By Karen Taylor, Director the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions
In last week’s blog, I gave you an overview on many of the topics discussed at the Financial Times Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Summit in London earlier in November, particularly on how pharma is having to adapt quickly and respond to major economic and regulatory changes. The recent technological and scientific advancements, particularly in Generative AI, genomics, mRNA vaccines and cell therapies have great potential to transform healthcare and substantially improve patient outcomes. The advancements highlight the need for stronger environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies that not only enable access to all patients who need these innovative medicines, but also contribute to a healthy planet. In this week’s blog, I summarise the discussions on how companies are designing their ESG strategies and engaging with patients to better meet their needs.
How is patient engagement evolving clinically and commercially?
Hanno Ronte, a partner at Deloitte, joined a panel discussing the crucial evolution of patient engagement. Technology is transforming most interactions with patients across the health ecosystem, from clinical trials to patient consultations and support. The panel also discussed how intuitive and easier to use products and services are changing how pharma companies connect with patients on every level. For example, the new Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Code of Practice seeks to benefit patients by ensuring all stakeholders operate in a professional, ethical and transparent manner in promoting medicines and interacting with health professionals. It also sets standards for the provision of information about prescription-only medicines to the public and patients.1
Collaboration between health systems, the life sciences industry, patients and the public is central to rebuilding more sustainable health systems, able to deliver world class patient outcomes and attract research investment. Hanno noted that company interactions with patient groups were increasing and that patient associations were becoming more influential in driving access. Such associations also assess and share with their members the performance of companies in relation to ‘trust, integrity and openness’.
However, when it comes to engagement, each patient is different and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. The panel highlighted the importance of ensuring that patients get access to relevant, accurate, understandable information and the role that technology, such as patient portals and patient support apps, can play in engaging patients. Regulators and health technology assessment bodies also have a crucial part to play in ensuring that the patient voice plays a larger role in both the drug development and the approval processes.
Health Equity – How can pharma make a difference?
Elizabeth Hampson, a partner and Executive Director of Deloitte’s Health Equity Institute (DHEI) in Europe, participated in the panel discussion on how pharmaceutical companies can support health equity. At Deloitte, establishing the European DHEI alongside our other Institutes in the US, India, South Africa and Latin America will enable us to play our part in fostering health equity and make a positive enduring impact.2 Elizabeth stressed that our DHEI considers health equity as more than equitable access to care and our ultimate goal is to contribute to a world in which all people have the opportunity to achieve their full potential in every aspect of their health and well-being.3
Elizabeth highlighted that she has interviewed 40 organisations across pharma, med tech, digital health, NGOs, providers and policy makers to learn about what they’re doing in health equity and despite some progress, they still have a long way to go. The three key themes from her interviews are: access to medicines and health inequalities within and between population groups, lack of inclusivity in R&D and the need for better data analytics and evidence. Indeed, there is also a need to increase understanding of the problems, barriers and reasons for these geographical and socioeconomic disparities. Working with patient access groups to educate trial organisers and increase patient representation is one area where progress is being made.
DHEI is creating cross-sector collaborations and tools aimed at addressing disparities in health systems and taking action to achieve health equity across our organisation’s offerings, communities and ecosystem globally. We are also collaborating with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to develop the Global Health Equity Network which is focused on influencing Fortune 500 companies to think about and act on health equity. Deloitte is one of 60 signatories of the Zero Health Gap Pledge launched by the Global Health Equity Network at the WEF 2023 Annual Meeting in Davos.
Other panellists have also signed this pledge and agreed that it’s not just about public relations or only focused on expanding access to medicine but addressing inequities across the whole value chain from R&D to patient support programmes and tailoring healthcare pathways and products to the needs of different groups. Indeed, there is a need for companies to build trust and maintain a positive reputation with the public. There is also a growing trend for companies to take a more systemic approach on affordability, ensuring supply. In R&D, supporting health equity is more than just clinical trial diversity, it’s also the product research and which products are taken forward to trials. Other common strategies include tiered pricing approaches, early patient access and value-based healthcare policies. Internal strategies also include educating employees, and developing opportunities to expand patient participation and education of HCPs and patients to increase trust and reduce bias.
How can pharma transform to meet evolving ESG commitments, regulations and demands?
The final session involving Deloitte was chaired by David Rakowski, a partner in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) advisory business, and focused on the fact that many pharma companies now claim to be making ESG a priority. However, the scale and pace of the transformation needed to meet this is only now becoming clearer and companies face the challenge of restructuring to meet the sustainability imperative in a way that supports business growth. This transformation is being driven by individuals and healthcare professionals, but also by health systems. For example, the NHS is a pioneer in its net zero aim, which is putting pressure on pharma companies to adapt globally to meet this need, particularly if other systems follow its example.
Importantly, in this session some distinctions were made between pressures faced by the environmental and social sides of sustainability. While environmental sustainability cuts across all industries and is easier to measure, social sustainability is easier to grasp but harder to quantify. Therefore, the industry needs to find and agree on metrics to measure social sustainability progress.
To support the ESG agendas, many companies now have incentives in place, with access (social) and environmental targets linked to remuneration and career progression. Other solutions proposed by the panellists were embedding sustainability policies throughout the business, integrating sustainability governance with existent governance policies, and providing financial incentives and educational tools to partners throughout the supply chain. Some companies have financial offerings such as sustainability-linked bonds to support global health access. Panellists also advised making commitments public to maintain accountability.
As technological and scientific breakthroughs evolve, patients should have a central role in decision- making. ESG policies central to the entire fabric of any business will ensure they leave no patient behind and that, along the way, they don’t further harm a planet that already needs rescuing. Incentives and commitment are crucial to achieve these goals. Equally important is improving and sustaining patient engagement. This will be essential for successful businesses and moving the patient from a spectator to an active participant in their health choices and decisions.