MM+M’s annual Transform conference is back.

The all-day event taking place Wednesday at Convene – One Liberty Plaza in lower Manhattan is focused on conversations delving into the intersection of three key healthcare stakeholders: the patients, providers and payers. 

Given that we’re also living in the year 2024, the conference wouldn’t be complete without discussions centered on the ascent of artificial intelligence and the GLP-1 weight loss drug revolution. 

The event’s keynote will be delivered by a trio of leaders from Novo Nordisk, including Anne McCaughan, senior brand director of obesity; Christine Szymanski, obesity commercial lead; and Tejal Vishalpura, SVP of commercial strategy and marketing. 

Following their address, leaders from across the industry will delve into equity and access issues around these remarkably popular medications, the promise and peril associated with AI as well as how medical marketers can continue to grow and refine their omnichannel strategies.

Additionally, attendees will learn about how payers can better optimize the customer experience and unpack the copay accumulator case’s impact on both insurers and patient advocates.

For those looking for a sneak peak of the panels, you’re in luck.

In case you missed it, The MM+M Podcast previewed the conference with interviews of Northwell Health’s chief marketing officer Ramon Soto and Eli Lilly’s Derek Asay, SVP for government strategy and federal accounts. 

Notably, Asay’s interview comes shortly after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a guidance to Medicare Part D plans stipulating that anti-obesity medications with approval from the Food and Drug Administration to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events can be covered for that use.

You can listen to those conversations here.

Since its debut in 2015, the Transform conference has attracted a robust group of leaders for wide-ranging conversations about the future of healthcare innovation and how the marketing community can navigate these changes.

For this year’s event, MM+M will be providing live coverage of the panels throughout the day, including brief audio interviews with executives attending the event.

Please note that this blog will be updated during the course of the conference, so check back for live recaps.

Lecia Bushak, senior reporter, MM+M speaks to Alix Hart, chief marketing officer, Verily, about the “Techno-empathy and the marketing mix” panel at MM+M Transform.

Techno-empathy and the marketing mix

The concept of techno-empathy may be new to many, but on a basic level, it’s a common sense approach to personalizing technology and communication to reach patients. 

As AI continues to be incorporated into various aspects of the healthcare delivery model, health brands and marketers have to keep the human touch at the core of what this technology does.

Hyper-personalization and adjusting your content to meet patients’ expectations for care is another key component to enacting techno-empathy on an operational basis.

Another key aspect of techno-empathy is moving towards smarter data away from data for data’s sake.

All of the companies on the panel — Ubie, Healthline Media, Ixlayer and Verily — have incorporated the principles of techno-empathy into their strategies in order to root out the biases and improve the data.

Davis also praised the introduction of LillyDirect for popularizing drugmakers dealing with patients on a more direct basis, likening it to the widespread adoption of virtual care services during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plus, this flattening of entry points can serve as an improvement for patients receiving care — that is, if they can access it. Yu mentioned how the lack of tech savvy or access to high-speed broadband internet could hamper patient populations from the treatments that very well may improve their outcomes. 

Lecia Bushak, senior reporter, MM+M speaks to members of the “Simple, powerful, beautiful: Results by design” panel at MM+M Transform: Dana Sultan-Rothman, head of corporate communications and marketing, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.; Matt Noe, director of omnichannel strategy and innovation, Minds + Assembly; Kyle Wright, director, brand strategy, at Minds + Assembly; and Joe Temple, director, brand experience, at Minds + Assembly.

Lecia Bushak, senior reporter, MM+M speaks to members of the “Making your omnichannel marketing essential to HCPs” panel at MM+M Transform: Brad Quosig, SVP, growth and client engagement, Calcium+Company; Lea Wester, managing director, Addressable Health; and George Griffith, EVP omnichannel strategy, Relevate.

Making your omnichannel marketing essential to HCPs

How did we get here with omnichannel? 

The disconnected nature between communication from pharma brands necessitated this singular, streamlined approach to marketing, according to Griffith. Omnichannel is more of a philosophy rather than a profession, which should break down the intimidation that some within the organization may feel towards it.

It all comes down to how customers are treated; omnichannel can’t be reserved solely for use by the non-personal marketing teams, Griffith argued.

Medical marketers have had enough with the shiny things, let’s focus on what’s important at the top of the funnel.

