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Program puts a new-and very real-spin on patient nutrition.
When Susan Bratton, founder and CEO of Savor Health, started approaching pharmaceutical companies four years ago with the idea that nutrition and customized recipes should play a part in disease treatment, she did not immediately receive a warm welcome.
But Bratton was persistent. She had seen firsthand how difficult getting the correct nutrition was for patients, particularly after a life-altering diagnosis-and especially if the disease or its side effects impacted the patient’s ability to eat, drink, or cook.
Fast forward to 2017. That’s when Bratton’s company struck a partnership with Merck & Co. around its new program, Your Cancer Game Plan, an awareness campaign focused on helping people with cancer and their loved ones tackle their emotional, nutritional, and communication needs.
In the past, the pharma industry generally didn’t consider this type of nutritional intervention a priority, Bratton says. Yet, as she explains to Pharm Exec, a secondary problem to arise after a cancer diagnosis can often be malnutrition. In that context, it makes total sense.
Take head and neck cancer, for example, which was the first disease that Merck focused on when it launched Game Plan with the help of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, a head and neck cancer survivor. This condition describes a number of different tumors that develop in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses, and mouth. According to Merck, many people with head and neck cancer face unique challenges as a result of surgeries and/or treatments that impact a person’s appearance, speech, smell, taste, ability to swallow, and sight.
This is where Savor Health comes in. The company not only creates recipes with balanced nutrition so that a patient’s body has the nutrients it needs to fight disease, but Savor Health also takes into consideration disease-specific problems that might arise for the patient. For instance, an individual who has head and neck cancer may have a hard time swallowing. Savor Health offers recipes that provide the specific nutrition required, but can also be prepared in a way that makes it easier for the patient to eat.
“Making sure your body gets the nutritional support it needs may help to keep your strength up through a treatment course,” says Bratton. “Adapting and managing meals is important for people living with head and neck cancer, and we’ve developed helpful tips and recipes that are designed with this in mind.”
Besides medical research to back up Bratton’s nutritional claims, the executive has also witnessed the toll of cancer on a personal level. Her friend, Eric, was diagnosed and later passed away from glioblastoma, a rapidly spreading cancer that begins in the brain. His experience was her inspiration for starting Savor Health.
“He was just a lovely human being,” recalls Bratton. “All of his friends adored him. He had a personality that was bigger than life. [After his diagnosis] he lost so much weight, because he was unable to eat.”
Bratton praised Merck for creating Game Plan and recognizing that there are many factors besides the drug itself that can influence a patient’s success when it comes to their treatment. And, although this program is not specifically attached to any value-based reimbursement, it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be in the future.
According to Merck, many people living with head and neck cancer may experience different physical and emotional hurdles than those with other forms of cancer. To help address these challenges, Game Plan provides support and resources, including tips from Kelly, the former Buffalo Bill, on how to remain positive, and healthy recipes for those with the disease.
In addition to Savor Health, Merck also partners with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance (HNCA) and Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC). The organizations have supported the head and neck cancer community for nearly six decades combined. HNCA provides patients with resources that can help them manage their emotional needs at every stage of their journey, while SPOHNC offers guidance for patients in communicating with family and friends and expressing themselves in an effective way.
As Bratton points out, Game Plan takes a holistic approach to the treatment of head and neck cancers by truly going “beyond the pill” to support those afflicted in all areas of their life.