Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas Ulcers

So it’s that time of the year again of festivities, frolicking and overindulging. However all this seasonal gluttony is very taxing on the poor old digestive system. According to the BBC, we Brits go boozing 41 % more in December than any other month in the year. Not only that but the estimated 7000 calories we eat on Christmas day, more than 3 times the recommended daily allowance, can  lead to all sorts of indigestion issues, especially for those who forgo the traditional after lunch walk to stay in and ‘watch’ the Queens speech.

Don’t blame all gastritis on overindulging though. Scientific research has uncovered many other factors contributing to stomach related issues. One brave Ozzie researcher suspected that the presence of the H.pylori bacterium in the stomach was playing a part in some stomach ulcers. However he had few supporters in his whacky theory and so to prove his point he drank a beaker full of the bacteria and then experience nausea and vomiting for several days. Whilst some would say this is to be expected, having foolishly contaminated himself with bacteria, an endoscopy 10 days later showed that Dr Barry Marshall had in fact given himself gastritis, proving his theory perfectly.

Therefore if you are one of the 25 % of us who naturally have H.pylori lying in our stomachs be wary of the excesses that Christmas this year will surely offer. And for those other 75 % who are luckily H.pylori free don’t be so cocky; that ibuprofen or paracetamol that cures the after-effects of a heavy night may in fact be just as large a contributing factor.
This Christmas special for our blog was written by Becky Geffen

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Benefits of Becoming a Cyborg: improving outcomes by keeping us honest

One of the most exciting current developments in mobile health technology is the increasing availability of smartphone-based health monitoring accessories.  Devices currently on the market are mostly focused on cardiovascular monitoring or diabetes testing, but as the space evolves, more diverse technology will become available. 

Why are these tools so valuable?  At a topline level, it’s because they keep us honest.  As market researchers, we’re well aware of common human biases that affect how all of us self-report information to others.  For instance, humans have an inherent bias towards optimism which may cause us to gloss over negative items in our health history, sometimes depending on how they were experienced (see work from Daniel Kahneman, e.g. Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2011).  We might forget how many times we’ve felt terrible due to a chronic condition; or, at our annual check-up, we may neglect to mention the few small health quirks that made us think “huh, that seems weird, I should mention that at my checkup…” over the previous year, especially if we ultimately felt ok after they had passed.

Further, the way each patient talks about their disease can be unique.  A worried or scared patient with a newly-developed issue might recall their symptoms as much worse than they were at the time.  Or, a patient who’s hoping to avoid medications might gloss over or downplay the significance of their symptoms.

For doctors and researchers alike, it’s essential for patients’ health information to be as correct, standardized, and reliable as possible.  Wearable health monitors not only ensure that patient data is collected accurately, but they also allow healthcare providers to capture a wide picture of the patient’s health in a variety of settings, granting a more complete picture of health.  For instance, sometimes a patient may come into a doctor’s office with a complaint that can’t be replicated while the patient is there (e.g. heart palpitations or muscle spasms).  More continuous monitoring of the patient’s health can help doctors to gain an accurate understanding of just how frequently and severely these issues are occurring in the patient’s daily life.

Who may want to take advantage of wearable health monitors?

In some cases, patients may feel that their annual readings at a doctors’ office aren’t providing their doctor with a full and accurate picture of health.  For instance, a patient who’s nervous about their blood pressure readings (or even just interacting with a doctor in general) may start to panic right before that test is given, resulting in a reading that’s more extreme than their usual levels and subsequently, a bit of a misdiagnosis.  In a case like this, a portable health monitor worn during the patient’s everyday life could help give a concerned doctor a broader look into the patient’s blood pressure in a variety of settings.

Other types of mobile health tools, such as cardiovascular monitors, can save patients the time, cost, and effort of coming into a healthcare provider’s office just to have a certain test done.  Though current technologies may not be at this level yet, in the future, perhaps patients who require regular monitoring after surgery or a prescription change can electronically submit their test results directly and securely to their physician, helping to reduce costs to the patient and freeing up the healthcare staff to spend more time seeing patients for more substantive visits.

