Market access for new pharmaceuticals
Does PR have a role to play in securing patient access to new treatments?
When pharmaceutical products are assessed by NICE it is for their appropriateness for patient treatment through the NHS – a balance of clinical and cost effectiveness analyses which are not governed or influenced by marketing activities by drug manufacturers – quite rightly. But is there a role for communications and stakeholder engagement by these companies and if so, what can they hope to achieve?
The truth is that a positive recommendation from NICE is not the only way to secure market access for a drug, and things do not remain the same for very long in this sector. It is therefore of enormous value to have practicing clinicians and patient advocacy groups backing your case and driving demand for a new treatment. And in some cases political and media support can add to the momentum – but beware the potential reputational downsides of over-stepping the mark as in a number of recent high profile instances.
While PR has no direct impact on the NICE process, broader understanding of the issues and a groundswell of opinion can help promote awareness of the need for new treatments whatever the outcome of a NICE appraisal. In our experience, Pharma companies do seek expertise in developing and delivering communications and engagement programmes that require sensitivity across a spectrum of direct interaction with key individuals, public relations, message development and training, and development of materials.
Programmes of this nature involve grouping and prioritising stakeholders, developing tailored messages for each stakeholder group and building relationships through one-to-one engagement, multi-disciplinary advisory boards (specialist focus groups) and broader communications. This combination of initiatives helps to ensure that healthcare professionals and other stakeholders understand the NICE process, how they can participate in it as well as helping the company to adopt a position that meets the needs and expectations of patients and clinicians – it is a two way exchange of knowledge and commitment.
As the NICE appraisal progresses, priority is placed on fostering partnerships (or collaborating) with key stakeholders at critical milestones including, in some cases, proactively approaching the media. Crucial to the perspective of media stories is a good working relationship with patient organisations in the field, so that communication is handled with sensitivity to ensure that they can retain independence and objectivity.
So while the outcome of a NICE technology assessment is not affected, the whole process can deliver heightened awareness of the disease area and the advances in treatments available, plus strengthened relationships with key advocacy groups and enhanced corporate reputation – not easy to come by for Pharma companies. Furthermore a negative NICE appraisal need not be the end, with clinicians and payers independently choosing to fund treatments they regard as best for patients.
© Atkinson Cowan June 2009