The "Making your omnichannel marketing essential to HCPs" panel at MM+M Transform.
The “Making your omnichannel marketing essential to HCPs” panel at MM+M Transform. Left to right: Marc Iskowitz, editor-at-large, MM+M; Lea Wester, managing director, Addressable Health; Brad Quasi, SVP, growth and client engagement, Calcium+Company; George Griffith, EVP, omnichannel strategy, Relevate. Photo credit: Molly Sawyer.

Starting the journey with a simple mission can be just as meaningful as a complex, ambitious cause.

Wester said omnichannel strategies are coming along for the pharma industry but there’s still plenty room for improvement for the marketing teams.

She added that Addressable Health is looking to reorient its marketing spend to be more focused on interfacing with HCPs at the point of care. 

Quosig noted that AI will help do a person’s job, but it will be up to human participation to guide the tool most effectively. This will have ripple effects for omnichannel going forward, too, especially as AI becomes more integrated across the industry.

He added that new ways to pursue medical marketing will take on emerging mediums and social media, which will require an embrace of the unknown to reach increasingly fragmented audiences.

Lecia Bushak, senior reporter at MM+M speaks with Nyron Burke, cofounder and CEO of Lithero, and Adam Remiszewski, associate director, regulatory affairs, advertising and promotion at AbbVie.

AI and your brand marketing team: new roles, new structure

AI is the shiny object of the moment, but it’s far from a new technology.

What leaders should really be focused on is how to keep these tools compliant, pragmatic and effective. 

Remiszewski said AbbVie is already using AI for a series of operational tasks and experimenting with where it is most useful.

Burke said copywriters have been super-charged with the speed that genAI offers them, though their tasks haven’t necessarily been altered that much. 

Fabry said Sound Healthcare Communications is looking to move the genAI conversation into one that looks at the pain points of the organization’s omnichannel strategies. She noted that these processes need to be driven from the top, with structure and specific expectations conveyed from leadership for both long-term and short-term success.

She added that her company is also focused on internal development of workers to interact and discuss with the GPTs, but said it isn’t prioritizing hiring new employees just yet. Robust internal communication and direction are equally important when it comes to rolling out these technologies and maintaining a strong, cohesive culture.

Remiszewski said they have also established cross-functional teams to look into genAI opportunities, eschewing the classic corporate edict of assigning these innovation-focused tasks to junior employees.

AbbVie is also making sure that the tools are fully integrated and tested before bringing them to clients.

A practical session: The dos and don’ts of AI in health Marketing

When it comes to medical marketing, AI isn’t a silver bullet but it has plenty of useful applications.

Shah said Ferring is leaning into genAI to process data in a fast manner to provide meaningful insights, to create hyper-personalized content at scale and answer patients’ questions. He cautioned against falling in love with the technology and instead advised leaders to “fall in love with the problem.”

For DeepIntent, their latest product rollout for clients is an AI-supported copilot to address the low-hanging fruit of tasks so then the technology can be leveraged for deeper learnings and problem solving.

Beckley said AI offers marketers the opportunity to be the source of truth in the world, though these tools will require more training to get up to snuff. Human observers will have to be the chaperones for bringing AI along the way as it learns and grows.

The “A practical session: The dos and don’ts of AI in health marketing” panel at MM+M Transform. Left to right: Lecia Bushak, senior reporter, MM+M; Ben Beckley, CEO, RevHealth; Aaron Fulmer; Tarak Shah, senior director, head of U.S. customer engagement, Ferring Pharmaceuticals. Photo credit: Molly Sawyer.

Now, do organizations have the resources to upskill their workforces and meet the expectations for these projects? That remains to be seen but plenty of companies are investing in their internal teams to make sure the data being fed to these AI models produces the strongest results.

Since the industry is based so much on proving the use of a tool, AI also allows companies to conduct tests in a short amount of time.

Moving toward weight-loss equity

The conference’s second session featured a conversation delving into the insurance coverage situation for the obesity drug market and how access issues are slowly being resolved at the federal level.

Asay detailed how CMS’ recent guidance to allow for Part D coverage of obesity drugs for a certain class of patients living with heart disease and major cardiovascular issues is a major improvement in terms of the access conversation.

Kolber added that CMS could do more — so could Congress — in terms of expanding the payer coverage for obesity drugs, but a contentious presidential election cycle and divided Capitol Hill could make meaningful progress difficult on that front.

