Good people, good company

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One of the fundamental challenges facing pharmaceutical companies is finding a balance between developing and manufacturing lifesaving medications and making money for shareholders. It seems like the ultimate conflict: either you put your patients first or your profits. But it doesn't always have to be that way.

As part of an MM&M webcast event last month, titled How to engage patients in daily health management, Meryl Weinreb, director of patient programs, oncology, AstraZeneca, offered a series of arguments for viewing these goals as part of the same agenda.

“What is good for patients is usually good for business,” she said. “Yes, we're in business to sell medications, but we're doing that because we believe that our medications help patients deal with serious diseases.”

If you want to be successful in this business, Weinreb said, you really have to think through how you can make things better for the people who are potential customers of your medications. “It's about knowing the needs of your customer and meeting them in a way that is better than the other guy,” she said. “That's the business we're in.”

Surely, that's easier said than done? Well, no, not really. In fact, it's pretty simple, according to Weinreb, herself a breast cancer survivor. “The most critical thing is to thoroughly understand the people who are dealing with a diagnosis,” she said. “People don't take medications in a vacuum. What were they  experiencing even before the drug was prescribed? What were the physical and emotional issues? What can they expect [from their treatment]?”

Of course, a lack of patient compliance is a barrier to both profitability and patient health. And in Weinreb's category, oncology, the average treatment regimen is five years. “It's an eternity,” she exclaims, “and we need to help people wrap their brains around that.” And while non-compliance obviously leads to lost product revenue, Weinreb was very quick to add a human cost to the equation: “Our data suggest that by year three we've lost about 50% of our patients, which is very unfortunate because [breast cancer] occurrence rates tend to peak in the third year.” After all, what's good for patients is usually good for business.

So how do you engage patients for the duration of their treatment period? After all, many have tried and failed. Weinreb suggested providing relevant info not readily available elsewhere and to inject a bit of fun. “It shouldn't necessarily be boring,” she said. “Oncology is a very serious disease state but people sometimes see the humor. We should address the whole patient, because the patient is more than the disease.”

If you want to see more of Weinreb's insights, you can watch the webcast at


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