Some would view a healthcare professional (HCP) taking a job with a pharmaceutical company as akin to an impressionable Jedi being seduced by the dark side of the force. Many more don’t even know that doctors, nurses and a plethora of other medical people even operate within industry.
In reality, HCPs are just as qualified, just as diligent and just as sworn to the ol’ Hippocratic oath as their NHS counterparts. Two HCPs working at two of the biggest pharma companies now reveal how they navigate the private sector terrain, while keeping patients in sharp relief.
Shaantanu Donde, Pfizer
I am the Regional Medical Therapeutic Area Lead for the Europe Region. I provide medical support toward driving established drugs, while also launching newer variants into the market. The role entails coordination with national and global colleagues, and collaboration with business, safety and regulatory personnel. I also develop responses to medical queries received from HCPs and provide training to medical and business colleagues on products and therapy areas.
We provide strategic inputs regarding the effectiveness and safety of the products. This helps them reach larger and relevant populations through customer insights. As experts in the therapy area, we also give advice based on the unmet needs of disease areas and share competitive intelligence based on recent scientific data and literature.
I have continued to work in the industry as it offers a very conducive environment where your thoughts are valued and your innovation can influence the development of future strategies.
We do not generally get an opportunity to directly work with patients, but we can play a critical role in shaping their health by ensuring that our medicines are effective and safe. We can drive many patient awareness programs by developing appropriate content, but have to be sensitive about not influencing their decisions to adopt our products.
We can touch lives of our patients by addressing their needs through contributing to the development of new medicines and improving disease awareness. We also strive to help HCPs who have direct communication with patients, while ensuring the continued safety of drugs, and releasing safety alerts when adverse events occur in marketed products.
Satisfaction comes from influencing patients’ health through working on so many good quality drugs. Getting an opportunity to engage with great HCPs, who have immense respect for the company and are willing to lend their expertise for better patient outcomes, is a really gratifying experience.
Though there is more visibility about the physicians working in the industry, I do not believe the general public are cognisant of this fact.
It is very possible to stay unbiased. You have to stay focussed on patient health, without compromising your integrity, and there are checks to ensure you don’t promote your products inappropriately. The interactions with HCPs are critical and you must ensure that accurate information – based on scientific evidence – is shared appropriately.
Duncan Gould, Merck
I am a senior medical adviser working in the field of type 2 diabetes. I am principally involved in UK medical affairs, which entails the medical management of a launched product. I advise and interact with colleagues from commercial, legal and health outcomes, as well as NHS clinicians and other public officials. I have held numerous posts in medical affairs and clinical development over the years in several companies and therapeutic areas.
I advise on all medical aspects, to support accurate and balanced information about licensed diabetic medicines, as per the ABPI Code of practice. I also advise internally about data and other information on the company’s and competitors’ products.
In the past I have been an NHS GP and an anaesthetist, however, around 25 years ago decided that I would have a more fruitful and exciting career in the pharmaceutical industry. Had I remained as a GP in the NHS, I would now be very disillusioned and looking for early retirement. I do still see patients, as I have a weekly private practice session in London.
As I still see patients, I can understand that working solely for industry can blinker views and lead one down a tunnelled path. One is at risk of not seeing the big picture and being lost in the minutiae of data.
Given that new drugs coming to the market must demonstrate benefit – both from an efficacy, but also a health economic argument – it is clear that in working with such medicines you are making a difference to health. As a medical adviser you can also help educate stakeholders on the benefits of those medicines.
Reward comes from addressing real unmet need with high-science medicine. I really enjoy cutting-edge innovation and thinking. For example, I was involved with a company that brought a new class of cancer treatment to the market and this has really revolutionised the way that some cancers are now treated.
The public are not aware of us. Historically, and to this day, pharma is seen as a suspicious industry by the media, and this misconception has been passed on to the public. Although it has not changed in several decades, HCPs within the NHS now hold greater respect for pharmaceutical physicians than they once did.
It is possible to be completely unbiased and it is very important that one is. The medical role, and that of others, is to put the patient at the heart of all decisions. I have only ever experienced this philosophy with the companies I have worked for. Being biased is wrong and will be found out.