Respect, communication key in pharma, digital collaborations

At Health 2.0 Europe, pharma, patient and academic representatives weighed in on challenges of working together.
By Laura Lovett
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As more stakeholders enter the digital health arena looking to partner, miscommunications and misconceptions are increasingly common. In order to circumvent this potential Tower of Babel problem, collaboration and shared goals are essential, according to speakers on the Pharma Innovation Beyond the Pill panel at Health 2.0 Europe in Helsinki today. 

While there are pitfalls in any partnership, panelists stressed the benefits of collaboration between pharma and tech, private and public sectors. 

“I strongly believe partnerships are the way to go forward,” Erik Janssen, VP of innovative solutions in neurology at UCB Biopharma, said during the panel. “And building partnerships is the way to start meeting real patient needs instead of pharma needs. Pharma needs are thinking about the drug and getting drugs to patients. Now it is about getting the right drugs to patients.”

According to Janssen, at UCB there is an increasing stress on incorporating digital into their business model. This means working with startups and other industries. 

“I’m working in the neurotech — that means that me and my team are looking at the convergence of technology and science," he said. "We are trying to bring both worlds together. How can this help us as a company to strive for better outcomes?"

While every stakeholder comes into the field with a new perspective, mutual respect is important, he said. 

“It’s not partnerships of pharma versus [digital] but a partnership of equals,” he said. “It is about collaboration, and it is about learning a different perspective of the complexity of healthcare as well. It is also about improvisation … You must be agile. It is also about sustainability.”

When it comes to understanding new stakeholders, putting in a little time and effort can make a big difference, according to Nicola Bedlington, special advisor at the European Patients Forum, who specifically works on the intersection of private and public partnerships. 

“I think what is really key is shared goals, by taking a little bit of time initially to really understand where each of the partners are coming from,” Bedlington said. “It can be quite complex. It is not even a bilateral relationship. Very often we are looking at a multilateral relationship. Everybody works things differently, the cultures are different, the languages are sometimes different, so having that time and investing that time initially to build confidence and come together— […] sometimes it feels like a luxury because you are anxious to get onto the job, but it is worth all of it.”

While the work has it challenges, it can also pay off, according to Dr. Johnna Mattson, director of the cancer center at Helsinki University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center, who worked with a startup to help develop a digital program focused on patient reported outcomes.

“I really enjoyed the collaboration it’s great when meet people who have strengths completely different from yours and you really combine,” Mattson said. "I think it was the first one at the hospital to be at that scale and collaboration. I think it will be a good example for other areas as well.”

In terms of public and private partnerships, Marko Kusima, CCO of Kaiku Health, said startups and governments can look other countries with a strong tradition. 

“Finnish countries are pioneering and working in a public partner role,” Kusima said. “I don’t think that is always easy. If you compare to the US it is more accepted for public players to work with private players for the common good. I don’t think we are in the same situation in Finland or in many countries across Europe. I think there is much to be done there.”

As this partnership trend evolves, understanding collaboration continues to be a prevailing theme. 

“In a nutshell, how can we be an effective partner for startups where we are respectful of difference and we can have a common purpose?” Janssen said.