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Niche Online Programming Amid COVID-19 for Oncology Pharma


Cancer patients are now utilizing online programming made available by Patient Power as a source for expert analysis.

Pharmaceutical advertisers are seeking--and supporting--new ways to be where the patients are during the coronavirus pandemic. And where they are is at home, on the computer, avidly seeking information about their cancer during the time of coronavirus, particularly on how the pandemic impacts their care, treatment decisions and, ultimately, outcome.

Patients are flocking to the online programming we’ve created at Patient Power in which medical experts speak frankly to them on issues pertaining to their specific cancers during the time of COVID-19. Program attendance has doubled since before the coronavirus, with web traffic up 42% in March from pre-coronavirus levels. New programs, such as the 30-minute live webinar series, “Answers Now” in individual cancers, cover topics that are too much of a deep dive for the general media, but of life and death interest to patients highly motivated to hear from the experts who treat the cancer they have. Broader topics included in our coverage, such as how to finance treatment when you lose your job due to the pandemic, cut across all cancer types and draw patients from across the cancer sphere.

The companies that make their drugs are following. Pharmacyclics, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, AbbVie Inc., Karyopharm Therapeutics, Incyte Corporation, Sanofi Genzyme, Genentech, and AstraZeneca are among those signing up to be where the patients and clinicians are online, or to have their ads appear alongside, even though they have no say in the editorial direction or content of the programming. They perceive a value in being adjacent to the conversations that are happening within their patient communities, especially as patient engagement continues to grow in importance to pharma. And these interactive programs provide sponsors with valuable feedback in the form of patient questions and concerns, directed to and addressed by the experts in their conditions.

As part of our next phase of patient programming, we are rolling out a Facebook simulcast platform, in which our online programming will stream on both the Patient Power Facebook page, with clips distributed to patient group pages that are closed to outsiders. Pharma can’t go there, but we can, because we are invited in and trusted. And these savvy sponsors of our patient-centric programming will be right there with us as we cover the most topical content.

I know the value of being seen by patients, because not only am I the co-founder of Patient Power, but I’m a patient myself. I have two cancers. I know that patients are hungry for information that will improve their survival chances and their lives. They know that that survival comes from the innovative medicines that are keeping them alive. When they see drug-makers supporting their effort to gain the information they need to live, they take notice. They remember. They engage.

As we prepare for the post-COVID world, the patient voice will continue to be valuable to drug-makers. Niche programming that addresses the specific concerns of patients with particular cancers will be where they congregate online-particularly as online may continue to be the safest place for an extended time. And where the patients are, drug-makers will want to be as well, engaging with the community for which they have treatments and trials and underwriting the programs that matter to them.

Andrew Schorr, who pioneered patient communications by patients in 1984, is the Co-Founder and President of Patient Power, an online cancer news, information and community organization centered around patients, as well as author of the acclaimed book, The Web-Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis, published in 2011. He has two blood related cancers and receives monthly infusions and daily oral cancer therapy.

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