Friday, 19 December 2014

What Ebola can teach us about the endurance of the human spirit

Reading my TIME magazine entitled ‘Stopping Ebola’ I’m looking at a front page with a big blue surgical glove. Other images I have seen are of cold, clinical lab settings with the headlines ‘Killer Virus!’ and masks. Lots of masks and they make it very difficult for me to think about the people behind them. Or the people at the heart of this latest health outbreak, and not just the virus itself.

 Although not everyone has lost sight of the people. Those like Geoff Eaton know that it’s not just about stopping the virus, but equipping those that are affected by the virus with the power to manage the outbreak. Our greatest weapon, he believes, are the people. Not just the pharmaceutical companies like GSK and J&J, who are gearing themselves up to provide drugs; it’s the people who are important.
Geoff sits on the International board of Masanga hospital. You’ve probably never heard of it, even though you read in your papers every day about the Ebola virus. Masanga is in Sierra Leone, which as you will know from those papers is one of the areas in West Africa much affected by the outbreak.

Masanga has a long history of providing Sierra Leone with healthcare – responsible for the care of 400,000 people in the district of Tonkolili – first as a leprosy hospital, built in a remote location. It’s a setting which makes it ideal for the task at hand of aiding those with Ebola and other health issues in Sierra Leone.

I don’t really like to talk figures because if you, like me have trouble quantifying them in real terms, then they don’t tend to carry much weight. But one figure did hit home. The budget of Masanga hospital is $400,000 a year. Sound a lot? Not when you put it into context that the cost of one single kidney organ transplant is around $246,000 in the US. And that doesn’t include the dollar amounts of the procedure or the non-medical costs. Staggering.

So why have I chosen to talk about Masanga hospital?  Well, there are many hospitals in Africa that are struggling with the Ebola outbreak. They are underfunded, under resourced and some lack the knowledge of how to perform basic, lifesaving procedures. We could talk about all of those, but then how would we know the best way to make a difference? What we could do to help?
Well, Masanga to me is an example of what one hospital is doing, but what many can do. Though clinical activities have been suspended due to the Ebola outbreak, the hospital  hasn’t given up hope. Geoff Eaton says:

“We hope to recommence activities as soon as we can safely isolate patients; we have a reliable and clean water supply and an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.”

Geoff has fond memories of Masanga. In our interview, he gave me a rich, descriptive walk-through of the hospital and its layout from his visits there in 2012. When he tells me about the make-shift shower they built in the jungle you actually feel his pride in the place and the people he met.
Which is why he has aimed to continue the good work of Masanga, not only in the short term but also in the long term too. Working with a huge international network, they are focused on many initiatives that include a surgical training programme to help increase the number of qualified surgeons in the (entire) country from a tiny 10 to as many as possible. They are also using gamification to train remote community healthcare workers with the knowledge and skills they need to perform more and more procedures. They can achieve this using tablets and web platforms to reach those communities, employing the types of technologies which are vital to overcoming the challenges of illiteracy in some areas.

This isn’t just about the Ebola outbreak, nor is it about the hospital, but it’s about the long lasting empowerment of the people there.
And what is Geoff doing to help those people?

Inspired by Masanga hospital’s refusal to give up the programme, on the 25th and 26th October he and his son ran their fifth Mountain Marathon, which he explains as an exhilarating test of survival instincts, navigational skills and the bond between father and son. There are times when you want to quit during the 2 day marathon in the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland (See pictures below) he told me, but you are driven forwards by the innate desire within us all to keep going, against all odds.

This isn’t about Ebola’s ability to adapt and survive in the human world. It’s about the enduring nature of the human spirit, our ability to work together and find solutions, sharing our experiences and teaching those lessons to each other, so that the knowledge will continue to evolve and inspire long lasting change for the better. Giving Ebola a face helps to remember that – not the figure behind the mask or the squiggly magnified Filovirus – and what better face than Masanga hospital as it continues to fight despite all the setbacks it has endured.

Geoff and his son Patrick have already raised a whopping total of £49,139.05, but if you’re interested in donating then it’s still possible; click here for more details
Also, the hospital initiative has been selected by the Telegraph for their annual Christmas appeal, link here

To learn more about Masanga hospital and the work they are doing, visit the website

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

5 Reasons Why Storytelling Sells: The psychology of storytelling and what it means for pharmaceutical marketing

Homer was one of the first to do it. Shakespeare was a master. Jane Austen captured millions of hearts with hers. And even E.J James (of 50 Shades of Grey fame) managed to make a generation burn with passion.
What exactly am I referring to?
The story. Something that can be as simple as ‘I went to the shops to buy some bread’ all the way to Tolstoy’s complicated and lengthy ‘War and Peace.’
What does this have to do with pharmaceutical marketing?
Well, for me to make my point, I draw on the psychologist Nigel Holt who argues that every one of us wants to be the protagonist of a story, such that we seek out that which enables this fantasy to be lived:

In this article I will examine the theory behind why stories are effective at selling and how they are pivotal to the success of a brand as well as show that it is grounded in some pretty fundamental psychology. Then I will argue why these reasons make it even more critical for pharma to start using the story to sell their brands.

