Forging Alliances - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Forging Alliances
Advocacy Partners


Pharmaceutical Executive


Today's Advocacy "Gone are the days when companies just handed out big checks to groups with no discussion afterward," says Winton. "Now, we seek opportunities with groups that not only help them achieve their goals and objectives, but also help us move our business along."

Today, advocacy organizations are smarter about leveraging influence. They still value unrestricted contributions but also welcome cutting-edge information about clinical trials, new therapies, professional or technical support, and other in-kind contributions that help them better serve their patient communities. They have found ways to gain company resources to benefit their constituents without losing their independence. Many of those groups now are run like successful corporations, with a mission, a business plan with goals and objectives, an active board of directors, and accountability to their constituents and contributors.

Some retain consultants to help evaluate and tailor partnership proposals to best fit the pharma company's mission. "When you look at not-for-profit community groups over the past 10–15 years, they've become increasingly sophisticated. We have to approach them at that level, and treat them as customers, not vendors," says Kristen Williams, senior manager of ally development for AstraZeneca.

Pharma companies are gaining a better understanding of advocacy group cultures and how to identify common goals. "Those shared agendas mean enormous benefits for patients and corporate sponsors alike," says Karen Miller, ally development director for AstraZeneca. "Some patient advocacy organizations still have misconceptions about working with pharma companies which must be overcome before all parties can reach common ground." According to Miller, proving worthy of a group's trust takes time, and the burden of proof is on the pharma company.

Seasoned Players There are many fine examples of advocacy allies at work in the industry.

In oncology. Because cancer groups are among the most seasoned advocates, prime examples of successful ally partnering continue to be found at companies with strong oncology pipelines.

Those relationships create an im-portant patient link to clinical trials that can hasten a drug's approval. Recognizing that connection, Pharmacia has worked for the past three years with the Coalition of National Cancer Cooperative Groups, an alliance of national cancer trial organizations, to increase awareness of, and participation in, clinical trials.

"We've completed a number of successful programs together to educate some of the less experienced patient advocacy groups about the importance of clinical trials in oncology and what those trials offer as therapeutic options to patients who want to get more directly involved in driving their treatment," says Karen Carolonza, director of public relations and advocacy development for Pharmacia. "We've gotten a very positive response from those education efforts. That work also gives us the chance to identify new potential allies for future collaboration."

Often, advocacy group partners can serve another vital function: identifying patients who fit certain profiles according to their gender, age, disease stage, physician, history of therapies, and locale and who will make good interview candidates for the media.

"As an industry, we are always looking to tap into what the patient's needs are at a particular stage of a disease and understand how our drugs work for them," says Catherine Cantone, senior manager of public relations and advocacy development at Pharmacia. "Once we've gained their trust, those groups help us find and reach out to patients in a variety of ways that are mutually beneficial. Of course, that is always done with the patient's permission."

Cantone has a special appreciation for the sensitivity needed to work well with advocacy groups and the patients they represent. Prior to joining Pharmacia, she served on the staff of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

That experience is helpful when marketers feel under pressure to "get a group to do something" for marketing support without knowing much about how those organizations operate. "It is important to find the middle ground between what the marketing people want for results and what a group finds acceptable according to its objectives and limitations," says Cantone. "Having been on both sides, I try to explain that perspective to marketing, so they can better understand what's realistic."

Successful partnering also helps pharma create more patient-friendly and culturally sensitive education materials. Companies should involve volunteer health organizations and multicultural groups early in the re-view process-before announcement and distribution plans are made, not after the fact.

In women's health. Last year, in a crowded hormone replacement therapy (HRT) market replete with confusion and controversy, Pharmacia wanted to cut through the clamor to promote its newly acquired, plant-derived HRT therapy, Activella (estradiol/norethindrone) to target a audience-women ages 45–55 and their physicians. The product helps women manage menopause symptoms and controls breakthrough bleeding.

Concurrently, the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA), a professional organization of female physicians, many specializing in ob/gyn and internal medicine, was looking for ways to engage its members and enhance its reputation with women as a credible source for menopause information. It was a good fit, so a partnership was born.

Pharmacia and AMWA sponsored "Speaking with an Active Voice," an innovative, nationwide grant program recognizing inspired, mid-life women who want to make a difference. The program created a platform for both physician and celebrity spokespeople to promote product messages and educate women about actively managing their menopausal symptoms.

Women were encouraged to apply for grants for new or ongoing projects to improve their communities or themselves and speak to their healthcare providers about menopause.

"To amplify our PR efforts, we coordinated with our direct-to-consumer and e-marketing groups," says Kristin Elliott, Pharmacia's senior director of public relations and advocacy development. The program was so successful, it surpassed planned objectives.

"We reached almost 40 million women 45 and older with our messages and received more than 1,100 grant applications and a huge volume of traffic on the AMWA and Activella websites," reports Elliott. "Research showed that many of these women acted on their newfound knowledge. Everyone was pleased with the results."

In other areas of aging. Now, more patient and professional groups are working with the industry to help meet the healthcare needs of the rapidly growing older adult population.

Pharmacia and Ortho-McNeil recently co-sponsored efforts by a special task force of the American Geriatrics Society, with a membership of more than 6,000 physicians and healthcare workers, to update guidelines for doctors to help their older patients manage pain. "It was very hands-off on our part," says Tom Berry, a physician assistant by profession and associate director of public relations and advocacy development for Pharmacia. "The Society's task force reviewed the literature and determined that the COX-2s should be included in the new guidelines. We supported the American Pain Society on a similar initiative and continue to work with them to leverage their guidelines. We also are building a relationship with the American Academy of Pain Management. That issue is of growing importance to geriatricians and older patients alike, especially the aging baby boomers."

Advocacy groups, pharma companies, the healthcare system, educational institutions, and government agencies also are recognizing the needs and challenges of caregivers.

In the late 1990s, Eisai became aware of the burdens placed on family members caring for older relatives when it was conducting research related to Aricept (donepezil), its Alzheimer's treatment, which it co-promotes with Pfizer. In re-sponse, Eisai formed an advisory council of experts on the subject, including members from AARP, the Alzheimer's Association-Greater New Jersey Chapter, the Hospice Association of America, the Interfaith Caregivers Alliance, the National Alliance for Caregiving, the National Association for Home Care, the National Council on the Aging, the National Family Caregivers Association, and Towson University's Department of Gerontology.

Over a three year period, they developed and field-tested Caring to Help Others: A Training Manual for Preparing Volunteers to Assist Caregivers of Older Adults, perhaps the most comprehensive volunteer caregiver training resource available to community organizations.


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