Dr Sanja Njegic is the Global Head of Patient Partnership at F. Hoffmann La-Roche Ltd (Roche). She is responsible for facilitating early and systematic engagement with patient communities across the product lifecycle through industry-leading partnerships. Dr Njegic recently joined the Board of PFMD.

Tell us about your past experience?

Like many people who have spent a number of years in the healthcare industry, I have quite a diverse background. I started in pharma roughly 20 years ago as a Product Manager and held progressively more senior roles in the area of Market Access and Medical Affairs, ultimately finding a home in the area of Patient Advocacy.  Have you ever had a job where you wake up in the morning and feel that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be? That’s how this role feels to me. After dedicating the last eight years to patient advocacy, I’ve landed at a company, in a role, with a team that speaks to my personal values, and my desire to make a positive change in the world.

I am a big believer in patient engagement. Other industries have regularly consulted and created products based on customer needs while pharma has only started to engage with its most important customers – patients – quite recently.

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to establish a number of global patient and multi-stakeholder councils to drive the ongoing collaboration between pharma and its external stakeholders. I have established the value of patient engagement through Community Advisory Boards and other channels to help shape decision-making starting with early R&D and beyond.

From an educational perspective, I studied pharmaceutical engineering and also completed a Masters in Business degree at Bocconi Business School in Milan. Today, I live in Basel with my two children Letizia, 13 and Leonardo, 17. I am passionate about Croatia where I grew up and where I spend all of our summer holidays, enjoying the beauty of the Croatian Sea.

How has your organisation focused on patient engagement?

Roche strives to embed patient perspectives across the lifecycle of our innovations in a systematic way, starting in the earliest phases of development with research prioritisation, feasibility assessments, clinical trial design and spanning to regulatory authority discussions, real-world data/evidence generation plans, patient access strategies and beyond. 

We have listened to patient communities who have told us how complicated it can be to engage with pharma companies (due to complex internal policies) and their desire to have one primary relationship manager who can be there for them and help them navigate our internal systems. 

Therefore, at the global level, we have united disparate patient engagement and advocacy functions from research/ product development, medical affairs, and access into one global Patient Partnership Team, that serves as the primary relationship manager for global patient communities.

What contribution would you like to make in PFMD?

I hope the insights and expertise I bring, coupled with Roche’s best practice approach to patient engagement, will contribute to delivering on PFMD’s commitment and potential. I strongly believe that by drawing on the collective wisdom of different board members we can stimulate true innovation in patient engagement that can optimise the drug development process, so that innovative medicines and integrated solutions, that address the most important unmet needs, reach patients as soon as possible thus bringing value to patients and society.

Why do you think a project like PFMD is important?

Healthcare systems are evolving rapidly and multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration will be key to improving health in general. PFMD has the potential to promote industry-wide adoption of early and systematic engagement with patients as standard practice within current and future healthcare ecosystems. I see the need to address together the growing role of digitalization in health, and the power of data, as well as the growing and evolving role patient communities play as partners in healthcare systems. This is a fast-evolving landscape and we need to ensure agile adoption of our changing realities, so that we may leverage emerging opportunities to take patient involvement to new levels.