Our Society is supported by industry partners who enable us to achieve our charitable aims and form an integral part of the endocrine community. Rapid advances in medical science are more possible when academia, charities and industry collaborate, in an open way, to bring advancements to clinical practice. As we celebrate the Society’s 75th anniversary, what does the future hold for industry collaborations in endocrinology?
We interviewed three of our corporate partners to get their perspectives:
Sara Elgott (SE), Country Lead UK, Ireland and Nordics, HRA Pharma Rare Diseases
Avideh Nazeri (AN), Vice President, Clinical, Medical & Regulatory, Novo Nordisk UK
Sarah Wesley (SW), Medical Affairs Manager Rare Diseases, Pfizer UK
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?
SW: As a medical affairs professional, I provide medical and scientific support to healthcare professionals and professional bodies, to facilitate a bridge between Pfizer and the healthcare community. I’m lucky enough to work within Pfizer’s Rare Disease business. Our company mission is to bring breakthroughs that change patients’ lives, and I’m very proud that I get to play my part in that. Interestingly, I never actually applied to work at Pfizer! I was working in clinical research at a company which then merged with Pfizer in 2000. Little did I know that, more than 20 years later, I would still be here at Pfizer working in medical affairs, and still be just as inspired by the work I do, the people I work with, and the patients we aim to support.
AN: I lead a number of brilliant teams who are committed to developing new medicines for many serious diseases, including diabetes, obesity and rare blood and rare endocrine conditions, reducing health inequalities and improving patient outcomes across the UK. The clinical development team works across phases I to IV in collaboration with the research and development units of NHS Trusts. Our regulatory and safety team secure approvals of licenses and monitor the risk–benefit of medicines, and the medical affairs and education teams focus on facilitating positive patient care through education and partnership.
SE: Since I joined HRA Pharma Rare Diseases as country lead for the UK, Ireland and Nordics a year ago, I have endeavoured to continue the good work of my predecessors, as well as introducing some new patient-centric solutions and projects. An example of this has been the introduction of a home phlebotomy service to further assist the required drug monitoring for one of our medicines, to alleviate the need for hospital visits for vulnerable cancer patients.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
AN: I enjoy steep learning curves, and the knowledge that what you are working on today can potentially touch millions of lives for many years afterwards. I also enjoy working with highly committed professionals who bring passion and grit to work every day.
SW: I’m very lucky to get to work so closely with incredible clinicians every day – I feel I’ve really built some strong relationships based on a shared passion for supporting patients. But what I enjoy most of all is working directly with patient groups and associations. That work is where I really feel the most human connection with the people whose lives we are trying to improve. As an example, I’m particularly proud of campaigns like ‘Missing an X’, which we launched with support from the Turner Syndrome Support Society and which resulted in more than 880,000 views of our patient video and 90,000 website visits – a true demonstration of reaching the community we serve.
HOW MUCH HAS THE FIELD CHANGED?
SE: Diagnosis and treatment for people with rare endocrine disorders has vastly improved over the years. As knowledge and expertise grow, NHS services have been improved and many expert centres have been established. Links with similar experts in other countries are also increasing.
I think we are seeing increasing co-operation between different stakeholders and the sharing of best practice and experience, which is critical in rare diseases. We are also witnessing specialist nurses and other allied healthcare professionals becoming increasingly important to patients and their families.
SW: After 20 years in this industry, a lot has changed. We still have a way to go, but understanding of rare diseases and endocrine conditions has increased exponentially: not just the potential causes and our knowledge of treatment, but also understanding of the physical and mental impact on patients.
Above all, I think the biggest change I’ve seen is the rise in patient-centricity. Over the years, the industry has really started putting patients and their insights at the heart of everything we do, and rightly so. Despite all the great changes, we still have a long way to go in certain areas, in particular in ensuring equal access to treatments.
AN: There have been significant changes since I was a junior doctor working in diabetes 25 years ago. The understanding of many new pathways impacting metabolic conditions is improving, leading to development of new medicines. The integration of technology and digital health is also developing, along with the way industry now collaborates with academia and governments. It has become a true partnership to elevate science and improve lives.
I think we will see the introduction of new technologies and artificial intelligence to help facilitate timely diagnosis, patient empowerment and more personalised treatments. Sara Elgott
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES?
