How Sales and Marketing Can Advance Patient Centricity


Experts from UCB, Sanofi Pasteur, Admedus, Nestlé Nutrition and WAVE offer their views

Our panel of experts:

Dirk Abeel

Global Head Performance Development

Training and Field Force Effectiveness Nestlé Nutrition

Dominique Côté

Vice President & Head of Global

Marketing Excellence UCB Pharma

With moderator


Principal, Engage Rx

Wendy Erler

Vice President,

Patient Advocacy and Market Insights WAVE Life Sciences Ltd.

Kasia Hein-Peters

Global Commercial Leader in Biopharmaceutical Industry Sanofi Pasteur

David St. Denis

Chief Operations Officer Admedus

If you want to see better outcomes for your company, yourself and the patients you serve—or if you are wondering how you make patient centricity work in sales and marketing—then this roundtable is for you.

When I was 35, I lost my father to an avoidable prescribing error. As a professional in the pharmaceutical industry, I asked myself “What if my Dad’s doctor’s rep had been able to access and influence him more effectively?” I’m a firm believer that the greatest outcomes will be achieved when we shift from being script-centric to patient-centric.

How does patient centricity apply to sales and marketing? There is ample evidence that when you focus on your purpose (the difference you make to patients) you will be more successful in reaching your targets!

This roundtable incorporates ideas from around the world, from different companies and different departments. We showcase examples of how they are bringing patient centricity to their commercial teams. What about outcomes? Can you be both patient focused and business focused? How? What are examples of patient centricity working in commercial pharma? What are the barriers? These are just some of the questions we discuss.

Why should sales and marketing execs care about patient centricity? What does it mean to them?

David St. Denis: We should all care about patient centricity. As average life expectancy increases, we will all be patients one day. We want a great experience for ourselves and our loved ones. Patients are becoming more empowered and are getting more say in their healthcare options. As they inform themselves through their own research, we want to ensure they have access to the best information, tools, and services to ensure they can make the best choices, along with their healthcare providers. If we don’t engage them correctly and provide a great experience, they may not find their way to the best solutions.

Kasia Hein-Peters: For marketing and sales teams, patients are the ultimate end-users of products that they commercialize. Medicines don’t work and don’t sell if they are not taken by patients. For this to happen, patients must want to take them, be able to manage side effects and remember to continue therapy as prescribed by a doctor. So it is critically important for sales and marketing to ensure that patient’s needs are taken care of in the process of drug prescribing and administering.

Wendy Erler: We are responsible for getting patients what they need, when and how they need it. This latter piece sometimes gets lost in the patient centricity discussion. While it is true that drug discovery and innovation is the first step, delivering the medicines in a way that is feasible for patients and ensures compliance along with access and coverage is as important. Thinking all the way through the patient experience is crucial to successful launch, market trajectory and commercial returns. This approach creates a continuous feedback mechanism which provides further input on unmet medical needs which can help a company focus its development initiatives or for life cycle management of a product.

Dirk Abeel: If you want to be true to our mission there is no other way than being truly driven and interested by what patients are facing, struggling with, looking for and expecting from us. What does it mean to them? All that you do as an organization should circle around the question: how can we improve the quality of life for our patients on the short-, mid- and long-term, together with a positive impact on our communities and environment and in line with our business goals and responsibilities? It also requires a shift from short term to long term outcome and impact planning (which also affects how you will have to manage your investors).

Dominique Cote: Executives should care about patients because they are our purpose. I joined the pharma industry and left genetic research for the same purpose, to have an impact on patient lives and be part of working to find a solution for devastating diseases like cancer. It should be at the core of what marketers plan and their strategies to really create partnership with healthcare professionals for these patients that we serve.

What about outcomes? Can patient- centric commercial people still meet their mandates/sales targets?

