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The importance of life sciences companies focused on rare diseases to take early steps to bridge connections with patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers.
It is widely recognized that people living with a rare disease have significant obstacles on their path to the right treatment. The diagnosis process is often slow as more common diseases are “ruled out” one by one. Once a rare disease is diagnosed, informational and other resources are often limited, and (in some cases) access to therapy may be restricted.
Life sciences companies that develop and commercialize therapies for the treatment of rare diseases must take steps as early as Phase II of clinical trials to build an enduring relationship with patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers (HCPs). This article outlines two key actions—the development of a managed access program and a “concierge” approach to support and service—and the recommended timing.
Early planning ensures a managed access program will be in place once a rare disease treatment is approved and commercialized. Implementing such planning maximizes the program’s significant benefits, including providing product to patients who otherwise could not receive it—either because they do not fit the clinical protocol or live in a country where the therapy is not yet approved.
In addition to helping patients, managed access programs can also be beneficial as strategies to collect information and ultimately obtain country-by-country approval for the product. Companies can benefit from having a partner to navigate each country’s regulatory landscape and help deliver managed access—and medicine management—programs in an effective and compliant way.
When a clinical trial for a rare disease therapy enters Phase lll, it’s time for the developer to begin active planning for the post-approval handling of its medical information, pharmacovigilance, and patient-support solutions. The availability to interact with patients and caregivers should be in place and ready to go as of, and contingent upon, the product’s approval date.
Rare diseases, by nature, have smaller patient populations, with generally fewer patient and caregiver resources to tap into. Applying a concierge team approach is valuable, as it ensures that every element of patient support is handled in an integrated way, by a dedicated team—including medical information, reimbursement assistance, and general customer care support. A portion of the team, which typically reports into the company’s medical affairs group, is composed of nurses and pharmacists who have extensive knowledge about the disease state and the drug. Other team members, who may report to commercial contacts within the organization, handle the reimbursement approvals and general customer support. All are trained to recognize adverse events and handle reporting according to company and regulatory guidelines.
The concierge team is there to educate and provide support through every aspect of the patient’s journey—answering questions they have at the beginning of therapy, recognizing and coping with potential side effects, affordability concerns, and any other issues or obstacles that may arise along the way.
The concierge team must be available to meet a multitude of needs, and must do so using multiple channels (e.g., calls, email, video, chat, and text). Patients newly prescribed a self-injection drug may want to make their first couple of injections while on a video call. Patients traveling out of town can text a member of their team to ask a quick question about how to maintain optimal storage temperatures. A patient who has a question about their prescribed drug’s compatibility with a certain type of food may benefit from a chat on the phone.
The concierge team approach provides patients with the confidence to adhere to their therapy. It also provides caregivers with information they need to be an effective source of support to the patient.
The concierge team also extends their reach to the patient’s healthcare team. Specialists may have treated few (or even no) patients with the disease, and it can be challenging for them to recognize an expected side-effect or other nuance of the disease or therapy.
Having the concierge team as a resource eases the burden on the specialists and supports a good outcome for the patient.
An added benefit for HCPs is the inclusion of PharmDs who can act as “virtual” medical science liaisons (MSLs). HCP demand for the services of MSLs is reportedly expected to grow by a minimum of 20% in the next three years. And because of busy schedules and the COVID-19 pandemic, HCPs—including those that treat rare diseases—are increasingly requesting virtual engagements.
One overarching point: A non-siloed approach to the support of patients and HCPs is advantageous, and—due to the typical size of these companies—is easier for rare disease organizations to implement and maintain than it is for larger biopharma organizations.
As life sciences companies launch clinical development projects targeting orphan and rare disease conditions, early and ongoing planning about the programs that will be in place post-commercialization is crucial for creating enduring and outcome-focused relationships with patients, caregivers, and HCPs.
Natalie Douglas, Co-Founder, RareiTi, Mary Anne Greenberg, CEO, Diligent Health Solutions, LLC