1.     We think narratively:

People typically tend to think narratively rather than argumentatively or paradigmatically. Even though early human cultures developed independently, they still simultaneously developed storytelling. And it’s been going on for thousands of years. The Epic of Gilgamesh was written in 3,000 BC and whilst it was the first to be recorded, it is most definitely not the first story ever told. Nowadays we don’t necessarily gather round the fire to share them, but we still visit cinemas frequently for the same purpose. Which makes storytelling an essential part of what it means to be human.

2.     We store information episodically:

Our brains are expertly adapted to store a substantial amount of information through what psychologists refer to as ‘episodic memory.’ The prominent cognitive psychologist Endel Tulving differentiated this type of memory from ‘semantic memory,’ which is more factual and used to store names of places, people etc. Episodic memory is the brain’s in-built story library that includes ‘inciting incidents, experiences, outcomes/evaluations, and summaries/nuances of person to-person and person-and-brand relationships within specific contexts’ (Schank, 1990).

3.     We seek clarity:

Stories are essential for humans to make sense of events and prior conversations and outcomes. Often the processing demands on the brain are too high and a story represents a shortcut for conveying large volumes of data into a concise, easy to digest message. Moreover, repetition allows the individual to make more and more sense of the main archetype (prototypes of behaviour that individuals can emulate) that is contained within a story. Much in the way that BMW contains the archetype of the suave, suit-wearing businessman - it is the story that those purchasing a BMW can tell every time they pull up in their shiny silver 3 series.

4.     We are pleasure seekers:

There are as many benefits for the author of a story as there are for the person receiving the story. Yet we often think of this process being unidirectional, and the information only important for the listener. The act of retrieving, reliving and repeat watching a story provides the author with a stimulating emotional experience, such that it represents a form of pleasure seeking behaviour. In the words of Aristotle, storytelling can provide a state of ‘proper pleasure’ for the author.

5.     We use Brands to seek pleasure:

Successful brands are those that offer a story to their customers in order for them to, by purchasing the brand, attach themselves to the main archetype and tell the story to others. Therefore, brands play a critical role in ‘enabling consumers to achieve proper pleasure…and reliving the experience by periodically retelling a given story each time they use the brand.’ In a nut-shell “people need help in finding what makes them happy, and this is where marketing comes in” (Bagozzi & Nataraajan, 2000).

So why should Pharma use storytelling in their selling?

Doctors, for all their years of intense training, vast medical knowledge and various degrees, are human too. Which makes them subject to the same psychological processes as you or I. Meaning that all the desires and behaviours I have described in this article are applicable to them also.

Therefore, in order to successfully convey the key benefits of their products, Pharma must create their ‘brand story.’ This story should contain archetypes – The relaxed doctor, The Confident Prescriber – that their customers can achieve every time they use Brand X. Which will ensure a wealth of positive experience and result in brand loyalty, such that the brand story can even protect against patency expiration.

At Branding Science, we regularly work collaboratively with our clients in order to equip their brand teams with not only their brand story, but the tools to build their marketing strategy around this story and the confidence to take that to their customers in the field.

More and more we are seeing Brand teams commission this line of storytelling / sales effectiveness training, with our CompComms™ methodology, that gives our clients the space to align the team on the most impactful story through which to convey the key benefits of their brand.

Sofia is a Senior Research Executive at Branding Science and has been involved in both traditional market research as well as healthcare consultancy projects mentioned in this article.

If you have any questions, then please contact

Or follow us on twitter: @brandingscience

Reference: Woodside, A. G., S. Sood, and K. R. Miller (2008). “When consumers and brands talk: Storytelling theory and research in psychology and marketing.” Psychology and Marketing, 25 (2): 97-145.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cyber-Immortality and Testosterone: The Quest for a Modern Day “Fountain of Youth”

As far as I am concerned, Woody Allen hit the nail on the head with regard to achieving immortality:

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying."

The idea of living forever seems fantastical, absurd, and even potentially undesirable – yet it is a concept that has haunted mankind throughout literature, art, and even history. Raised to believe death is inevitable; would you take immortality given the chance? And more to the point, why haven’t we figured it out yet?

Considering we have been searching for a solution since the 5th Century BC, old Herodotus speculating at the existence of an Ethiopian fountain of youth, one would think that we might have cracked it by now. Indeed, from the fountain of youth, to the Holy Grail, to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone, eternal life has been on our minds.
Now whilst some might be satisfied with myths, fantasies, and worldwide bestsellers, I demand some more substantial evidence that we are making progress in the area.

