The Changing Role of Biopharmaceutical Marketing in Empowering Patients: An Interview with Sandy Sexton of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
The Pulse had the opportunity to interview Sandy Sexton, Director of Consumer Marketing at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Sandy’s team works on Dupixent® (dupilumab), Regeneron’s treatment for adults with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis not well controlled with prescription therapies used on the skin (topical), who cannot use topical therapies. As someone thinking deeply about the pharma industry’s interface with the patient, we asked for her perspective on the shift towards patient empowerment in healthcare.
Pulse: First, can you provide a quick overview of your role at Regeneron and role in communicating with the patients Regeneron serves?
SS: I work on the Dupixent brand team. Our role is to support patients through disease education campaigns and brand awareness.
For example, we have our “Eczema Exposed” campaign, which is an educational campaign including website, print, digital, and other components. This helps us reach patients and build their knowledge of atopic dermatitis and explain it in patient-friendly terms. I also work with teams who build patient support programs.
Pulse: What are the major trends you are currently seeing in pharma consumer marketing as the focus of the entire healthcare industry shifts more towards empowering/enabling patients to make their own healthcare choices?
SS: I think there’s a trend in the healthcare industry towards shared decision-making between healthcare providers and patients. We try to educate patients in order to empower them in those conversations.
For Dupixent, we have some support tools available on our website, including a list of questions patients can ask their physician. There are also discussion guides patients can use with their physician, such as one that helps patients decide what their goal of treatment is. For atopic dermatitis, this goal might be reducing itching or reducing lesions on their skin.
Physicians only have a short amount of time to spend with patients, so the better prepared a patient can be, the more robust a conversation will be. By empowering the patient to tell their doctor what they want to get out of their treatment, we can help the physician take a more patient-centric, individualized approach. Before publishing content, like these discussion guides, we ensure that the physician community is prepared and able to answer patient questions, and that it aligns with the way they practice.
Pulse: How do you think about the mediums by which you reach out to patients with information (e.g., print ads, commercials, website, etc.)?
SS: In general, you have to provide awareness to patients up-front and later on, build patient empowerment through education.
It’s hard to build robust patient empowerment through a print ad, but print ads can have messaging that encourage patients to learn more about a campaign online. We have a print ad in magazines like Good Housekeeping, Us Weekly, Shape, Men’s Health, etc.
We also have TV ads running – we’re doing a pilot in 10 areas of the country to improve disease state awareness and we’re looking to expand that this year.
We also have patient ambassadors for our Eczema Exposed campaign. These are people with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. Simply knowing that someone else has the disease and understands their condition can be very empowering and encouraging for patients, so we’re hoping to highlight some of these patient profiles in our print campaigns as well.
Pulse: How, if at all, have you seen marketing messages become more tailored to individual patients?
SS: As with any disease area, every patient is different, so trying to make blanket statements about the disease can be isolating to individual patients.
Therefore, we look at different segments of our patient population to support them appropriately. For example, we know there’s a segment of the population that’s actively seeking out information, so when we build something like a banner ad, we build it so it’s eye-catching to that segment. We also know there’s a segment of the population that can find things in magazines or on the internet, but they trust their physician’s advice over everything else. So we’ll have information in the physician’s office to aid those conversations.
We also have a patient support program, which allows patients to call in and speak with the same nurse every time they call. This is comforting for patients. If you’re starting a new, biological product, you might be uncomfortable with it. This service helps us address each individual patient’s needs, and gives them the comfort of speaking to the same nurse every time they call.
Pulse: With the launch of Dupixent last year, I've seen some social media activity regarding the product. How much does social media play a role in consumer marketing at Regeneron, and how do you see that role evolving going forward?
SS: Social media is an interesting space for all of the pharma industry. As an industry, we're still navigating where it's most beneficial and appropriate for us to be.
We evaluated multiple social platforms and determined which would be most beneficial to our audience. As a result, Dupixent has a YouTube channel. We have an injection training video on there, where we have instructions for using the injection the way it is approved to be used. This is key to taking the medication – you have to know how to administer it.
We’re continuing to evaluate other social platforms as well. I look forward to seeing how this evolves over time for us, as well as for the industry as a whole.