Some devices, like the Scanadu Scout, are designed for a future where we can all monitor all of our vital signs for early warnings of negative events.  In its early stages, such a device might cause a lot of false alarm, as patients may be unable to make reliable, educated judgments from their data.  However, in time, perhaps systems like these can monitor a range of vital signals and health outcomes that are relevant to an individual’s specific risk profile and baseline health (e.g. perhaps a complex disease runs in one’s family, and monitoring for just one vital or another alone wouldn’t catch it effectively). 

At Branding Science, we’re passionate about information and data, and we’re also firm believers that well-organized data tell a story.  The true value of such monitors is in their ability to work in the context of other forms of treatment and help a physician make sense of a patient’s symptoms and future potential for illness.  We look forward to seeing how current and future technologies make sense of large amounts of health data to make a difference in patients’ lives!

Written by Brittani Baxter in our San Francisco Office

Friday, 1 November 2013

Weekly Health news round up

It’s been a week where a raging storm hit the southern shores of the UK and transport came to a standstill, the ‘hacking scandal’ has finally come to court, and a proposed fizzy drink tax to tackle obesity…

Alzheimer's insight from DNA study

MS pill Tecfidera sales a triumph for Biogen

Actelion's PAH drug Opsumit recommended for EU approval

FDA suspends sale of Ariad’s cancer

29% of large trials unpublished after five years

Communicating diabetes to the online masses - how can pharma take advantage?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Public Health: Lunch in 2063

‘Left unchecked, climate change aligned with population explosion and low agricultural yields will drastically increase global poverty and hunger over the next two decades’, warns the international aid organization Oxfam in a report released in May 2011.

Ryan Cheti and Shay Ola, founders of the Rebel Dining Society, have come up with a way in which we in the UK can help the global food crisis by consuming our protein from a more sustainable source than livestock. Their culinary inspiration centres on us obtaining our daily protein requirements from the humble insect; a concept which appears to be rather remarkable in the UK but is in fact already adopted by 80 % of the world’s population.

I attended a Sunday dinner that Cheti and Ola believe (or at least hope) will become customary in the future. The menu consisted of four dim sums filled with:

1.       Mealworms with forbidden rice and oyster mushrooms
2.       Locusts with shiro simeji and lotus root
3.       Mealworm with water chestnut and shitake mushroom
4.       Locusts with taro root and hon shimeji

Having turned up expecting a tasty leg of lamb for my supper, I was a bit dismayed to find out that I would in fact be eating insects and tried to scoff as many of the courses as possible before finding out the finer details of the menu. Up until the point where the menu was revealed though, I thought that the dim sums were incredibly tasty and was thankful that they did not resemble any insects in the slightest (the key I believe to eating unconventional food).

This ‘gourmet’ dining experience was designed to promote sustainability in our ever expanding world. However I believe that insect protein could also play a role when looking after our health. Currently adults in the UK obtain most of their protein from meat (British Nutrition Foundation), but this source can be high in saturated fat leading to raised cholesterol levels and subsequent health issues. 
Insects offer a concentrated source of protein, with lower saturated fat levels than the traditional meats. Not only do some insects contain over 60 % protein, but for those of us requiring a quick refuel, chomping away on the African termite can deliver a whopping 761 calories per 100g as well (maybe not so appealing to some).

Insects are not only a high energy and protein source. The call for free vitamins on the NHS by Prof Dame Sally Davies last week has been received with some controversy as surely an encouragement to increase kids intake of fruit and vegetables would be better. However insects could step in and save the day here again being packed full of vitamins and minerals with 100 g of the Angolan caterpillar Angolan providing over 100 % of your recommended daily allowance for iron, copper, zinc and vitamins B1 and  B2 (reviewed by DeFoliart, Crop Protection).