In many ways, things are looking promising:
The average life expectancy – thanks to our friends in the medical and sanitation industries – has more than doubled in the past 200 years. In the 1800’s we could expect to live to a meager 35, barely enough time to pay off the mortgage. Now in the UK we luxuriate with 81 years on average – and we still only rank 29th worldwide! Jeanne Calment, the Usane Bolt of Living for a really long time, made it to 122 years old. It is even now thought that the first person who will make it to 150 years of age has already been born. If our life expectancy could more than double in 200 years, could it do so again? In 2200 will our great great great great grandchildren be celebrating their 162nd birthdays?

Unfortunately diseases related to aging, like Heart disease or Alzheimer’s, currently stand between us and the glorious prospect living longer than those smug Galápagos tortoises. Our bodies wear out – and many researchers believe there is a limit to the age we can achieve. Luckily, there might just be a solution. Get rid of these pesky things called bodies.

Ray Kurzweil, American author, computer scientist, and head of engineering at Google, looks forward to an event that he dubs “the singularity” - the point at which we become Humans 2.0, Humans at one with machines. Flesh, blood and bone aren’t particularly durable – and he suggests we adopt something with a little more longevity.
Whilst this might seem like science fiction, it is interesting to note that out his 109 predictions, 89 have come true. These include translating telephones which allow people to speak to each other in different languages, books being read on screens, and chess software beating human players.
For all this optimism and idealism –it would seem that unfortunately there are some enormous hurdles standing between us and immortality.
Our computers today do not mirror the architecture of the brain – digitalizing information is one thing, but our brains learn, develop, and adapt to new situations. Dr. Michio Kaku believes that this is not something we will see in machines in our lifetime. This is not even to mention the other technical, ethical and socio-economic issues that stand between us and our robot-selves
So is there another way? Whilst technology might afford us immortality in years to come, it is not obvious when, and exactly how it might do this. Instead we might find solace in turning to the world of pharmaceuticals. Whilst this industry might not yet be able to provide with the answer for eternal life, might it provide us with the stepping stones?  
In recent years there has been a boom in hormone therapy, especially with regard to boosting “low T levels” in men. Essentially, a slow and gradual decline of testosterone (or “T”) production is a normal and generally expected process as men age. However, often it comes with rather unsavoury results. From diminished sex drive, to reduced muscle mass, a deficiency in hormone “T” is often regarded as one of the burdens of ageing.

It has been established that a man’s testosterone levels peak in his 20s, and then fall by 1-2% per year. The process of ageing, and testosterone levels seem to be inextricably linked. What happens then, if we reverse this process; if instead of declining, you maintain a high “T” level? Certainly companies like The Low T Centre like to believe that they have stumbled upon a hormone filled fountain of youth. With the promise of “Power, performance, and passion,” the plosive marketing label seems to embody the vitality we crave as our bodies start to crumble.

Yet much like Ponce de Leon’s endeavour to find the fountain of youth, it seems the age-reversing effect of “T” might be misleading. Whilst U.S prescription testosterone sales might have hit 2.4 billion in 2013 (predicted to reach 3.8 billion by 2018) the treatments being used are yet to gain FDA approval. As Andrea Fischer bluntly expressed in a statement for TIME magazine:

“There are no testosterone drugs approved as a treatment for low testosterone levels, often referred to as “Low T” without an associated medical condition.”

Considering the FDA have still to conduct large-scale, randomized clinical trials, many Doctors have a hard time trusting the positive effects of testosterone therapy. Several smaller trials indicate that Testosterone therapy could be having an adverse effect on men’s health, and Canada’s health authorities even issued a warning stating that “T” therapy could lead to “serious and possible life-threatening heart and blood vessel problems, such as heart attack, stroke, blood clots and increased or irregular heart rate.” While there have been trials which indicate that “T” therapy does not elevate the risk of heart disease, in our quest for immortality we must remain suspicious of any possible side-effects.
Indeed the question of “T” therapy increasing the risk of cancers sets alarm bells ringing. Some Doctors “fear that testosterone could inflame undetected tumours.”[1] Even more sinister is the suspected correlation to the severity of prostate cancer growth rate. Bearing in mind prostate cancer is the leading cause of death amongst ageing men – one might compare testosterone treatment, as David Von Drehle did, to dropping matches onto a “dry forest floor.”

