How Merck is stepping up for patients
Patient centricity is a priority for Merck and its Executive Vice President and Head of EMEA Region for Merck Biopharma Global Commercial Operations, Chris Round, outlines what practical steps the company is taking to improve life for patients and carers.
In late 2017, Patient View released a notable new self-evaluation toolkit1 to help pharma companies assess their commitment to patient centricity. The rationale behind this initiative was that the time had come for pharma to take effective actions on patient centricity.
Unfortunately, ‘patient centricity’ is often little more than an overused buzzword that fails to provide details on how to get there. In 2018, Merck is determined to step up for patients. Patient centricity constitutes one of the priorities for the company’s two-year mandate of the Presidency of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), where we will lead by example to ensure patient centricity is much more than a hypothetical promise.
Over more than 20 years in the pharma industry, I have witnessed fantastic initiatives in the field, which played a role in building my personal vision of patient centricity. This vision guides my decisions as a pharma executive and relies on three objectives and four levers to achieve them.
The first objective is to better identify the remaining unmet needs of patients and to direct R&D efforts where they can best help patients. To achieve this objective, in 2017, Merck launched a first-of-its-kind initiative – Patient 360°Summit – to serve as a catalyst for external stakeholder insight exchange and collaboration to power innovation and transformation in patient care. The initiative consists of a series of engagements, bringing together key global senior patient advocacy groups, patients, carers and our senior leadership to exchange ideas on relevant topics across various disease areas.
Subjects discussed at the inaugural meeting include Clinical Trials and The Patient Voice and Patient Engagement in the Digital Age, each yielding promising opportunities for Merck to establish patient-directed initiatives in the future.
This approach helps to build a foundation of trust, foster sustainable relationships and facilitate information sharing with our external partners. These engagements will inform internal decision-making and ensure that patients and carers around the world have a voice in the entire continuum of research, development, and commercialisation of our products and services.
Second, we must collaborate with patients to shape clinical trials and to deliver data that makes a true difference for patients. This is crucial to ensure that the endpoints and objectives of our trials are in the interest of the patient community. It is also key to execute them in a manner that is conducive to patient participation. For these reasons, before and during the clinical trial design process, our researchers are attentive to patients’ interests, their needs and hopes for the therapy and, finally, the conditions of their participation. Though there are many means to obtain these insights (e.g. social media monitoring or aggregate data), we believe that engaging directly with the patient community adds unique value to our research. In 2017, we organised advisory boards and regular exchanges to learn first-hand how the disease impacts patients’ lives so to address their needs as part of the clinical research.
Then comes the involvement of patients at the different regulatory steps of developing a therapy. Take the example of oncology; Merck convened a Cross-Functional Patient Advocacy Group Engagement Task Force to ensure a coordinated and strategic approach in collaboration with patient advocacy partners to incorporate their feedback effectively.
Likewise, patients must also be involved in the design of improved healthcare systems. The future success of our industry depends on demonstrating its commitment to society beyond drug development to creating healthcare systems that support a flourishing society. In 2017, Merck launched Embracing Carers2, an initiative guided by eight leading carer organisations from around the world, to raise awareness and drive a call to action for support of carers worldwide. This multi-year initiative seeks to drive substantive change for carers by focusing on four main audiences; media, policy, stakeholders and healthcare systems. Through this project, we have learned not only about the patients’ lives, but also the ecosystem around them – their families, loved ones, caregivers and the realities of their everyday lives. On 20 March, the project received the 2018 Most Influential Patient Advocacy Initiative Award from the World Congress and Wego Health. The award, held in high regard, recognizes collaboration with advocacy groups whereby a mutually beneficial relationship significantly elevated the patient voice and positively impacted their lives.
These three goals for patient centricity build together a framework with the ultimate objective of delivering better patient outcomes. This framework is in play every day at Merck. By listening and incorporating the voices of patient organisations, patient communities and carers, we are in a position to focus our efforts in areas where they have expressed needs.
In our experience, these bold objectives require a multidimensional approach, relying on several levers. The first lever at the heart of patient centricity should be building long-term relationships with the patient organisations to foster the understanding of the real needs of the patient communities. One-off interactions are simply insufficient in this regard. Mutual respect and trust are also powerful levers, as they are the necessary conditions for unlocking true collaboration. Finally, openness and transparency, along with independence, provide inclusive and fair grounds for interaction with patients.
The aforementioned initiatives exemplify that our focus on patient centricity is the core of our business. As patients’ needs evolve, we are persuaded that strong collaboration will be a cornerstone of the way we work.
Merck will continue to step up for patients, taking a more impact-orientated approach to work with them, their carers and patient advocacy groups. We will continue to actively imbed their voices into all strategic business decisions along the continuum of research, development, and commercialisation.
- The self-evaluation is based on six parameters: valued products, supports and services, transparency, involvement in R&D, quality product information, patient groups relations, patient safety and equitable access.
- Read more about Embracing Carers in the article Caring for the carers in pharmaphorum’s latest magazine, Deep Dive: Patient Centricity.
About the author:
Chris Round is Executive Vice President and Head of EMEA Region for Merck Biopharma Global Commercial Operations.
His track record includes launch experience, business transformation from primary care to oncology, leadership of local and regional operations, as well as global responsibilities in executive leadership teams.
He began his career in the pharmaceutical industry in 1996 when he joined Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD) at the UK subsidiary, advancing through different roles in the business around the world.
Before joining Merck KGaA Biopharma in January 2017, he was general manager of MSD China.
He started his professional career in finance with PwC in the UK.
He holds a BA in Economics and Accounting from Newcastle University.