Interview on the ecosystems of rare diseases with Dana Vigier, VP, Central and Northern Europe Area Head, Alexion, AstraZeneca Rare Disease
Dana Vigier is the VP and Central and Northern Europe Area Head at Alexion, AstraZeneca Rare Disease. She will be part of the opening panel ‘Unlocking the power of CX for authentic and meaningful engagements’ at the NEXT Pharma Summit on 21-22 Nov 2023 in Vienna.
SciencePOD had the opportunity to speak with Dana in advance of her discussion where she shares her views on a whole-ecosystem approach to rare diseases.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your role as VP, Central and Northern Europe Area Head at Alexion, AstraZeneca Rare Disease
I’m a medical doctor who started quite early in pharma and went through multiple roles gaining experiences. I recently transitioned to Alexion from AstraZeneca, where I held a global leadership position in oncology. I’m super thrilled and excited to be part of this unique rare disease field as a whole, and more specifically the Central and Northern Europe clusters. The most interesting part is operating in very different environments. Each of these countries have diverse healthcare systems and cultures; some similarities, with significant differences.
But we just have one vision: to leverage these incredible innovations coming out of R&D by ensuring that no patient is left behind. Alexion has three decades of experience in rare diseases, and it is now backed up by AstraZeneca Group. We now have the potential to transform the lives of so many more people.
How does working on rare diseases affect how you engage with customers?
I actually prefer “stakeholders” over “customers”. The most important stakeholder is the patient. Authentic and meaningful engagement to me is purposeful engagement.
Putting patient centricity into action every day is actually delivering innovative medicines to and for each patient through their HCPs, meeting the unique needs of each of the patients and caregivers. That means listening, learning, incorporating their insights into decision making at every stage, from discovery and up to our role in commercialisation. The best treatment in the world is only effective if people are able to access it in the first place. So, we need to make sure that every eligible patient has access to best available options for them.
In a broader sense there’s a full ecosystem in rare diseases. What I’m keen to develop, work on and engage with, is broader than only focussing on HCPs, for example. Taking care and ensuring that no patient is left behind in rare diseases takes a village with all kinds of different stakeholders.
You mentioned managing the ecosystem that comes with rare diseases. Does that bring its own challenges?
It certainly does. The rare disease ecosystems are most of the time even more complex than others, and have multiple partners. Each of these have specific accountabilities and rules of engagement. Sometimes there is a clear need to have the rare disease patients’ voices heard, which is not always very easy. In our very busy societies, we need to make sure that we listen to that sometimes weak voice.
The objective is enabling diagnosis, enabling innovation, and enabling access to therapies. Each of these objectives come with their own stakeholders. What is clear is that the challenges are numerous. If you multiply that by the number of countries, each with their own different systems and ideologies in healthcare, plus their own willingness and acceptance of engagement with the different stakeholders, that creates a lot of friction. That certainly keeps us on our toes to stay innovative and agile.
Dealing with these different healthcare systems sounds like its own unique challenge in Europe.
I think it is. You need at some point to have a North Star because you can get lost in the multiple systems, stakeholders, ecosystems, and so on. I think that the North Star for us at Alexion and for AstraZeneca is the patient. Those are the same whether they are in Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or in any other country.
What really guides us is listening to the patient and their needs. That allows us within each of the ecosystems to make sure that we can best support the societal alliances for rare diseases. We want to make sure that these patients, whose voice is already low because there’s not many of them, is really heard.
The best strategy to reach our North Star is trust and dialogue. We believe that there is a two-way element: The more we can get relevant insights from patients, doctors, and societies as a whole, the better we can adapt to their needs and the better our next innovations will be.
What is your take on the importance of developing healthcare professional centric methods for engaging with them digitally?
Digital is a tool which can for me, address what I believe is the biggest lever and the biggest challenge in the way we interact with our stakeholders, and specifically with HCPs. This is something that I hope we will be discussing at the conference.
My take is that the biggest lever and challenge in our communication to make it effective is the right time of interaction. You have content of interaction, the channel of interaction, but also the time of the interaction is critical. I experienced that as a medical doctor myself:
You have so many diverse patients in your day, your week and your month, the most important element is that point in time when I have the next patient sitting in front of me – not necessarily the patient that I’ll see in six or nine months time. That is an instance where I would say digital can bring added value.
We’re also collaborating internally and with our AstraZeneca colleagues to really leverage cutting edge technologies, but even more than that the right time is important. Having artificial intelligence, and genomic medicine is helping advance rare diseases research, will optimize identification of new molecules, and support the development of innovative diagnostics and therapies.
You were a practicing doctor. Do you think having that background helps when judging that time?
I think it does. Understanding the everyday life of an HCP is very critical.
The topics that you need to deal with as an HCP (especially one working in a hospital) are so diverse in a day, and they range from the next patient you see to the 25 other patients that are waiting, the three nurses that you may or may not have, the budgets of your department, your IT issues and the publication you have never managed to finish. The whole array of the occupation is important to understand, to determine how we as a pharmaceutical company can find the right moment, the right content and the right way to communicate with them.