Kasia Hein-Peters: In my opinion, a patient-centric approach helps to achieve sales objectives, because it supports patients in taking the right medication and staying on it. Patient-centric marketing solutions—if developed and implemented well—can improve treatment adherence, remove access barriers, increase understanding of the disease and associated risks, help in disease management etc. As a result, medicines will be used more often and longer.

Wendy Erler: A patient story does not start at diagnosis. It starts with symptoms and their journey to diagnosis. For sales and marketing to have all of these data points to inform product profiles, positioning and messaging leads to immediate impact, and this is ultimately relevant to sales success because you are meeting the true needs of your patients. Taking a patient-centric approach ensures that marketers highlight key considerations for decision making and plan programs and education that matters. If the entire commercial organization is truly focused on doing the right things (activities, pricing, messaging) for the right reason, then patients and caregivers will always be at the center of the mission. When sales teams are formed and new sales representatives join the organization, their first training should be focused on patient centricity and how this is incorporated in their objectives and expectations for job performance. Moreover, the advocacy strategy must be flexible to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or unforeseen challenges.

Dominique Cote: I believe the good commercial people have never lost their patient purpose. Commercial people, by having the discussion and communicating with the patient in mind, have the greatest opportunity to really partner for a better solution with their physicians and of course still meet their targets. Traditional ways of establishing sales targets should change and be more patient-driven and account-driven based on needs versus solely being numbers-driven.

Dirk Abeel: As you deliver expected value and even extended value, adding service offering to all of your key stakeholders (customers and patients, governments, etc.) you will achieve your business goals in even a more solid and sustained manner.

David St. Denis: Yes. We are moving increasingly toward a system where healthcare providers, payers, and the life science industries will work in a collaborative fashion around the patient to provide the best health outcomes. By creating an excellent patient experience, the demand for medical products and services will go up. This will happen because physicians will have more satisfied and informed patients; and patients themselves will be able to drive utilization from an informed and differentiated point of view

What are some of the best examples/stories you’ve seen of healthcare companies being more patient centric and seeing better outcomes for all (patients, HCPs, etc.)?

Wendy Erler: The Biogen (now Bioverativ) Humanitarian Aid Hemophilia campaign—providing free factor to the developing world.

Dominique Cote: We all have stories of commercial people recommending competitor products for the benefit of the patient in the right time , but throughout my career the best examples have been when really the commercial groups have gotten beyond the medications to really help with problematic situations. Some examples have been working on ethical problems that the physicians were treating when AIDS therapy started , or working on a program to support the integration of schizophrenic patients back into society when stabilized, to avoid the return to ER and help them live outside of institutions. Another one would be helping understand the needs of the cancer patient and representing them.

David St. Denis: Over the years I have seen some amazing solutions designed by truly understanding the patient need, and providing a significant benefit in helping them do well on their treatments. These are tied to product lifecycle, and often devolve when the product is in latter stages. I think for this to become part of the DNA of a company, it needs to be a priority of the board. And here I don’t mean make a corporate program with a slogan. I mean a consistent and methodical review of how we bring products and services to market, how we embed patient centricity into them from the design phase, and how we build execution engines that can deliver solutions in a sustainable way. This kind of approach is at the heart of what we are trying to do at Admedus.

Kasia Hein-Peters: At Sanofi Pasteur, we have been busy studying declining confidence in vaccines, which is happening mostly in developed countries. This phenomenon has many demographic and socioeconomic reasons and leads to delaying or skipping some pediatric vaccines and generally low vaccination rates for adult vaccines. As a result, we observe occasional outbreaks of diseases that had almost disappeared in the past and insufficient prevention of deaths and suffering that could be avoided, such as widespread use of flu vaccination. By analyzing a process of patient decision making and influence of provider-patient interaction, we were able to develop a set of communication principles, which help healthcare providers to recommend vaccination more successfully. The difference in outcomes is stunning—a provider is able to increase the success of their recommendations by almost ten-fold. We have been able to distribute this knowledge through medical education programs and partnerships with medical and advocacy organizations. So far, a few thousand healthcare professionals took this training in the US alone and we have seen a very positive impact on flu vaccination rates.

