Pharma reps need to bone up on scientific data and real-world evidence for oncology discussions: study
Oncologists would like a word with pharma companies. More than a word, actually – they’d like entire in-depth conversations with drug experts and more real-world data, please.
That’s according to Accenture’s new study looking at oncologists’ needs through a pharma lens. The study comes as FDA approved 16 novel cancer drugs in 2021 – including the first KRAS inhibitor – along with more than 40 new indications in oncology and hematology. Meanwhile, oncology trials are at record levels, up 60% from just five years ago, Accenture noted in its report.
Not surprising then that oncologists – both at academic medical centers and in community practices – want scientific evidence including specific patient discussions, one-on-one dialogues about products and indications and real-world data and evidence.
Nine out of 10 oncologists said talking to pharma companies about patients’ individual cases will influence future treatment decisions, versus just 43% who said product discussions would.
The takeaway from Accenture is that even as ground-breaking cancer drugs stream into the market, product pushes alone won’t win oncologists’ support.
“When I started working as a pharmacist in the industry 20 years ago, you were just grateful you had treatments for a collective of patients, say in breast cancer,” André Dahinden, managing director, global precision oncology in Accenture’s life science practice, said.
Now with advancing precision medicine, he added, “pharmaceutical companies can’t just say ‘We have a drug for lung cancer,’ they have to say, ‘We have a drug for lung cancer where we have data showing this in patients with this characteristics, we have a disproportionate benefit.’ So it’s inverting the relationship from drugs just seeking patients to patients seeking the right drug.”
Real-world data is increasingly important in those discussions, ranking in the top five services oncologists want from pharma. More than half (51%) said they expect they’ll need more discussions of real-world data in the future, while 65% said pharma reps should be able to discuss real-world data and specific patient sentiments about treatments.
“It’s much more sophisticated discussion which requires either a highly qualified expert company resource or a company working at arm’s length with an ecosystem of experts, whether contracted or not, to help make sense of the relationship of product characteristics versus patient characteristics,” Dahinden said.
As part of the study, Accenture also asked oncologists how they prefer to get information. The pandemic pushed communications to more digital channels and oncologists are OK with that, but they’d also still like to talk to pharma representatives in person. Although again, they specified reps with scientific knowledge and data.
Ninety percent of oncologists surveyed ranked personal conversations whether in-person and virtual as their preferred way to receive information from pharma companies. Face-to-face and virtual are both important dependent on the context, Dahinden said.
His advice to pharma companies is no matter how they plan to deliver information, they should be working on getting up to speed on the science.
“If you’re not fluent in real-world evidence data generation and discussing and using it, it’s urgent to do so. Now. It’s very hard to imagine in precision medicine not being qualified to talk about all the properties of what your medicine can do in real life,” he said.