PharEast Conference 2019

The Phar-East conference held in March 2019 is a leading pharma and biotech conference for Asia.
Being an industry conference, it was interesting to be invited back again to participate in a panel discussion, and this time to also present on the opportunities and challenges of a stakeholder engagement journey from a patient advocate perspective. 

I spent the large part of the conference attending various talks on immunotherapy, clinical trials, pharma 4.0, market access and pricing, regulatory affairs; and one topic which I attended for the first is around biotech investments. Here are some of my impressions: 

• The Biopolis is an international research and development centre for biomedical sciences in Singapore. They are able to bring together various stakeholders in one place to facilitate conversations, collaborations and sharing of facilities and technology. The high-profile talent and companies they attract to work there, and the innovations they have discovered, is testament to smart policies and infrastructure. Singapore is making great strides in life sciences, Korea is a standout, and China is also rapidly getting into the game. I listened to a couple of Chinese biotech investors and was impressed with their fluency in English and connections with venture capital from developed nations. 

• The opportunities for breakthrough science in the biotech companies and how a lot of the risk in drug discovery and development is shouldered by them. Which makes we wonder how much of the share of risk capital is from big pharma, versus small biotechs and research that is funded by universities and publicly funded institutions. There are some similarities between biotech and IT start-ups – big ideas, high risk, potentially high payout - and if it is possible that with greater venture funding and risk taking that more new drugs will be discovered faster and lower cost (due to competition). 

• Payors play a big role to ensure market access is feasible but are heavily under-represented in the conference. I was very interested to hear how Muang Thai Assurance from Thailand is trying to stand out from their peers by trying to ensure that insurance is extended also to the sick. The innovations they have come up with enable them to offer insurance to Type 2 diabetes patients. Dynamic pricing of the policies are driven by the level of healthy habits demonstrated by policy holders, with technology and processes to enable them to check and validate health outcomes from payors. This serves to incentivise them to take better care of themselves, and the sector stands to lower the burden of a disease if this is done right. 

• So much data is being collated by wearables and the opportunities for using this in healthcare. One stark example was the story of a patient that had tied in the middle of the night, and the wearable could clearly show when this happened. However the coroner and hospital will not accept this data source. 

• Malaysia is a favourable country for clinical trials due to good infrastructure, relatively low cost, and coordination (Clinical Research Malaysia). Whilst we work so hard to get clinical trials for SMA in Malaysia we remain unsuccessful (other issues in finding supportive doctors, and willing pharma), yet for those with trials the pharma companies face the issue of patient dropout (but they were not talking about orphan drugs). They then need to find more ways to engage patients better to ensure they stay on to its completion. It is important for pharma to recruit rapidly and complete the trail on schedule, otherwise this adds cost and delays (if approved) going to market. 

• I discussed on a panel the topic of collaborative efforts in building the common ground for better accessibility and treatment with pharma (Pfizer and Ipsen), clinician (from Ipsen), payor/ insurance (Muang Thai) and consultant (KPMG Life Sciences). I think there was one common ground that kept repeating itself – getting broader and more sustainable access to medicines cannot be achieved by one party alone and all stakeholders need to come together on common goals. Compromise is important. A number of people from pharma and regulatory affairs approached me after presenting on our J-O-U-R-N-E-Y method to engage stakeholders. They felt that of all the stakeholders, patients and care-givers are under the most constraints and stress so it’s doubly hard, but yet it is possible to move quickly and make progress despite the many limitations. However, it is a long road and all stakeholders need to work closer together to move far. This begs the question – if we are all saying it why isn’t it happening more reliably and often? What is stopping us? I think it boils down to someone taking the driver’s seat, and everyone willing to engage cooperatively on a similar level of maturity around common goals and mutual benefit - easier said and done! 

I hope everyone has found this helpful. This conference and the range of topics is not typical for a patient group to be participating in, but there is always value to be found. Again, if anyone wants to find out more, I am just an email or phone call away.

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