So seeing as insects have all these wonderful benefits and are eaten by the majority of other countries already, why don’t we see them being used more in the UK? One of the main problems is sourcing them. Ray and Cheti imported their locusts and mealworms all the way over from Denmark (the same suppliers which Noma, third best restaurant in the world, use). Currently insects are expensive to buy in the UK, one retailer offering 10 locusts for £11.54, and are seen (to some) as a luxury in Britain. However as the general population becomes accustomed to the idea of eating insects, this delicacy could become cheap and easy to produce, with insect farms being built in urban areas, requiring minimal space and attention. As non-sentient animals, they may also be seen as a protein source for those vegetarians who choose their lifestyle due to ethical reasons.
I imagine though that once the British public get over the idea that insects are too gross to eat, then they could be a good, cheap, tasty source of protein. However I’m not too sure I’m willing to regularly replace my Sunday roast beef with insect dumplings in the future.

For more information on our opinions on the ever changing public health issues, get in touch with us. Follow us @BrandingScience on Twitter or visit our LinkedIn company page.

Becky Geffen Graduate Research Executive
  • BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences from Newcastle University majoring in medicinal chemistry
  • MSc Pharmacology from Oxford University
  • Research experience in anticancer drug design and the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance


Friday, 25 October 2013

Weekly Health news round up

It’s been a week where accusations and relationships have been put to the test, after the German Chancellor is accusing the US of spying on her phone conversations.

Simon Stevens named chief executive of NHS England

England's health divide: how do life expectancies compare?

Butter is bad – a myth we've been fed by the 'healthy eating' industry

Baldness treatment a 'step closer' launches this Friday, aims to become "Facebook of Health"


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Something Wicked This Way Comes

In the February of 1692, two girls from Salem Village in the young American colonies began to suffer from strange fits that left them screaming, uttering strange sounds, contorting into strange positions, and with violent outbursts. A minister from a nearby town described their illness as “beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect” and – assuming that only the supernatural could cause this illness - the Salem Village soon began the famous Salem Witch Trials.

Swept up by hysteria, everyone accused their neighbors, friends, and family of witchcraft. The town executed twenty people, nineteen by hanging and one by pressing to death when he failed to plead guilty. Five more of the accused died in prison.  The final trial took place in May 1693 and, with the defendants found not guilty, the case officially ended – at least judicially. The trials never died in the mind of the public, however, and for the decades and centuries that followed it obsessed the public with its plethora of unanswered questions.

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is based on the witch trials.

One of the main questions: what caused those girls to act so strangely and spark the craze of paranoia that led to so many deaths? Many theories have been put forward throughout the centuries, mostly based on the assumption that the girls faked their illness either to fuel family rivalries or as a cruel prank.

In 1976, Linnda R. Carporael proposed a new hypothesis: that the girls were suffering from poisoning by ergot-tainted rye. Their symptoms cited in the trials – convulsion, hallucination, crawling sensations in the skin, tingling in the fingers, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, mania, psychosis, and delirium – match that of ergotism. Moreover, there was an abundance of rye in the area and, during those years, the right weather conditions for ergot to flourish. Although this theory has been subject to some academic debate, it is still one of the most widely accepted reasons behind the seventeenth century hysteria. 

