Space medicine, digital health and the patient voice were just some of the topics explored at the inaugural 2022 Australian Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (APPA) and Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) joint Medical Affairs summit for the Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) region, held on 17 and 18 November in Sydney, Australia.
The conference showcased the latest innovations, strategies and gaps in the Australian Medical Affairs landscape. Presentations and panel discussions on stimulating topics were led by key experts and peer-facilitated workshops enabled attendees to share ideas in smaller groups.
Dr Matt Britland (Medical Director, Amgen and President of APPA) opened the meeting by launching the rebranded APPA with its new name MAPA – Medical Affairs Professionals of Australasia – effective immediately.
Blasting off into space for your next medicine?
Award-winning academic Dr Joshua Chou (University of Technology Sydney) delivered the keynote presentation ‘Space medicine: an out of this world approach to drug development’. Dr Chou’s research explores the use of microgravity to enhance our understanding of disease progression, identify biological targets and improve efficiency in the development of drugs.
Current focus areas of his research include osteoporosis, brain cancer and the respiratory system, but the applications of microgravity are endless. Dr Chou’s presentation and his exciting research, which includes his small-scale laboratory microgravity device, gave a glimpse of what the future of drug development could look like.
A roadmap to Medical Affairs in 2030
Lauren Pasfield (Vice President, APPA) facilitated a panel discussion on ‘The Future of Medical Affairs 2030’ MAPS white paper, published in June 2022. Panellists included Simon Fisher (Director of Medical Affairs, Johnson & Johnson), Cae Tolman (Country Medical Director, Amgen) and Dan Thurley (APAC Informatics Network Head, Roche).
The panel broadly agreed that Medical Affairs is rapidly evolving, and that patient-centricity, digital health and real-world evidence are becoming increasingly important in future health systems. Medical Affairs professionals will need to have the right skills and competencies to navigate this complex roadmap.
Digital strategy or strategy for a digital world?
Bevan Sweerts (APPA Secretary and Senior Medical Manager, Sanofi) chaired ‘Embracing Innovation in Digital Health: Are We Ready?’ This noteworthy session included presentations by Alex Condoleon (Head of Digital Healthcare, Sanofi, USA), Sarah Clark (Global Head of Medical Affairs and Operations, Biogen Digital Health, Switzerland), Raghav Murali-Ganesh (Co-Founder and CEO, CancerAid, Australia) and Mark Phillips (Head of Clinical Research and Medical Affairs, Annalise.AI, Australia).
The session introduced some exciting digital innovations that will help improve healthcare. Digital healthcare can help patients better manage their disease (e.g. disease and lifestyle management apps), help physicians better manage disease (e.g. imaging and prescribing/dispatching of medicines) and improve patient access to treatments for self-identifiable conditions.
Nevertheless, human interaction is still essential for patient care, and in view of this, digital healthcare was described as ‘the backbone glue’ that can add value to healthcare.
Patients are losing their patience
Shelly Horton (Journalist and TV Presenter) facilitated the panel discussion ‘Collaboration is the most effective catalyst for change – patients are losing their patience’. The engaging panel, which included Krystal Barter (CEO, Humanise Health), Wendy Ingram (Professor of Breast Cancer Research, University of Adelaide) and Kerry Chikarovski (Former NSW State Politician) provided insights into the challenges and opportunities for patient advocacy and how to best collaborate with industry, governments, academia and organizations to improve health outcomes.
There was a clear message from the panel that patients have a right to know about their body and be able to manage their health. A current challenge is that many patients research their disease on ‘Dr Google’ and unmoderated websites, which often lead to misinformation. This issue highlights the need for ethical two-way conversations between patients and pharmaceutical companies.
Time for an overhaul of the Health Technology Assessment in Australia?
Liz de Somer (CEO, Medicines Australia), provided the closing keynote talk ‘MA on MA’ (Medicines Australia on Medical Affairs).
The time has come for the Australian Government to reform its approach to approval and reimbursement of medicines in Australia. Innovative medicines are undervalued and the gap between Therapeutic Goods Administration approval and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing – typically in excess of 800 days – is far too long. This is delaying patients’ access to the most innovative treatments available. Patients need to be included in the Health Technology Assessment process, which will help elevate the patient voice in decision-making and the management of diseases. Medicines Australia will be talking with the government as part of its strategic Health Technology Assessment review.
Elevating the patient voice
The workshop ‘Practical guide to elevating the patient voice’ was of particular interest to the Oxford PharmaGenesis team. Patients are increasingly having a voice in the management of their disease and are being involved in the process of decision-making; however, there is little practical guidance around how Medical Affairs professionals can adopt a more patient-centric approach.
The key message of the workshop was to ‘be bold and start early’ (i.e. involve patients at the initiation of a pivotal trial). Further recommendations included involving many different stakeholders, providing clear communication with patients (e.g. how clinical trial data will be used), and giving patients the time and support that they need.
What do General Managers think of Medical Affairs?
Using data from a recent survey, the workshop ‘What GMs want’ examined the perception of Medical Affairs through the eyes of General Managers and Business Unit Managers in several Australian affiliates of global pharmaceutical companies.
While General Managers and Business Unit Managers generally recognize the value of Medical Affairs, some residual internal battles between Medical Affairs and Commercial functions remain, with many Medical Affairs staff feeling they must continually justify themselves.
The broader value of Medical Affairs to the organization needs to be considered, not just metrics-driven parameters. Medical Affairs teams should be collaborative partners and will benefit from an in-depth understanding of global strategy for local advocacy.
Plumbers need to be licensed. Should Medical Affairs Professionals?
The workshop ‘Professional development standards in Medical Affairs’ explored the interest and potential structures of competency frameworks, accredited training offerings and peak body involvement in Medical Affairs.
There was general agreement that Medical Affairs in the ANZ region would benefit from this, but not on what it would look like in the region. The NVFG Dutch Medical Affairs Competency Matrix or Pharmaceutical Medicine qualifications at the Royal College in London may provide a framework for adaption.
Preparing our MSLs for the evolving Medical Affairs landscape
The workshop ‘Scientific exchange: planning and executing with impact’ was an opportunity for attendees to discuss best practices in interactions between Medical Science Liaison Officers (MSLs) and healthcare professionals. This popular session evaluated scenarios MSLs may face, including having conversations with healthcare professionals when there is a lack of data and engaging with digital opinion leaders in a digital era.
Are we onboarding industry staff effectively?
According to the workshop ‘ANZ industry standards for Medical onboarding’, companies are not onboarding staff well or consistently. Some participants felt that MSL onboarding was rigorous, but that most other roles were left behind. Breakouts discussed current practices, the challenges of the hybrid working world, and potential solutions, including the role that artificial intelligence could play. The discussions provided insight on what should be ‘industry standard’ onboarding and if a consensus can be reached.
Overall, the conference was a great success. Attendees enjoyed reconnecting with colleagues in person and meeting new Medical Affairs professionals. Importantly, we all identified where and how Medical Affairs can be improved in Australia and New Zealand.
The Oxford PharmaGenesis team were grateful to have the opportunity to attend this inaugural event and thank the APPA-MAPS 22 committee for hosting a fantastic meeting. We look forward to regular future events organized by MAPA and MAPS in the region.
Learn more about our Medical Affairs practice and expertise here.
Article written by Cara Kingston, Vanessa Wielgosz and Steven Inglis