As large scale clinical trials have yet to be conducted, these theories can largely be described as conjecture – yet the fact still remains, very little is known about the actual effects of testosterone treatment. 
Questions have even been raised as to whether the secret to the supposed age-defying effects lies in the marketing! When provided with an invigorating, libido-boosting miracle treatment, men find themselves motivated to exercise, lose weight, and eventually even see the return of the libido they enjoyed in their younger years. Whilst testosterone obviously does have an impact on the body, (most noticeable of course during puberty), many speculate that it is simply the promise of a new, invigorated lifestyle that provokes the traditional placebo effect. Does the expectation of vitality induce the effect? Does the fountain then, dwell in our own minds?
As it stands, the use of testosterone to fend off the effects age is a veritable mine-field of untested, and possibly placebic treatments. Even if it does restore elements of formative years, can we ever realistically claim that this hormone is the key to immortality?

So, to date, our technology cannot successfully mimic the human mind, nor can the pharmaceutical industry guarantee the rejuvenation of age. So where the do we turn?

Potentially one might be tempted by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation - “the world leader in cryonics, cryonics research, and cryonics technology.” In other words – you follow in the footsteps of Walt Disney and freeze yourself until they figure out this immortality malarkey.

The author: Cameron Anderson, Branding Science summer intern, 2014

[1] Time Magazine – David Von Drehle

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Not So Healthy Glow

To the class of 99’ Baz Lurhman bestowed a precious piece of advice, “Everybody is free to wear sunscreen”. So why still after extensive research and findings on skin damage do people choose not to? Worshippers of the sun insist on jetting off to exotic locations to sizzle their skin and apply oils, lotions and concoctions to ensure that their bodies become suitably singed and scorched, blistered and burnt.

In an article published by Pharma Times it was revealed that skin cancer referrals are up by 41% in just five years causing the annual treatment bill to inflate up to over £95 million. Figures like these should logically instigate a change in people’s attitudes to UV tanning. Yet, the costs and consequences shown in such studies seems to have little effect and a disparity between the knowledge of skin cancer and the effect on the self still exists. The behavioural theory that people, “choose to experience rewards now and pain later” (Ainslie & Haslam, 1992; Read & Loewenstein, 2000), suggests that the instant results provided by tanning cause the choice to look good and be socially accepted to override health concerns. Therefore, people still continue to expose themselves to harmful UV rays despite the rise in skin cancer cases.

Great increases in skin cancer cases are catalysing the production of new and advanced treatments. With the market for melanoma treatments set to grow Pharma companies are racing to get their drugs on to the market. For example, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s success with their immunotherapy drug, Yervoy, is now facing challenges from new and competitive brands. Recent approval and availability of drugs like Merck and Co. Inc.’s, Keytrunda, has caused choices to be revaluated and market trends to shift. The recent allegations from Bristol Myers Squibb against Merck and Co. for supposed infringement really highlights the intensity of the competition between emerging immunotherapy melanoma therapies. Therefore, essential insight into consumer markets can be said to be crucial as brands need to develop methods that allow them to become the first choice drug. Set apart from the rest of the market with a unique image that is upheld and preserved.

Bronzed hasn’t always denoted beauty. Up until the early twentieth century, western culture associated fair and light complexions with wealth and affluence. However, in 1923 design icon Coco Chanel’s sun-kissed glow definitively altered perceptions on skin tone. Tanned skin became a fashion fuelled concept. By being incorporated into an industry with such immense social and commercial power, the image of the healthy tan continued to infiltrate into the public consciousness and still remains prevalent today.

The link between solar exposure and health is a complex one. Despite the levels of incurred skin damage, scientists have outlined the beneficial effects of the sun in boosting Vitamin D levels. Outdoor work has also been linked to treating depression. The Severn Project in Bristol, which rehabilitates recovering drug and alcohol addicts by engaging them in horticultural work, provides evidence that working out in the sun does have a positive impact on well-being.

Of course it is possible to make a conscious effort to protect our skin by wearing sun screens and blocks. To what extent are sunscreen brands providing “protection” for our skin though? After all, we wouldn’t put harmful chemicals into our bodies so why would we put them onto our skin? When the FDA brought in new regulations for sunscreens in 2012 Lydia Valazquez stated that, “we want consumers to understand that not all sunscreens are created equal”. Valazquez’s statement clearly outlines that we must be thoughtful about our choices. Nevertheless, factors in our everyday lifestyles throw our choices into conflict. Reassurance and safety are inextricably connected with the brands that we use day to day. Sunscreens are picked not just to look after our skin, but to protect our bank balances too. That’s why market research is so important. Unique and distinctive characteristics are revealed which give brands the insights they need so that they can give their customers exactly what they want. The results of purchases are often based on SPF factors but also on a whole range of other factors too. Segmentation research distinguishes between the water bound jet skier, the sensitive skinned child, the oiled up teenager and the beach bound mum which means that products can market themselves to their full potential.