Ergot is a group of fungus whose consumption causes a number of severe pathological syndromes in humans or other animals. As early as 1095, a special hospital was founded to treat the symptoms of ergotism. The condition gained the nickname “St. Anthony’s Fire” for the order of monks who founded the hospital and the burning sensation ergot poisoning causes in the limbs of the contaminated.
The effects of ergot have also been used deliberately in drugs. As Paul L. Schiff Jr. explains:
In 1582 a preparation of ergot that was employed in small doses by midwives to produce strong uterine contractions was described by Adam Lonicer in his Kreuterbuch. The use of ergot as an oxytocic in childbirth became very popular in France, Germany, and the United States. The first use of the drug in official medicine was described by the American physician John Stearns in 1808, when he reported on the uterine contractile actions of a preparation of ergot obtained from blackened granary rye as a remedy for “quickening childbirth.” However, shortly thereafter the number of stillborn neonates rose to a point that the Medical Society of New York initiated an investigation. As a result of this enquiry, it was recommended in 1824 that ergot only be used in the control of postpartum hemorrhage. Ergot was introduced into the first edition of the United States Pharmacopeia in 1820 and into the London Pharmacopeia in 1836.
In modern pharmaceuticals, ergot is used in medicines in the form of ergotamine. One example is Cafergot, a Novartis drug which is used to treat migraine headaches. Although cases are rare, the Novartis Consumer Information cites a risk of developing ergotism associated with the drug. Cafergot was discontinued in the UK in 2012. Ergoline alkaloids, originally isolated from ergot fungus, is also used in pharmaceuticals for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, albeit usually in synthetic derivatives.
It is incredible to consider that we are now able to harness this poison - which has tortured humanity for millennia – for good. Yet the risk of poisoning still remains high, with several outbreaks of ergotism in the twentieth century. The risk of witchcraft accusations may be lower in this day and age, but with Halloween approaching… perhaps it’s best if you watch what you eat.
Paul L. Schiff, Jr. "Ergot and Its Alkaloids" in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, October 15 2006.
“Ergot” from Wikipedia.
“Ergotism” from Wikipedia.
“Ergotamine” from Wikipedia.
“Salem Witch Trials” from Wikipedia.
"Cafergot” from
“Cafergot: Consumer Information” from the Novartis Canadian Website

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Understanding the cultural values influencing patients

Odette Navarro and Axel Rousseau from Branding Science will be facilitating at EPhMRA Asia in Singapore (November the 14th, 14.35 - 15.05) a session on understanding cultural differences to optimise research and marketing.
Join us to hear more!

Exploring 3 markets, our session will demonstrate the importance of understanding how cultural values may lead to certain behaviours and therefore, the importance of taking this into account when designing and analysing patient research.  Using a framework developed by social academic - Professor Geert Hofstede, the speakers will show how various identifiable cultural dimensions can be used to make cultural comparisons and can then be used to adapt research design and methodology to facilitate research engagement.

Odette Navarro,  Managing Director,  Branding Science - Philippines / Asia and  Axel Rousseau,  Research Manager,  Branding Science - Japan / Asia
Yong Huey Ling - IMS Health, China

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Wearable Gadgets in Healthcare - Google Glass

Wearable gadgets are rapidly becoming commonplace. At the San Francisco wearable technology conference and fashion show last Monday, Manish Chandra, a tech entrepreneur, stated that “Everyone agrees the race is just beginning, and I think we’re going to see some very, very big leaps in just the next year.” (Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce). Even as of this afternoon, I have jumped on the bandwagon and been allocated the Branding Science Jawbone wristband which will track my movements and sleep patterns over the next week and feed this data back to me. What Google have gone and questioned is, why not further extend the function of these wearable devices so that your phone, camera and the internet can actually be an extendable part of you.

And this is exactly what Google Glass is pioneering. The Google Glass principle is to work as a smartphone device which completely frees up your hands. You can send text messages, set reminders, take photos or navigate your way around new cities, all just by giving a voice command. These examples of the uses of Glass are the mere tip of the iceberg, with the tiny screen projected at the top right corner of your vision compatible with a vast range of applications.

Whilst undoubtedly this is an incredibly impressive and innovative technology, the number of people glued to their smartphones is already removing us from reality enough. According to The Telegraph, the average user taps away for over 2 hours a day even though only 12 minutes of this time is actually spent using the traditional phoning function. Concerns have been raised about the risk that these glasses, which connect you to the internet 24/7, will push us further down this rickety road. Whilst Google Glass has opposed this criticism by suggesting that their device provides the option for the wearers to be looking up and around at the real world rather than be looking down at their phone, and yet still being made aware of those essential emails, I can’t see this device becoming mainstream with the public in the near future, especially not with the expected hefty price tag; the developer version costs £985 although the consumer version is expected to be a little cheaper.