In addition to wider adoption of inclusive policies by the commercial insurers, more changes still have to be made among Medicare and Medicaid plans, he noted. However, Lilly is working through this changing landscape to inform both HCPs and patients about how they can get access to these medications.

The introduction of LillyDirect has been a critical tool for the drugmaker as it seeks to empower patients to have conversations with their care team about GLP-1 drugs.

This is especially important as consumers have shown significant interest in the class of drugs but remain inundated with misinformation from social media, noted Harris. He said pharma companies are increasingly tasked with proactively communicating on GLP-1 drugs and should do so to cut through the noise.

All signal and no static: AI is not coming to replace you

Or is it? 

Soto suggested that AI is less of a threat and more of a productivity tool. He said that those who aren’t fully utilizing genAI and products like ChatGPT could fall by the wayside. 

Northwell itself has used genAI to conduct first drafts of copy, but the human team is revising the end result and augmenting it for the enterprise’s marketing efforts.

Younger said the road ahead looks uncertain but the change is going to be significant. As marketers continue to get asked to do more with less, these innovations can support their work as budgets remain flat or shrink. 

Virtua has seen the adoption of AI positively impact its clinical teams, not only in terms of reducing the administrative burden so that they can spend more time with their patients, it has also bolstered workflows, too. 

This technology has allowed them to better diagnose patients and identify the risk profiles of certain patient cohorts so they can act quicker and treat their conditions.

For all of this promise (and understandable concern about its complications), are we in for a bubble? 

Funding hasn’t slowed over the past year, which has led to some frothiness which could then lead to a market correction, Soto observed, but that’s also nothing new for capitalism. 

If the technology is used effectively and reestablishes trust with consumers, then the most concrete AI offerings will be sustained going forward, Younger added. 

AI has even impacted the talent acquisition and hiring component for health brands, both for expertise with these tools but also those who can embrace the change innovation brings to the market. 

Transforming obesity care in the US

Following introductory remarks from MM+M editor-in-chief Steve Madden, the conference kicked off with a keynote address from three Novo Nordisk execs.

Vishalpura discussed how the introduction of these GLP-1 drugs have served as a paradigm shift in the pharma industry and caused an inflection in terms of how obesity is considered.

The Novo Nordisk way guides the company’s strategic vision into the obesity treatment market, she said. 

Of note, obesity rates have continued to grow since the 1990s and still stigmas and biases around weight gain have sustained throughout society. 

So how has Novo transformed treatments for the obesity epidemic? Vishalpura said the company’s investments and research over the past two decades have sewn the seeds of the current GLP-1 phenomenon.

Not only have those medications dramatically raised the profile of how obesity should be treated and discussed, she added that the drugmaker has worked with stakeholders across the industry and in the policy space to address barriers to access. 

For all of the progressive changes that the introduction of Wegovy and Ozempic have wrought, there have been challenges, too. 

Vishalpura acknowledged the supply issues related to unprecedented consumer demand, the educational push to counteract the momentum behind off-label use and the need to work with payers to modernize insurance coverage of anti-obesity drugs.

While millions have benefited from the embrace of GLP-1s, she added that millions more could benefit from access to these drugs and that it will take more companies to fully resolve the multitude of factors that contribute to this epidemic.

The accompanying panel featuring Vishalpura, McCaughan and Szymanski, MM+M’s Iskowitz delved into the company’s history developing treatments in the obesity space, including Wegovy’s predecessor Victoza. 

McCaughan said that when it came to marketing these drugs, the strategy revolved around addressing stigmas around obesity, especially among HCPs. This was a slow-moving, but deliberate approach to changing perceptions around weight management and the cause of this disease.

The hurdles have been plentiful even after overcoming stigmatization as access issues have frustrated patients and HCPs alike, which made getting payers to understand obesity as a disease even more of a priority. 

Novo spent more than 18 months working with its AOR, ConcentricLife, to tailor its messaging and utilizing its tool in an effective way to get a varied group of HCPs on board. 

For consumer marketing, Szymanski said the drugmaker recognized that it couldn’t go with the standard pharma ad sign off of, “Ask your doctor if this is right for you” and instead urged patients to check their coverage before reaching out to HCPs. This marked a pivotal change in how marketing around these medications would take place. 

How Wegovy “made it,” was when it went viral on social media ahead of the second phase of its launch — primarily on TikTok. This led to the next chapter of patient demand outpacing supply, which is still ongoing.

To view MM+M Transform 2024 sessions on YouTube, click here.