So, it can be said that the brands that we pick play an important role in our lives but that, fundamentally, importance lies with the need to look after our skin. Lurhman was right to highlight how it is imperative that we should, “wear sunscreen”. Now it’s just up to us to choose which product.

The author: Libby Roberts

Beasley, Deena. "U.S. approves Merck immune-stimulating drug for melanoma" Reuters, 4 Sept 2014. Web. 8 Sept 2014.
Lurhman, Baz. "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen Youtube, 2007. Web. Septmeber 2014.
Mckee, Selina. "Skin cancer referrals leap 41% in just five years" PharmaTimes, 2 Sept 2014. Web. 2 Sept 2014.
Pronin, Emily, Christopher Y. Olivola, Kathleen A. Kennedy. Doing Unto Future Selves As You Would Do Unto Others: Psychological Distance and Decision Making.. Princeton University.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Ladder your way to the perfect HCP app: How Pharma can create the perfect app to support their customers in the digital space.

Just a quick search on my iPhone App Store for ‘apps for doctors’ brings up 2,197 results. Even if I was a doctor, wanting to get into digital, I really wouldn’t know where to start.

Luckily, several people have done the work for the doctors by summarising the best Apps for HCPs. One of the first things you learn, is that whilst there are a lot of general apps, the rate of development for more specialised roles is also just as astounding.

For example;

With downloads over 700,000 and an average of 3.5 star rating, MedCal is one of the most prolific reference apps for HCPs. It provides doctors with easy access to about 300 medical formulas, scores scales and classifications. We non-medical professionals have this opinion that doctor’s brains are like supercomputers and can hold an infinite amount of information. But I’m sure they struggle. Which is why an app with this large and relevant resource database comes in handy and is applicable to a large proportion of their daily practice.

Again, if you’re a busy doctor working in a clinic seeing perhaps 100 patients a day, it might be difficult to remember to eat your lunch, let alone learn about any new upcoming trials. Which is why the “ACS Trials” app is also pertinent to a doctor’s practice to convey important information in a concise and mobile way. Cardiologists can be quickly alerted through push notifications to a new trial and read on the go in-between patient appointments or procedures. Thus, maximising the use of their very limited time.

One more example that I have to mention is actually sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. Sanofi are one of the top names in the diabetes arena with their digital work, especially on Twitter talking to diabetes patients and providing them with valuable therapy information. So it’s no surprise their name comes up in the app store. Sanofi have also thought hard about the implications of Cardiologist’s limited time and invented an ‘AFib Educator’ app to support their customers (they have several products in this therapy area, for example, Multaq).

Perhaps my favourite app though, is one that challenges my assumptions about how technology can be integrated into certain professional settings. ‘EMS Tracker’ is an app for paramedics to record key events as they are transporting a patient to the hospital. Whilst I love the idea of an app that stores vital information such as dose of drug administered, symptoms at first point of contact, and then email it to the treating physician, avoiding any potential mishaps, the idea that a paramedic can be updating an app in an emergency setting does make me a little sceptical of how far we are willing to go in the digital takeover.

Why is this of interest to our clients in the pharmaceutical industry?

Well, quality over quantity should be highlighted here. There can be thousands of apps available, as we have seen, but if they don’t meet a need for the doctors, they won’t get used. It’s as simple as that.

It’s what you can easily learn from a benefit laddering exercise that we use in our market research interviews to uncover the most valuable product insights for our clients.

We ask:

1.     What is unique about the app? What features does it have that differentiate it from the hundred other apps available? Does it provide access to medical resources that other apps don’t? Does it give more accurate heart rate readings versus other monitoring apps? These are questions that pharma should be understanding before they commission the creation of their app.

2.     What functional benefits does the app provide? Does it reduce the time a cardiologist spends scrolling through volumes and volumes of papers on Acute Coronary Syndrome? Or does it provide a cost saving, replacing more expensive diagnostic tools? Does it decrease the amount of resource needed to perform a certain procedure?

3.     Last but most definitely not least, what emotional benefits does the app represent? Does it give the doctor that sense of satisfaction when he has accurately diagnosed a patient and the patients themselves are grateful for the relief?

Therefore, the need to conduct market research into what the unmet needs are and how a product might best meet those needs is essential for pharma looking to develop an app to support HCPs. You might also be reading this and thinking – that’s exactly the strategy we use offline!!

And you’d be right of course. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean we should abandon the basics of marketing. Although, I suppose if we ever do forget the basics of marketing, I’m sure there will be an app available to download…

Thanks for reading!
Written by Sofia Fionda; Research Executive

Monday, 21 July 2014

Edible Tech

We’ve heard about the innovative ways that healthcare is infiltrating the digital world. Technologies such as mobile aps and techy wristbands have been part of the mainstream healthcare conversation for a while now. However Proteus Digital Health have gone one step further and have developed a new type of ‘edible’ tech.
This miniscule wireless device is actually ingested by the user and feedbacks their bodily vitals to an external computing device. The contraption, which resembles a grain of rice and is made almost entirely of silicon, passes through the body over a space of about a week and feeds back information to the user including heart rate, body temperature, activity levels and rest patterns.