SE: Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a severe effect on patients and their families, as well as stretching services to their limits. I am afraid this may continue at some level for many years to come. Companies will need to ensure that any new treatments are cost-effective, demonstrate the usual safety and efficacy in clinical trials, and come with any necessary support programmes for patients and their families.
SW: COVID-19 has presented a number of challenges, from interruptions to routine healthcare, adapting to the sudden rise of digital and telehealth, and emotional and mental impacts on almost everyone. This is a big challenge we need to overcome to ensure there is no lasting impact.
Another challenge is our amazing but ever-changing NHS. As it evolves over time, this presents challenges to ensure we are moving with these changes and not against them. The biggest challenge in my view is closing the treatment access gap. As innovation has increased over the years, new treatment options have come to the table for previously untreatable conditions. But without the whole system also evolving, we run the risk of leaving patients without access to such breakthroughs.
AN: A big challenge in my opinion is identifying the next generation of therapeutics that can prevent and potentially cure serious chronic diseases. It is important to take those ideas from bench to bed and make them available to all patients, not just a select few developed nations. I think in the case of chronic diseases such as diabetes, we saw the impact of twin epidemics in 2020. Whilst vaccination seems to be the silver lining for the COVID-19 pandemic, diabetes prevention and remission remain a big global challenge.
Over the years, the industry has really started putting patients and their insights at the heart of everything we do, and rightly so. Sarah Wesley
HOW DO YOU COLLABORATE WITH THE WIDER ENDOCRINE COMMUNITY?
AN: In my field, collaboration is crucial at all stages. We work with academia and healthcare professionals from the inception of new medicines, to the first in-person trials, and after licensing when the medicines are used in the real world. Societies are our partners who recognise that chronic diseases are societal challenges, and that the way to tackle them is through education, partnerships and mutual collaboration. We learn from our partners and peers and we share our science and knowledge transparently and ethically.
SW: The role of successful partnerships in healthcare has suddenly had a lot of attention, as many have led the way in fighting COVID-19. On a personal level, I really value my collaborations – such as our successful partnership with the Society for Endocrinology. Collaborations with clinical experts, academics and societies can fill knowledge gaps and enhance understanding, so we can better support patients and drive new thinking. They are vital.
SE: HRA Pharma Rare Diseases collaborates by ensuring we listen to the needs of the community and address those needs by co-creating projects and services that make a difference. We strive to facilitate timely diagnosis, support clinical studies, broaden global access to much needed standard treatments and endeavour to improve outcomes and experiences.
We learn from our partners and peers and we share our science and knowledge transparently and ethically. Avideh Nazeri
WHAT WILL BE THE MAJOR CHANGE(S) IN ENDOCRINOLOGY?
SW: How we gather and analyse data in this field will undoubtedly change. We’ve already started to see these changes accelerate due to the pandemic. Gathering, integrating and interpreting data in new ways will certainly continue to define the future: for example, increasingly using real-world evidence and phase IV studies to allow more tailored information and offer optimised patient outcomes.
I hope to also see an acceleration in patients’ access to treatment, supported by methods that look at the value the medicine brings, and seeing prevention as an investment, not a cost. I also think that patient and healthcare professional collaboration and decision making will continue to improve, hopefully enhanced by the rise of digital tools.
AN: The future will be about prevention, precision and prolonging health outcomes. Stem cell therapy has the potential to take the future of chronic diseases to a different trajectory. Adjusting body weight set point may become a reality, leading to prevention of many chronic metabolic and other diseases. And artificial intelligence and digital solutions will help with the development and precision of medicines.
SE: I think we will see the introduction of new technologies and artificial intelligence to help facilitate timely diagnosis, patient empowerment and more personalised treatments. I hope that we can take a leading position and be ahead of that curve!
ABOUT OUR CORPORATE SUPPORTERS
Pfizer is the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company. Its goal is to discover, develop, manufacture and deliver quality, effective prescription medicines to treat and help prevent disease. The company has an excellent heritage in endocrinology and is an industry leader in long term surveillance studies, supporting advances in medical and scientific knowledge.
By partnering with our extraordinary community, HRA Pharma Rare Diseases has a personal commitment to playing its part in tackling current challenges, reducing the time to accurate diagnosis, enabling global access to treatment and optimising long term management. It shares our purpose: to improve quality of life and the experience of care for families affected by rare diseases.
Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with more than 95 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. This heritage has given the company experience and capabilities that also enable it to help people defeat obesity, haemophilia, growth disorders and other serious chronic diseases.