A Reuters Pharma conversation with EY: smart reviewing and payment outcomes

Harking back to the Reuters Pharma 2022 event, held at the Nice Acropolis convention centre on France’s South Coast back in October, pharmaphorum had a chance to drop by the booth of EY and discuss not only its consulting operations, but the company’s Smart Reviewer, and their own assessment of the industry event itself.

Speaking with Kornelia Lencz, senior manager at EY Consulting and a business solutions lead for the EY Smart Reviewer Platform – after a spur-of-the-moment, yet highly interesting, conversation with Alice Blezat, director at EY Advisory, as well as business solutions lead for the EY Health Outcomes Platform – the EY booth was positively hustling and bustling with visitors keen to learn more about the business.

Innovative offerings around market access

Alice Blezat spoke with pharmaphorum first. A director in life sciences consulting for EY, she works within the commercial space for such companies, as well as their clients.

“My background is very much in the access space,” she said. “I’ve always worked as a consultant for pricing and access strategies for clients, helping them to get drugs to market and access patients. Within EY, I work a lot more on our innovative offerings around market access, so we are really striving to move the industry and healthcare system forward – payment for performance, outcome performance.”

Blezat herself plays an important role when it comes to EY’s work in this area.

“I help our clients think about strategy and designing those new types of contracts, and very much about implementation. That’s my role, also, as an EY global business leader for the EY Health Outcomes Platform, a cloud-based industry-wide solution. Basically, it automates the entire management of outcome-based contracts, to help move towards pay-for-performance,” she explained.

Blezat has been with the company a little over six years; before that, she was with the boutique consulting company PriceSpective, based in London and the US, where she focused on traditional pricing and access strategies for clients across markets globally and assets in general.

Toy robots and a collaborative industry ecosystem

At the event, Blezat (unlike Lencz) wasn’t a speaker, but was no less in demand over the course of the three days.

“I haven’t presented; I’m here mainly as the business team for some of our professional clients, but also partners as part of that topic, also. My initial background has been more towards pharma, but very much also working with payer organisations, hospitals, and different healthcare organisations, who are kind of coming together for more complex, outcome-based contracts,” she said.

Asked how the traffic had been to the booth, it was clear it had been plentiful (and not just for the well-designed freebies…).

“It’s been quite busy. We’ve got our little robots, toys for people to take. Aren’t they great? Everyone’s taking them for their kids!” she laughed. “I think it’s good because the work I do in outcome-based contracting is very much that world around outcome, it really brings a lot of different partners – a whole ecosystem, not just pharma. So, it’s very interesting to work with and meet with more MedTech companies [here], understanding a little bit more that it has to be more collaborative, [and] for those in the industry to work towards that,” she said.

But outcomes were still very much a central focus, both for Blezat and for Reuters Pharma.

“A lot within the conference agenda and presentation has been around outcomes, thinking about value and holistic methods and how to move that more from the commercial end. So, it’s very interesting to meet with some of the stakeholders, some existing clients, some new potential partners, as well, looking at all the companies that work around data, which is a very important component of what we do. A great conference!”

The key challenges of data and patient centricity

Asked whether one talk in particular had stood out, it was Sanofi’s look at the challenge around moving towards data and patient centricity that really captured Blezat’s interest.

“Some of their key principles really align with our principles and how we build technology within that space. They were talking about data transparency, patient centricity, and innovation and scale: that’s exactly what our principles are around the platform,” she said.

“We have built a product that is universal, that can really bring any pharma party, any payers in any market to really work together. We wanted to bring a product to market that is already at scale and futuristic, to allow them to scale quick. [So,] that really resonated – patient centricity. We’re also moving the agenda towards not just outcomes, but what matters to patients. And Sanofi’s talk was very much around those topics, those key challenges and elements of what we’ve been doing as well,” Blezat explained.

Accelerating access (and astrophysics)

Kornelia Lencz had taken part in the panel, “New product types, new commercial models – Reform commercial strategies to accelerate access to innovation”. Having missed that conversation amid the multiple tracks, pharmaphorum asked for an overview of the discussions.

“It was a very interesting conversation,” she said, “looking at essentially how to give patients better access to innovative products. We looked at the areas of rare diseases, cell and gene therapy, vaccines – loads of different perspectives. We talked about technology as well, its importance and criticality when considering patient access.”

Having made the shift from academia and astrophysics a decade ago, Lencz started with EY as a graduate and has since worked across many of its sectors, from technology to media circles. However, it was around six or seven years ago that she began working specifically in pharma.

Smart reviewing: utilising AI and ML

EY was also running demos of EY’s Smart Reviewer, a transformational approach to reviewing promotional materials of life sciences companies. Therefore, pharmaphorum asked Lencz to explain how that technology leverages AI and machine learning.

“There is still a struggle in pharma, an increasing demand for promotional materials. As you digitally engage with HCPs and patients, and the demand for personalisation is growing, more and more promotional materials are produced. But it’s a highly regulated industry, with significant risks associated with any non-compliant material that’s been approved. It’s very hard to balance because with the current process […] If you try to speed it up, you’re more and more likely to get errors in there. That’s where the EY Smart Reviewer comes in: it enables life sciences companies to speed up the process, but at the same time manage risk,” she said.

“AI gets thrown around a lot these days, it’s a buzzword. Our solution uses machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing – more advanced AI techniques. And it essentially uses them to augment those highly skilled reviews,” she explained.

Medical context and NLP

The Smart Reviewer platform has been developed in collaboration with “a major pharma player” and uses many thousands of those high-quality reviews in its processing – which Lencz attempted to enlighten us on without becoming “too technical”.

“There’s AI which is rule-based and that’s sort of what everyone does, where you build in certain rules and those are followed. We also use automation, but there’s a step before that. Machine learning and deep learning, what you can do with it is that you can look at historical data and let the computer identify the rules by itself. That’s what helps it create functionality, that’s what’s complex; you can’t code in just with rules. It’s so complex that only a machine can do it,” she explained.

“That’s the key differentiator: identifying dosage or safety information, knowing what a certain part of the text is related to. You won’t find that functionality anywhere else,” she stated.

Materials to market, medicines to patients

In terms of the impact on patient engagement, such a process brings required medicines to market, and to the right patients, much faster. Which, really, is what it’s all about at the end of the day.

“The tool speeds up the process by which materials get to market, which at the same time speeds up how quickly medicines get to patients. On average, promotional peer review and approval process can take between one and two months – so, that again is sped up, getting novel medicines to patients faster,” Lencz said.

“It also benefits pharma companies: instead of highly skilled reviewers spending time reviewing basic errors, identifying grammatical errors in documents, they no longer need to focus on that. They can actually spend their time where their efforts are really required. There’s a cost reduction in that element, as there are inefficiencies there,” she reasoned.

About the interviewees

Kornelia Lencz is a senior manager at EY Consulting, and is business solution lead for the EY Smart Reviewer platform. Kornelia works with the largest life sciences companies globally, shaping and delivering human-centred and outcomes-focused business design, strategy, and innovation programmes, focusing on data, analytics, and technology as transformation levers.

Alice Blezat is a director at EY Advisory and is business solution lead for the EY Health Outcomes Platform. Alice started her consulting career working on pricing and market access strategic projects for most top life sciences companies globally in all types of therapeutic areas, with a strong focus on innovative solutions. More recently, Alice has been particularly focused on how to change the pricing landscape to move towards payment on outcomes.