What may be the purpose of receiving such information?
For patient’s friends and families, it is a way to ensure that their loved ones are taking their medications, sleeping correctly and getting enough exercise. And through a clever linking system, the family can send reminders or gentle ‘nudges’ to encourage a healthy lifestyle or compliance to medications. Not only may the information be used to aid adherence to both drugs and lifestyle changes, but it also empowers the patient to be more in control of their illness and especially may help to ease the patient back into society after a stint in hospital, by providing a reassuring edge.
Perhaps more importantly though, the information can also be used by physicians to help monitor their patients. The data can be used to help identify ‘at-risk’ patients who may be more likely to require medical help and even recognise those who need to be admitted to hospital rather than waiting for an appointment and allowing their problem to escalate.

What may be the value of ‘edible tech’ for pharmaceutical companies?
Digital health is something pharmaceutical companies are increasingly engaging in. Both Otsuka and Novartis have announced partnerships with Proteus Digital Health. Novartis, in particular, are looking to use the ingestible device to help with adherence relating to organ transplantation; a therapy area where they have a substantial portfolio.

Yet could this captivating new device be used by ourselves within the realms of market research? Perhaps in patient research this could be a way to truly understand adherence to both medications and lifestyle changes, and match up what respondents believe and say they are doing with clinical data showing their real behaviours. A couple of ideas Branding Science have had include monitoring sleep cycles of patients with insomnia or the exercise patterns of type II diabetic patients. However with Proteus yet to announce a launch date, there is plenty of time to work out more ways to include edible tech in market research.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

ASCO 2014 - The emergence of non-specific immunotherapies for cancer

Several times now I have heard the phrase ‘we need a more holistic approach for treating cancer’ being used by specialist respondents during market research studies. These respondents often say that cancer requires a whole-body approach rather than the more targeted therapies available. Therefore, one of the key questions that researchers have been asking of late is: why does the immune system hold back against cancer cells? At ASCO last week, where our team went to present a workshop on brand immersion, it is clear that this holistic approach is starting to take the oncology field by storm.
Immune-therapy refers to a group of treatments called biologics. Biologics have two main modes of action: flagging and blocking. Antibodies that constitute immune therapy can work by flagging the hidden cancer cells to the immune system, for example Campath attaching to CD52 on T-cell leukaemia. Alternatively they can physically block a receptor, negating proliferation signals in cancer cells. For example, Herceptin binds Her2 receptor on mammary cancer cells and blocks epithelial growth factor (EGF) from activating a proliferation signal. These type of biologics have been designed to target specific molecules on cancer cells and this approach is now being replaced by more holistic approach which utilises the immune system.
Naturally, the immune system fights cancer. It is only when the immune system does not detect developing tumours that cancer prevails. For example, some of the side effects immune suppressants have are malignancies, or the incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in (immunosuppressed) HIV patients. All of these indicate the role of the immune system in defending against cancers.
But the immune system has a complex status quo to keep. It has to attack pathogens, intrusions, and cancers, whilst at the same time avoid attacking the body.  To that end, the immune system has to train itself through life to give rise to immune cells that defend the body against pathogens and at the same time to rid itself of immune cells that may attack healthy organs (which is what happens in autoimmune diseases). The immune system has a complex mechanism with a lot of stops and guards to assure its efficient and safe operation. Some cancers evolve to find ways to utilise the stops and guards which provide immune tolerance to healthy tissues in order to evade detection.
Now Scientists in several pharmaceutical companies have chosen to try and kick start the immune system to fight cancer. Initial research even involved using a bacterial infection to activate an immune response that will kill the bacteria and then move on to the cancer.  In the last ASCO meeting a more clever way to ‘switch-on’ the immune system has taken over with several products in late development. All these new products target one or another of three molecules in the immune cycle pathway. PD-1 (Programme Death-1), PD-1L (Programme Death-1 Ligand) and (Cytotoxic T-lymphocyte associated protein 4 (CTLA-4). In this new approach, the treatments target the immune cells and their inhibitory markers, instead of attacking the tumour directly, once the immune system switches-on, it starts fighting the tumours. These revolutionary class of treatments could be used in various indications, because they are not cancer specific.