However I do believe the glasses could have many useful applications, worth disrupting your vision for. One of these such functions will be in the world of healthcare. This can be from a consumer point of view and offer an expansion of the already wearable devices on the market. The athlete competing in endurance races can have reminders pop up in his vision to rehydrate or re-energise when devices measure that blood sugar levels are falling. Alternatively those who are on a health kick can be advised of the healthy choice on the menu when Google Glass identifies the restaurant they have just arrived at.  

There are a whirlwind of possibilities of technological advances for the pharmaceutical industry as well as doctors using the Google Glass. Philips and Accenture have partnered to come up with a concept allowing physicians to summon patient details, thereby giving them access to important information such as vital signs, allergies and weight, all whilst remaining hands free to perform procedures and concentrate on the surgery or examination in progress.

Other possibilities lie in field of pharmaceutical sales. Evolving from the iPad and other sales materials, the Google Glass can give sales reps quick answers to doctor’s questions by providing information such as insert leaflets as an app on the Google Glass system.  
These huge potentials are obviously still in the pipeline, with the Google Glass yet to be released for general sale. However if we are listening to the rumours, we can expect the Google Glass to be launched some point towards the end of this year or at the beginning of 2014, and it will be interesting to see how the Google Glass capacity grows…watch this space!

For more information on how we think the world of healthcare technology is changing, get in touch with us. Follow us @BrandingScience on Twitter or visit our LinkedIn company page.


Becky Geffen Graduate Research Executive
-       BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences from Newcastle University majoring in medicinal chemistry
-       MSc Pharmacology from Oxford University
-       Research experience in anticancer drug design and the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance




Thursday, 21 March 2013

How to improve patient adherence?

On the 14th of March, Julie Buis (Aequus Research) and Peter Cunningham (Branding Science Group) delivered an EPhMRA webinar dedicated to patient adherence.

It was recognised that non-adherence to treatment is under-evaluated and that it has a considerable financial impact. Some groups of patients are more likely than others to show poor adherence to treatments and adherence varies across treatments and therapy areas. There are many causes for the lack of adherence, which may leave physicians frustrated and/or powerless. The pharmaceutical industry may be able to help, by developing patient support materials and programs, that will be endorsed by the relevant healthcare professionals. 

But beyond the execution and tools such as youtube videos and leaflets, we need to understand the underlying causes of non adherence as well as the key drivers for adherence. Understanding what drives adherence as well as what drives the lack of adherence will enable to develop strategies to encourage the right behaviour.

However, encouraging a certain behaviour (in this case patient adherence) is a very particular communication challenge because behaviours result from a multiplicity of interdependent factors. Hence, to increase patient adherence, the pharma industry and physicians alike need to understand the language as well as the arguments that resonate with patients.

The short film below illustrates the various purposes of communication and how a better understanding of your audience will help shape stronger, more effective messages.

If you would like to learn more about patient adherence, the webinar is still available for members on the EPhMRA website. It discussed the definitions of patient adherence and why it is an important issue for the pharmaceutical industry. It also explored further the causes for poor adherence and commented on the current array of programs designed to improve adherence.

The author: Axel Rousseau is brand scientist at Branding-Science and has been working on international market research and consultancy since 2008.

Friday, 15 February 2013

MacMillan: No one should face cancer alone

The British Charity Macmillan recently launched a new campaign, called 'No one should face cancer alone'.

In addition to the spot below, the campaign includes a series of testimonies from cancer patients and their relatives for a powerful call to action.


The author: Axel Rousseau is brand scientist (SRE) at Branding-Science and has been working on international market research and consultancy since 2008.