McCann Health global science council tackles precision medicine communications challenges

As precision medicine advances, so does the need to better communicate the ins and outs of more complex, tailored treatments. That’s one of the reasons McCann Health named precision medicine one of the four core targets of its Global Scientific Council in 2018.

Now, the agency and its partners are moving ahead, convening their first advisory board of precision medicine practitioners last month that included pharmaceutical company executives, scientific and academic health leaders and healthcare system heads.

Precision medicine is “one of the most exciting things happening in the healthcare sector,” said advisory board co-chair Dr. Zhen Su, head of Merck KGaA’s global oncology franchise. “This notion that no one size fits all has been a long interest and passion for many healthcare providers.”

RELATED: McCann Health puts drug resistance, mental health on its brain trust's priority list

Science and technology advances have made precision medicine “no longer an obsession or a dream, it’s become a reality and will become the mainstream in the future of healthcare,” he added.

Along with that change comes the need for retooled communications, customized education and bridging the knowledge gap for both physicians and patients. Pharma companies need to work not only to accelerate new medicines but also to make those medicines approachable.

The role of pharma companies, then, is twofold, Su said. There's the broader social obligation the industry has to collectively provide information and education to help society, and then there's the company individually, which knows its medicines better than anyone else.

“No two medicines are the same, no two diagnostic tests are the same. Better communication around customization and greater detail around treatment options is going to be very important,” Su said.

He pointed to lung cancer as a good example where treatment—chemotherapy and radiation—was once fairly standard and broadly applied. However, what was once homogenous has become heterogenous. Different tumor subtypes have been identified, and next-generation genome sequencing can further distinguish an individual’s cancer. Suddenly, one treatment option turns into many, and physicians, particularly those at the community level, struggle to keep up.

“That’s why there is an enormous need around how we communicate in a clean, clear and trustworthy manner to enable (physicians) to master new treatments and new technology to better select patients and better provide treatment,” Su said.

RELATED: McCann Health's new scientific council offers agency and science brainpower all in one place

While the initial advisory board meeting in December focused on oncology—where precision medicine is already well underway—the group aims to gather information and put out a call to action that will benefit other therapeutic areas as well.

Alice Choi, McCann Health executive director for the Global Scientific Council, said going forward the precision medicine advisory group will produce educational materials for use internally at McCann Health and look to develop external and peer-reviewed communications and tangible tools.

“It’s our job to take the very complex and fast-moving data and really help distill it into something very simple, accessible and digestible for the medical and patient community. It’s up to us to help our pharma clients do that,” she said.