Power to the patient: The positive shift in life sciences

27 Oct 2017

Anne O’Riordan, senior managing director, Accenture Life Sciences. Image: Accenture

Consumers are taking a more central role in healthcare, and pharma companies need to understand the changing market, says Anne O’Riordan from Accenture. She spoke to Claire O’Connell.

Healthcare is changing and a move to a more holistic approach, where pharmaceutical companies, healthcare systems and patients work together to prevent, cure or manage disease, is one of the big trends in recent years to catch the attention of Hong-Kong-based Anne O’Riordan, senior managing director at Accenture Life Sciences.

“Our goal is to help our clients to rethink, reshape and restructure their businesses [and it is] centred on delivering better outcomes for patients,” she explained. “We believe the entire market is shifting towards really being outcomes-focused.”

Tailored treatments

O’Riordan welcomes the positive pipeline of discoveries coming through in the life sciences industry.

“We will have about 40 new molecular entities approved every year in the next five years,” she said. “We haven’t seen that kind of approvals rating and that amount of new science coming to the market every year consistently since the mid-1990s. That is great news for the industry.”

There has been a “profound shift” towards speciality drugs, and O’Riordan argues that, contrary to what you might expect, the market is there for these more tailored medicines.

“In 2009, about 46pc of drugs being launched were speciality – that was up in 2016 to about 77pc,” she said. “People always assumed [that] once speciality, you would be going into smaller market sizes, but we are finding that the average sales in the first two years since first launch has nearly tripled, going from $190m in 2008 to $896m in 2015.”

Other key drivers of change are the reimbursement landscape and the existence of ‘good enough’ drugs or generics, which mean that companies need to think about the value of their products.

“You really have to differentiate, and [products] have to make sense from a business perspective,” she said. “[You have to think about] what decision-making is going to go into, how these drugs are going to be reimbursed.”

‘For someone who is driven by the passion to make a difference in people’s lives, there is nothing more satisfying than using all of that technology and capability to truly make a difference to patients’

Patient power

Meanwhile, patients are becoming more empowered, according to O’Riordan, and healthcare can harness this power to deliver better outcomes.

“If you look at consumers right across the board, because of the amount of tech and information they are getting delivered to them in a very easily consumable manner, they are taking a lot more control of their lives, regardless of whether they are sick or not sick,” she said.

In the case of patients, getting them involved in monitoring their disease or taking lifestyle steps to prevent or manage illness can play an important role.  

“We see this shift to embracing the whole end-to-end lifestyle of the patient, how they are living their lives with the disease, and surrounding the patient with more educational programmes and looking at how they can be proactive in making the science more efficacious,” explained O’Riordan.

However, a new and as-yet-unpublished survey by Accenture found that the tools patients need do not always reach them. “We are finding that when patients know about them, they are delighted to use them, but the information is not getting to them,” said O’Riordan. “There is more to be done with respect to the pharma companies educating the doctors and doctors passing it on to the patients.”

Chronic need

The world’s ageing human population and the rising tide of chronic diseases presents enormous challenges to healthcare today and will do so even more into the future. We need to move out of the current silos towards more holistic responsibility to meet the demands, noted O’Riordan.

“Healthcare costs are continuing to rise,” she said. “Something has to give, and the only thing that can give is, can we all be collectively responsible? Can the patient be more informed, know what is the better diet and exercise, work with therapy to get the best results? There are many barriers to that around annualised budgets, silos and people having different incentives but realistically, for an efficient healthcare system to work, different parties need to work together and we are seeing more of that.”

Taking flight with science

O’Riordan’s own background is in science. Taking part in the Aer Lingus Young Scientist of the Year competition whetted her appetite for studying biotechnology in Dublin City University. She then went to NUI Galway, where she did a postgraduate degree in financial accounting and MIS before moving to the USA to work with Accenture there.

“I wanted to work globally and with large pharma companies,” she recalled.

 She came back across the Atlantic to lead the European health and life sciences business with Accenture and then moved to China, leading the life sciences practice in Asia Pacific. Today, she manages a global team of more than 15,000 people across more than 50 countries.

“I am fortunate to be working in different parts of the world and I find it a privilege,” said O’Riordan, who strongly advocates for women in science through her work with The Women’s Foundation in Hong Kong and as chair of the Women of Influence Committee with the American Chamber there.

“Encouraging young STEM individuals is absolutely very much a focal point for me,” she said.

Make a difference

Following a recent trip home to Ireland, she reflected on the life sciences industry here: “I think it is very encouraging,” she said.

“We visited the NIBRT facility, I am also involved in Cúram, there are some amazing things happening in Ireland. Enterprise Ireland is fantastic at really helping the industry to grow and develop.”

And, from a personal perspective, she still relishes working in the life sciences industry. “I think it is hugely rewarding.

“For someone who is driven by the passion to make a difference in people’s lives, there is nothing more satisfying than really using all of that technology and capability to truly make a difference to patients.”

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication