Q&A with Nicole Cohen, Managing Director, Accenture Life Sciences

An interview with Nicole Cohen, Managing Director, Accenture Life Sciences, about patient-driven R&D in the pharmaceutical industry.

What do you enjoy most about working in R&D in the pharmaceutical industry?

I love the R&D space for the impact it has on people’s lives. I came to Accenture more than 15 years ago with a degree in biomedical engineering and a lifetime goal of becoming a physician. But, once I saw the real effects and the scope of the impact we could have by working with life sciences companies as they bring medicines and services to the people who need them, I was hooked on working in the R&D space.

It’s what drives me every day—the realization that through our work, we’re helping people and improving lives. I also love the fact that I’m surrounded by other people who are equally passionate about this work, and that we share this common goal of helping people get the right medicines and services.

What are the most exciting changes you see coming in R&D?

One change that’s already making a huge difference is how close our R&D clients are able to reach the patient. It used to be that the voice of the patient seemed somewhat distant. But now we are working with our clients to get much closer to that voice—to inform the design of clinical trials—and also inform and shape what outcomes are being studied overall. This is giving our R&D clients a completely different level of insight into what’s actually important for patients.

As an illustrative example, one of our pharmaceutical clients might be testing a drug that is intended to affect a certain biometric associated to a particular disease, but when engaging with patients, it is discovered that they’re suffering from a horrible side effect that makes it difficult for them to go to work or even leave the house. With that level of understanding, R&D organizations can seek to understand how to impact not only the biometric of interest, but also the side effect impacting the patients’ quality of life.

Any other changes?

A second change that’s upon us is the digital revolution for R&D. This revolution is impacting and will continue to impact R&D organizations at every turn, from how data comes streamlining into the organization to how those data points are analyzed and could be shared back to the external world.

Digital solutions will change how pharmaceutical companies engage with patients, other companies and each other. There are many ways they can influence engagement. For example, they can influence how patients get reminders about a dose (increasing adherence to clinical trial protocols or real world administration) or improving what information about the drug or disease area reaches the patient. They can change how they support the patient beyond the pill or improving how drug developers innovate across organizational or company barriers.

The industry has just touched the surface of what will be possible. It’s incredibly exciting to see how this digital revolution will not only accelerate the study of a drug through the R&D process, but how it will improve the success of that drug with a patient.

How is the R&D process changing as the industry moves toward delivering better patient outcomes as the true marker of success compared to just delivering a product?

I think the move toward using desired patient outcomes as key measures of success is significant because it’s spurring the industry to gain a better understanding of which outcomes are most important to patients. By including measures with desired patient outcomes, the industry has the opportunity to align with other groups, patients and patient advocates to rewrite these traditional target product profiles with the ideal drug in mind. In essence, the industry can redefine what success could really look like for that population.

As the industry continues to move towards delivering better patient outcomes, we are working with companies to examine and redefine how data can be collected and managed. The technologies today are capable of providing clinical trial data in a streamlined, real-time way from both internal and external sources. This can be overwhelming if there is not a deliberate and methodical way of analyzing the data, and organizations are looking at those patient outcomes as a lens with which to consider all of that data.

In some cases, it might be better to gather less data so that the scientist/clinical professional can get the answers needed more quickly to advance the therapy and accelerate the development process. The ability to manage more data, including real world data, with a focus on what is needed to make the right decisions is critical to ensure that the drug being studied will have the greatest impact on patient health and wellbeing.

R&D leaders have an unmistakable focus on the patient with a commitment to applying an analytical lens to the development process

What do you think are some of the hallmarks of the leaders in R&D? What are they doing differently or better than their peers?

I’d say the R&D high performers are leading the industry in the pivot to the patient. R&D leaders have an unmistakable focus on the patient with a commitment to applying an analytical lens to the development process focused on an emerging set of patient outcomes as expressed by the patient. They go through the R&D process with that end goal in mind—improving patient’s lives.

In addition to the focus on the patient, leaders in R&D continue to recognize the benefit of harnessing the power of collaboration. They are collaborating better internally across functional lines but increasingly collaborating better externally with other companies, such as participating in TransCelerate Biopharma, partnering closely with academic institutions and establishing programs with other trade organizations.