The main players in this field are BMS who have already launched Yervoy, an anti CTLA-4 antibody, and has an anti-PD-1 product in late stages (Nivolumab), which is currently being tested as a combination therapy with Yervoy in phase III trials. Additional competitors to enter the immune-cycle market are Merck (who received a breakthrough designation for their MK-3475), Teva/Curetech, GSK/Amplimmune and Roche who also received a breakthrough designation for their product.
The fact that so many companies chose to develop treatments to target the immune cycle indicate its importance, as this means that these treatments could be used to help in a wide variety of indications. It also means that late stage cancers that were previously untreatable because of a lack of specific therapies, can now be treated. Moreover, the healthy competition that is likely to arise through the introduction of several biologic treatments in this class, will certainly have an effect on price, market access, and the uptake of each product that will be licensed. We wait with baited breath for future developments.
But with the potential for broad indications, devising the right marketing strategy will become all the more vital to product success. 

We leave you with this question: How can these pharmaceutical companies create brand stories for their broadly licensed biologics that resonate with their key customers in each of the specific therapy areas?
In case you want to follow up
Merck’s MK-3475
Roche’s drug MPDL3280A
BMS’ Nivolumab and Ipilimumab (Yervoy)
GSK/Amplimmune’s Amp-224
Teva/Curetech’s CT-011
This article was written by Shai Senderovich, Research Executive at Branding Science

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

What's in a name: To what extent are new efforts to unbrand cigarettes going to reduce the number of smokers?

This article was written by Sofia Fionda and Alex Zaleski, both Research Executives at Branding Science, whose keen interest in blogging keeps them extra busy in between projects.

As people who work in branding and the healthcare industry, we at Branding Science found it interesting to hear that the UK Government is moving towards a ban on branded cigarette packets.


A few statistics:

If you are smoking 20 a day premium cigarettes, you are spending £2900 a year.

The total cost of treating diseases caused by smoking is £2.7 billion a year, while the total cost to society is £13.74 billion (this includes cleaning up the cigarette butts; the loss of productivity from cigarette breaks as well as increased sick time taken).

The treasury actually makes £9.5 billion from UK sales of cigarettes. Doing some simple math you can easily see that it costs more to deal with the problems associated with smoking than the government earns in tax from the tobacco industry. Clearly it is a financial imperative for the government to find a way to cut smoking rates.

But is there any evidence that de-branding cigarettes reduces the number of smokers?

Studies from Australia, where the ban has been in place since last year, have worrying results. Findings show that the amount of tobacco delivered to retailers has actually gone up since the ban because of a higher demand for roll up cigarettes due to ‘generic’ manufacturers producing cheaper tobacco. This means that the market now has a hole being filled with cheaper tobacco, and it may actually be increasing accessibility to cigarettes.

However, these studies should be taken with a pinch of salt for two main reasons. First, the data is short term. Second, according to how they’re presented in the British media, the studies appear to be sponsored by the tobacco industry.

But why would branding have any influence on cigarette usage in the first place, if all people want to do is smoke and get their nicotine hit?

Let’s look at Johnny, our hypothetical smoker. He had his first cigarette the day after his sixteenth birthday. His father was a smoker. He’d grown up handing the Marlboro man over to him and watching as his father puffed away. He was the youngest of three brothers who also smoked. Smoking was normal to Johnny. He knew from health classes that cigarettes were bad for you and even cringed over the blackened lungs his science teacher brought into class. But Johnny didn’t believe that could ever actually happen to him.

Why do kids like Johnny take up smoking, even though they are taught the risks associated with cigarettes? Why do adults who are also aware of the risks continue to smoke up to two packs a day?

While there are many socioeconomic reasons behind smoking, for the purposes of this article we will be examining the psychological theories behind why people choose to take up smoking, and how important brands are in driving people to start the habit.

Branding is one of the core forces that drives sales of any product. A branded product is immeasurably more valuable to a company than an unbranded one because it adds an emotional element to its physical and functional benefits.

So why do we like brands?

One theory is that brands help convey our own self-conceptions. For example, when you use your Apple laptop over a traditional PC computer, you feel innovative and forward thinking, almost like a Steve Jobs 2.0.

You might not actively praise yourself with these traits, but the undercurrent of meaning is nonetheless present. Interestingly, positive associations with brands is associated with psychological wellbeing.

Brands are not only important for perception of the self, but also to see how you belong in the larger social sphere. If you are the only one in your friendship group with a Samsung smartphone while everyone else has iPhones, you naturally feel like an outsider. If your aspiration is to belong to the group, then switching to an iPhone is going to meet those aspirations.

In Johnny’s case, the pack of Marlboro lights in his hand means that his aspiration of belonging to his family and friends is validated.

With this in mind, however, we ask you to open the discussion on the implications of unbranded cigarettes on smoking behaviour.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this post!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

ASCO 2014 – Celebrating 50 years of Science for Society

Watch ASCO president Dr. Clifford Hudis discuss 2014 Annual meeting theme: Science and Society

There are just a few days to go before the ASCO general meeting gets under way in Chicago, with this year’s theme being “Science and Society”.  2014 represents a golden anniversary for ASCO, as it is now the 50th year of its continued support and advocacy of the continued development of oncological science for society.