Why aren’t others doing this? What do you think are the greatest contributors and barriers to creating patient-centric sales and marketing teams?

Dirk Abeel: The industry has been built on a traditional push model. Patient-centricity requires a completely different approach mainly based on pull. This means a complete change in how we develop and bring products, solutions and services to patients. Easier said than done, as we need determination at the highest level and change management approaches in order to be as least disruptive as possible for the existing organization. A great contributor is embracing the purpose of the company at all levels in the organization prior to acting on it, followed by a clear leadership role modeling approach, taking time to explain the need behind a shift from being solely product focused towards being focused on what patients, HCPs, society are expecting from us. Biggest hurdles: a volatile environment with huge pressure on margins and profitability. Both marketing and sales have to leave their trenches and rebuild together their HCP and patient engagement model, supported by a lot of other functions such as medical and scientific affairs, regulatory affairs etc.

Dominique Cote: I believe we focus on short term shareholders targets and hide ourselves behind regulations. In many countries you cannot promote or talk about a product directly to a patient but that doesn’t mean that you cannot speak or integrate the patient needs in your day to day activities. We see our industry regulations being the biggest barriers , I believe that often we are our own barriers and need to challenge our internal status quo. We need to overcome resistance or fear of change.

David St. Denis: There are internal and external factors. I have been focused more recently on the internal factors, as I believe these are the greatest inhibitors of our move toward patient centricity. In some companies, there is a legacy model regarding who “owns” certain customers. This is often manifests in compliance-related discussions in terms of how much commercial and medical can work together. But I also see it between sales and marketing. I think at the core, it’s about building relationships and overcoming “status quo” resistance and fear of change, as Dominique says. Until we all work together with a common purpose, which is about providing the best service to ensure patient outcomes, we can’t engage externally in that manner either.

Wendy Erler: The biggest challenge for organizations is taking the time to figure out how to do this and work with compliance and regulatory to make it work. If sales teams are incentivized only on generation of prescriptions it can be hard to tie in patient-centric objectives. Progressive pharmaceutical organizations embed patient centricity in their culture from the top all the way through the field organizations. To build a patient-centric focus that crosses all departments often requires institutional change and, in some cases, risk. Systems, communications, core competencies, rewards and recognition, performance objectives, can all be impacted. Moreover, companies need to invest in training to prepare sales and marketing to find the magic where best outcomes for the patients and the company come together. Organizations should not be driven by fear of transparency, but rather driven by the opportunity to be transparent.

Kasia Hein-Peters: I think that every company believes that they are patient-centric—I’ve never met anyone who would claim otherwise. Yet companies differ in their focus on patient-centricity. Some don’t do enough research to understand patients’ personas and consumer journeys, and as a result don’t develop solutions that focus on patient needs. Others are confused about what patient-centricity really means, as there is no industry- wide definition. Some marketers still believe that being patientcentric means just lowering prices. In such case, the marketing approach is limited to audiences that they know well, such as healthcare providers, payers etc. or to a very narrow, product-centric consumer advertisement.

What cross-industry efforts are being made to assist commercial pharma to become more patientcentric?

Kasia Hein-Peters: Several pharma conferences focus on patient-centricity to better define, what it means and how to do it in practice. The Aurora Project, championed by eyeforpharma, is a good example of promoting patient-centricity.

David St. Denis: Companies like 23andme, for instance. Essentially these are not healthcare companies, they are e-commerce companies. Despite their recent challenges, the product was designed to meet the needs of patients. Google is doing amazing things. And there are diagnostic companies such as Illumina. They are working on products and services that provide critical information for patients, and are trying to offer it in a way that is easy to use. And finally, medical device makers are really doing some exciting and innovative things: companies like Stryker, for instance, are changing the way patients prepare and recover from major surgeries.

