusing more on supporting patients’ specific needs will be increasingly advantageous.
Manufacturers have traditionally focused their resources on HCPs, given the perspective that oncology patients for the most part abdicate choice of treatment to their physician. While generally still true, this is slowly changing. We are seeing a rise in patient savvy regarding available tests and treatment as information becomes more widely available, thanks in large part to active and vocal patient advocacy groups. While it may still be generally true that therapy selection is primarily with the HCP, treatment success depends on patient acceptance of and adherence to therapy. In oncology, manufacturers haven’t focused on long-term adherence to therapy and broader treatment. However, with increasing numbers of targeted therapies being launched in the market, oncology is becoming more of a niche market serving smaller populations of patients, so every patient becomes that much more important for the brand. Competition is increasing as more treatments targeting similar populations become available, so these brands will need to find new ways to differentiate themselves and support patients for the entire length of treatment and condition management. Finally, given the high costs of these treatments, manufacturers need to demonstrate value with more than just scientifically advanced molecules.
Manufacturers cannot simply transfer experience in other therapeutic categories to oncology without understanding the differences and nuances of its complexities. What we’ve learned through numerous research engagements with oncology patients and caregivers is that their needs differ substantially from other therapeutic categories, and range from the emotional to the logistical. Moreover, these needs ebb and flow throughout the patient journey and also differ greatly depending on tumor type and stage. And new therapies for some cancers that are extending patient survival are also creating new patient needs—how to live well while treating cancer as a more “chronic” disease. In order to deliver experiences that are meaningful and sensitive to patients’ evolving needs, it’s important to start with insights that come directly from patients themselves. With smaller target populations and the toll cancer takes on patients, we have adopted modified research techniques that consider the patient’s emotional and physical health, but still allow us to listen closely to patients and create relevant services and programs that make each patient feel cared for and understood.
So where is the opportunity for manufacturers? It lies in providing services and support for patients, including prevention, testing and diagnosis, treatment and ongoing support for living with cancer. Not just the transactional services, which are necessary, but also with the more complex and individual support and services that help patients find common ground with the people in their day-to-day lives so they don’t feel so isolated. It’s helping patients navigate the complexity of their disease, which means not just focusing on the interaction between patients and your brand, but on the totality of their treatment with your brand and beyond. It’s in helping MDs and their office staff with the administrative burden of accessing medications and identifying ways to pay for medication—so they can focus on providing support for their patients when patients may be the most vulnerable and shaken. It means treating each patient as an individual whose life is changed irrevocably.
Success will be with manufacturers who are able to effectively make personalized medicine more personal—delivering personalized medicine through a personalized experience.