A traditional gift for a 50th anniversary is gold, and ASCO has once again delivered a wealth of important information, over 5000 abstracts released this year, each selected for its relevance to continuing the advance in cancer research and improvements in patient care.

The Branding Science Group has been around for a quarter of that time and has continuously supported the creation and development of Oncology brands.  For this reason, we will be paying particular attention to discussions around;

-          New developments amongst targeted therapies - In particular those relating to Breast Cancer, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.  These indications are all facing significant change with multiple new market entrants bringing increased hope for patients, but potential headaches for prescribing physicians and payers.

-          Progress in immunotherapy - conceptually one of the most exciting areas of Oncology (working with your own immune system to fight malignancies) as well as one with real momentum and a highly anticipated future development pipeline.

-          Improving patient care and quality of life – remembering that ASCO is not all about the Science, it’s about improving patient lives and end of life care.  Here there are a number of interesting studies evaluating how lower intensity treatment regimens or a greater focus on palliation can improve the survival vs. QoL balance for patients and their carers.

We hope that you also enjoy ASCO 2014 and would be delighted to hear your thoughts on this golden year.  What are you most looking forward to?  What do you think will be the most interesting discussion this year?  Which new data will especially change patient outcomes for the better?
Written by Joe Gadilhe, Director at Branding Science

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Patients across cultures...

Exploring cultural values

During the last EPHMRA Asia conference in Singapore, Axel Rousseau and Odette Navarro from our Asian offices presented a short paper based on the cultural value dimensions identified by sociology professor Geert Hoefstede and his team. Further this, they explored the implications of cultural values in healthcare and gave insights on how interviewers can tailor their approach to better engage with respondents during market research projects.

An adaptation of our presentation can be found on our Prezi page.

In addition, the conference abstracts are available online on the EPHMRA website, alongside the slides of all the presentations that were given during the conference.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Branding Science Trinity Hospice visit and our pledge to "Light up a Life"

Recently, a small group from our EU office was invited to visit our local charity, the Trinity Hospice.

The hospice is probably the first in the world and was founded as the Gods Hospice in 1891 and later changed its name to Trinity Hospice. It raised the first charity in an appeal on Christmas day in a Times newspaper ad asking to provide a home “for the man who is neither curable nor incurable but simply dying”.

Waiting for the number 37 bus the four of us, Sofia, Elly, Anthony and I, had no Idea what a hospice looked like from the inside. Curiosity and expectations grew as our bus finally arrived and Anthony was pointing the sights from the back row of the bus heading to Clapham Common.

From the street, Trinity Hospice is an unassuming building with a small parking lot. But only once we walked inside and were greeted by our lovely host Clare, did we realise the sheer size of the building.

“So what do you want to see first?” asked Clare. The puzzled looks on our faces told her to start walking and we followed.

The anticipated image in my mind’s eye of an NHS hospital décor with creaky linoleum floors was replaced by a modern open plan interior, where every detail was designed for one purpose – to make the lives of terminally ill patients a little bit better.

The corridors are wide, dotted with sitting areas with large windows facing the garden, the rooms are designed for comfort and dignity for patients that need help to move around, the mattresses prevent bed sores, the showers accommodate wheelchairs and the windows face the garden. There was even an Xbox in one area, which Clare used to remind us that terminally ill patients are not necessarily old. They could be young, parents, teenagers and even children. Other amenities included are activity workshops for arts and crafts, a hairdresser and a coffee shop.

Clare led us out into the garden, we were amazed by the sheer beauty even at the end of the winter. It was truly unexpected to see such a garden. “All the maintenance is being done by volunteers” Clare explained, and patients enjoy walking around and sitting here.

Trinity Hospice’s activity is not only in-house. The majority of their activity is actually in support of patients who are at home, where most terminally ill patients would like to spend their last days. The Hospice employs about 70 nurses who travel around London in support of around 2000 terminally ill patients a year. Their help at patients’ homes is far more than anyone can envision and the charity’s role is to fund the nurses as well as the running of the hospice.  The ratio of inpatients to patients at home supported by the hospice is 1:14.

“Don’t tell a fund raiser that you like sport” Clare warned us jokingly. It costs £10m to maintain the hospice’s services, £3m are given by the NHS and the rest comes from fundraising.

To help Trinity Hospice raise the remaining £7m, we could take part in charity events from galas at the garden through golf events to endurance sports, such as the London Marathon, and the Sunflower bike ride from London to Paris, but you don’t have to be a top athlete to support, as Elly already started the ball rolling with her welsh cakes sale.