Dirk Abeel: We have started seeing some cross industry collaboration initiatives around a bundled value offer. Products as part of a completely relevant patient experience. Services like monitoring, guiding, educating the patient journey will become even more important than the product as such. Wearables, applications etc bring value to patients and collaborating partners (data gathering), resulting in added value for society, better quality of life. Patient and customer satisfaction will become a key driver for how companies will be judged in the future.

Dominique Cote: I believe we can learn a lot from other industries on how to do this . I am on the Board of SAMA , a not-for profit that has devoted more than 60 years of working on customer centricity through strategic account management capabilities and has learned a lot from other industries. Our traditional industry now includes technology as a key player, like IBM Watson AI for diagnostic , or 3D organ printing that could solve immunology challenges in transplants. Technology can help to better predict a seizure in epilepsy. Solutions are becoming more effective with technology and DNA sequencing , allowing us to really help in focusing on more personalized medicine, one patient sub-population at a time.

How have more aware/active patients influenced the industry?

Dominique Cote: They have been speaking up to share their needs, to be at the table and bring the emotion into decision making. They are the ones that led to broadening treatment and have taught that the way we look at a disease is really different when you live with it. The patient needs can be variable depending on their situation, age, environment and other factors which need to be taken into account.

Kasia Hein-Peters: The most important way patient advocates contribute is helping us see patients more as human beings who do other things in life than just manage their diseases, and being able to develop solutions that better fit with their lifestyle.

David St. Denis: In the rare disease space, pharma forms a very close relationship with patients and caregivers. If we look at certain specialty spaces, such as neurodegenerative diseases (MS, Parkinson’s, etc.), patient groups have become an important and truly meaningful driver of positive influence on the industry. Oncology is another area where patient groups and even individual patients are making a huge impact by taking a partnership approach with the industry and helping us to design our R&D efforts better. There’s much more room for more active participation and organization in the large chronic disease spaces (diabetes, for instance).

Dirk Abeel: There are many examples of people who were in pharma but understood the negative impact of the old models when they became patients themselves. This has inspired some of them to challenge the model, coming up with alternative solutions and thus putting positive pressure on the industry to change their approach from being self-centered towards being outside-centered.

How can the industry move closer to serving patient needs better?

Kasia Hein-Peters: As marketers, we should understand patients better, especially patient journeys and personas, and all their needs at different steps of the journey. This will help us to create better creative content, technological solutions and distribution of content. As a result, our marketing campaigns will be more impactful and will drive better health outcomes.

Wendy Erler: Full understanding of the legal and compliance guidelines around interaction with patients and what that looks like is critical. Companies are constantly evaluating risk and this drives a lot of commercial decision making. Truly building a patient-centric organization and delivering products and tools to patients that meet their needs should be the goal. Being a trusted resource for patients and caregivers should not be limited to a small number of people in the organization.

David St. Denis: I think we need to start by really listening to what patients tell us they need. I mean really listening, as opposed to confirming our own hypotheses and biases.

Dominique Cote: By having them at the table, by having them part of governmental decision on healthcare, by always seeking better understanding of their journey and needs and by challenging our own internal way of doing things and stop hiding behind regulations or comfort zones of how we have done things.

Dirk Abeel: By talking and listening to the patients, involved care-givers, payers, governments, patient groups, NGOs. Then by processing the gained insights. Define what is part of your purpose to begin with. Bring this into practice into context with your external key stakeholders, take the learning points and move on to the next stage of your patient centric journey.

How can commercial pharma people better connect with patients?

Dominique Cote: I believe that we can all become closer to the patient. I came to this industry because of a personal loss to cancer that made me want to make a difference. We have all been patients, parents, caregivers, and if we connect to these emotions and real purpose , we can become better at what we do in commercial.

David St. Denis: If we orient ourselves in our roles toward a single purpose—i.e. we are here to provide great health outcomes— then it can change the way we engage with our internal colleagues and our healthcare practitioners. Remembering what we do as an industry and why we do it can really be powerful in shaping the way we engage.

