Tailored training modules, along with support from company leaders and peer networks, are helping Gilead Sciences renew its focus on patient engagement.

Gilead Sciences is no stranger to patient engagement (PE) and advocacy, but with the importance of including patients in all aspects of the drug development lifecycle becoming impossible to ignore, the organization has renewed its focus on engaging patients with the creation of a new PE function in Medical Affairs.

Formed little over a year ago, the team has worked to further elevate patient inclusion at Gilead by building and strengthening partnerships with PFMD, NHC, EUPATI and other key organizations. Now, with a little help from friends – and supportive competitors – the company is becoming a case study in how ‘patient focus’ can be leveraged and built upon to create a cross-functional, co-creative approach to PE.  

‘At Gilead, we have a strong legacy of patient inclusion and some incredible work going on in the organization, but we can also see that we’re at an inflection point. To deliver the impact we’re capable of, and a systematic, organization-wide approach, we need everyone to be asking “What did I do for the patient today?”,’ say Richie Castles and Geraldine Reilly, Gilead’s ACE and Global Leads for Patient Engagement. ‘We want everyone to feel like patient engagement is their responsibility.’

They point to strong support from business leaders across the company, along with support from industry peers, as catalysts for Gilead’s progress to date. ‘Working with PFMD has helped us access invaluable tools, including PE Training and PE Quality Guidance,’ says Geraldine. ‘It also connected us with a network of key people in the industry who have been open and supportive from the beginning. It’s a pre-competitive space; there’s a real drive to get the whole industry up to a baseline with PE so there’s a strong willingness to share advice,’

Gilead has rolled out PFMD’s PE Training to its Medical Affairs associates, making the first module available to 800 people worldwide. Within a few months, 90-95% of those with access to the training have completed the first chapter in their PE journey. To date, feedback has been very positive, and the company is collecting survey data, tracking improvements in competency and shifts in attitude. According to the team, there is a clear upward trend in key metrics, including a much greater understanding and awareness of the value of PE in those who have taken the training.

Riche and Geraldine say training is a critical tool in delivering the mindset shift required to embed PE throughout the organisation. ‘People want to understand what is expected of them when it comes to patient engagement,’ Richie explains. ‘For some, it is second nature, while for others, sharing more PE best practices and providing clarity on specific roles should help. Geraldine adds: “The PFMD training will go a long way towards building competencies at Gilead and making sure everyone has the right information, experience and tools to embed and activate PE.’

The rollout of PFMD Level 1 Training to Medial Affairs will be followed by the launch of modules adapted to other parts of the business, including the Legal and Business Conduct function

Leadership buy-in  

The company adapted the standard training to remind employees of its commitment to PE and explain how patient inclusion fits with Gilead’s history, current regulatory trends, and future strategy. The additional 20-minute module includes a presentation from the PE team as well as video endorsements from internal leadership, PFMD CEO Nicholas Brooke and experts from EUPATI.

Merdad Parsey, Chief Medical Officer, encourages associates to take full advantage of existing tools and those in development to deliver on the company’s patient-centric mission. “There are always many factors we have to take into account when faced with difficult decisions; considering what is best for the patients we care for is the most important consideration to guide our choices.” ‘he says. This is echoed by Bill Guyer, Global Head of Medical Affairs, who urges colleagues to ‘move beyond the traditional mindset of doing things for patients, to doing things with patients.’

Visibility and Awareness

In conjunction with the training, the PE Team has focused on elevating the role of the patient as a stakeholder in medicines development through organizing high-profile, high-visibility internal PE summits. ‘In December, we had our second PE Summit. It was marvellous!’ said Geraldine. Here, the team focused on asking patients, and partners from PFMD, NHC and another pharma company to articulate how Gilead could evolve its approach to further support communities and spotlighted some of the great work already happening across the organization.

Not only did the forum provide valuable insight into opportunities for PE projects, it also helped reconnect many employees with their purpose. ‘From the feedback we got, it was clear that being reminded of the reason we come to work each day is valuable and necessary, no matter how involved with patients a person is,’ Richie added.

Co-creating PE Strategy

In the long-term, the PE Team is looking to further evolve patient inclusion at Gilead by co-creating a PE strategy with patients. Since  December, they have held two ‘Horizon Scanning’ patient advisory boards in Europe and the US, and plan to hold more in the future.

‘It is important for us to practice what we preach,’ Richie explains. Geraldine is clear that embedding patient voices and perspectives in everything they do applies to the PE team too. ‘It wouldn’t be true patient engagement at Gilead unless patients are involved in the creation of our strategy.’