Kasia Hein-Peters: The simplest way is through social media listening, to understand better and respond directly to patient’s concerns. Also, different online forums, patient communities etc. can help us to engage. And, last but not least, working directly with patient advocacy groups on mutually beneficial projects.

Wendy Erler: Organizations can bring patient speakers inside and commercial team members should be required to attend external advocacy events and fundraisers where engagement with patients is organic and meaningful.

Dirk Abeel: This is a sensitive topic as you need to make sure that you do not manipulate patients for your own sake. I believe that patient-industry interactions should be moderated through non-direct -industry related third parties. Commercial people could learn by observing these kinds of discussions.

What is commercial pharma’s role in helping to educate patients?

It is critical as long as the information which is given is unbiased, factual and open about pros and cons while referring to branded solutions. It should focus on the whole journey and experience rather than solely on product usage. It should also be validated by recognized KOLs and other experts.

David St. Denis: For me this is clear, both for pharma and medtech. Alongside continued pursuit of innovation and the development of new treatments, I believe education will become our main product. The knowledge the industry has is immense. Until the day where we can directly educate our patients, we need to make our efforts in providing high quality medical education even more prominent in our mix. Commercial cannot necessarily educate healthcare practitioners directly, but we can make every effort to ensure our partners know what we have to offer and that it is being fully utilized.

Kasia Hein-Peters: We have run many disease education programs in the past. Now, through social media, we can engage with patients around disease understanding and its management in a more impactful way.

Wendy Erler: Commercial pharma has access to a wealth of data that can often come in in real time. As patient experience with a par- ticular therapy expands, more and more information is gathered. This information includes disease awareness and improved care. Commercial pharma has a responsibility to continue to provide education for the broader patient population as we learn more.

Dominique Cote: This is interesting as it has always been hard in light of regulation and the change in perception of the industry that some unfortunate stories have been created in the media. There are more and more companies starting to use patients, for example, in arthritis to educate physicians on the impact of an examination. We need to understand the patient journey and deliver better solutions to help each patient achieve their personal goals. In a world where technology is everywhere , where the amount of information is overwhelming and hard to discern right from wrong information, people want to have human contact and be listened to. This will help us have better focus from R&D to commercialization on what matters to patients, healthcare and us, finding the right sweet spot.


Jill Donahue

Principal, Engage Rx

Collen has 20+ years of experience in business consultJill, HBa, MAdEd, is on a mission to lift our industry, building purpose-driven, influential people. Through her keynote talks, workshops and award-winning mobile-learning programs, she is helping pharma people build trust, open doors and make a bigger impact. She also serves as Associate Editor of Healthcare Sales & Marketing.


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Dirk Abeel

Global Head Performance Development

Training and Field Force Effectiveness Nestlé Nutrition

David started his career at Nestlé Nutrition in 1988 as a medical sales rep where he got bitten by the medical rep microbe and saw how important genuine engagement with the HCP is in driving sustained business growth. As District manager and National Sales Manager he developed leadership, organizational and management skills. His biggest adventure started when he went to Africa for 5 years, building a winning medical field force strategy strongly embedded in the local realities with local people. Eventually, he came to Nestlé Nutrition Headquarters, where today he leads the global medical field force effectiveness team for both Wyeth and Nestlé Infant Nutrition.

Nestlé Nutrition is the global leader in Infant Nutrition focusing on the wellbeing of infants during first 1000 days of life (starting from conception onwards). Purpose: Enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future. Nestlé is part of the FTSE ethical index.

Dominique Côté

Vice President & Head of Global Marketing Excellence UCB Pharma

Dominique is an international executive recognized as a chief architect of global account program set-up, leading corporate changes and cultural shifts for customer-centric innovation and patient value. She has been a panelist as well as a keynote speaker in Europe and the US in the area of customer centricity/ engagement, global account management programming and pharma commercial excellence as a subject matter expert. She joined the pharma industry in 1990 and worked in roles of increasing responsibilities in sales, marketing and country management (P&L ). She then moved to global roles in learning & development as well as key account management centricity . She spent the last 6 years in global commercial operations/business effectiveness roles with Pfizer emerging markets , leading teams in more than 26 countries and Pfizer animal health (now Zoetis ) building commercial operations. She joined UCB Pharma in September 2016, as Global VP & Head Marketing Excellence practice. She was elected in 2011 to the Board of Director for the Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA), as well as serving on the steering team of the HBA (Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association) globalization project.

UCB is a global biopharmaceutical company with a focus on neurology and immunology. Total revenue grew to €4.2 billion in 2016. UCB has more than 7,700 people in all four corners of the globe, inspired by patients and driven by science. It has a solid platform for continuous growth with core products Cimzia®, Vimpat®, Neupro®, Keppra® and Briviact®, and is preparing the launch of a potential medicine to help patients with osteoporosis.

Wendy Erler

Vice President,

Patient Advocacy and Market Insights WAVE Life Sciences Ltd.

Wendy leads the early commercialization and advocacy teams responsible for Wave’s pipeline products. She has worked with professional advocacy organizations, patients and caregivers within diverse communities including Huntington’s Disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Hemophilia and ALS. Prior to joining Wave, she spent 15 years at Biogen and Shire gaining experience in patient advocacy, commercial execution, and program management across therapeutic areas including oncology, hematology, and neurology. Throughout her career, she has had sales and marketing roles in ten unique drug launches.

Wave Life Sciences is a biotechnology company focused on delivering transformational therapies for patients with serious, genetically-defined diseases. Its stereopure chemistry platform enables the creation of highly specific, well characterized oligonucleotides designed to deliver superior efficacy and safety across multiple therapeutic modalities. Its pipeline is initially focused on neurological disorders and extends across several other therapeutic areas.

Kasia Hein-Peters

Global Commercial Leader in Biopharmaceutical Industry Sanofi Pasteur

Trained as a medical doctor and innovation consultant, Kasia Hein-Peters, MD has more than 20 years of experience in pharmaceutical industry, in both developed and emerging markets. She specializes in launching new medicines and vaccines, managing product life-cycles, and developing integrated stakeholder communication and engagement campaigns. Through mentoring and coaching, Kasia builds highly performing, diverse, international teams. She frequently speaks on global brand management, multicultural marketing and human-centric approach to pharmaceutical marketing. Currently, Kasia is preparing launch of a new hexavalent vaccine as a Marketing Head within MCM Vaccine Co., a joint-venture between Sanofi Pasteur and Merck & Co., Inc.

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, provides more than 1 billion doses of vaccine each year, making it possible to immunize more than 500 million people across the globe. A world leader in the vaccine industry, Sanofi Pasteur has a broad range of quality vaccines to help protect against a number of infectious diseases. The company’s heritage, to create vaccines that help protect life, dates back more than a century. Sanofi Pasteur is the largest company entirely dedicated to vaccines. Every day, the company invests more than €1 million in research and development.

David St. Denis

Chief Operations Officer Admedus

David St. Denis is an accomplished senior healthcare leader with a systematic and metrics-driven approach spanning 20 years of proven business results at the regional and global levels within the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors. Most recently at Merck in Germany, he headed commercial operations for Europe and Canada. He has an extensive track record in charge of complex cross-functional and multi-cultural teams that have achieved impressive business objectives in both mature markets (US, Europe, Japan) and developing markets (China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico). His core competencies include operations management, strategy development, marketing and sales, new product introduction and launch excellence, market access and pricing.

Admedus (ASX:AHZ) is a medical technologies company delivering clinically superior solutions that help healthcare professionals create life-changing outcomes for patients. Its focus is on investing in and developing next generation technologies with world class partners, acquiring strategic assets to grow product and service offerings and expanding revenues from our existing medical sales and distribution business. The company has assets from research and development through clinical development as well as sales, marketing and distribution.