Recently, I was given the opportunity to attend and present at the Medical Affairs Leaders Forum Europe earlier this month. The conference, taking place in Zurich, Switzerland and sponsored by NextLevel Pharma, was dedicated to bringing members of the life sciences industry closer together.

Really, the existence of a conference dedicated to Medical Affairs with such an intense Patient-centricity focus is notable in of itself. Such a thing would not have existed several years ago; and if it did, it would not have existed in the capacity it does now. Patient engagement was the central issue for all of the medical professionals attending this conference, which is, oddly enough, a very recent phenomena. The forum’s success is a sign that medical affairs are evolving and becoming more patient-centric, but there’s still a long way to go to perfect patient engagement.

In fact, the more I speak with industry professionals, the more I’m convinced that it can’t be perfected at all.

This isn’t to say that I’m not optimistic; quite the opposite. But with patient engagement tying into so many facets of health and medicine—from research to treatment to primary care—there’s a lot to consider, especially considering the constantly evolving technology that makes patient engagement possible. Part of establishing good patient engagement is constantly looking to the future.

And that’s really what the forum was all about; the future. Throughout the conference, speakers took the podium to discuss the state of Medical Affairs and its contributions within the industry and, more importantly, where they see it going in the next decade.

My presentation was no exception. I spoke about patient engagement in the research sector and the ways that we as medical professionals can involve patients at every step in the process of Drug Development, Registration, and Life cycle Management. I focused on current examples of successfully making patients partners in research and ways that this can be further expanded and made into a reality, more broadly. For instance, research practices are often centered around the medical facilities in which they take place. This can be particularly problematic in the case of rare diseases, where patients are not willing to travel for the benefit of the entity conducting the research. When it comes to patient recruitment, I believe that adapting trial design to make it more accessible, in terms of convenience, comfort, and most of all relevance for patients is a great way to secure the help of individuals who would have otherwise refused to participate.

Further down the line, when it comes to the drug approval process or developing guidelines for rare disease treatment, I spoke about my desire to get patients involved in the approval process. Patients are, after all, those who are affected by drugs or treatment. Industry will have to experiment over the next few years, gaining a working knowledge of the ways that patients can contribute, and the points along the drug development continuum where they can most effectively provide their input. Plus, it will be important to gain a sense of the outcomes that are most valued by patients, particularly when it comes to rare disease treatments that may not have been as well-defined.

The fact is, integrating patients into drug development is essentially a new paradigm, and there are a lot of questions that medical professionals will need to ask, both to themselves and to patients, to improve these practices in the future. For the former, we need to consider the benefits of integrating patients into research for all parties involved. For the latter, HCPs and carers will need to utilize existing platforms to improve patient self-reporting measures in order to yield more standardized and quantifiable results.

There’s a lot of synergy with technology here; the better the instruments you work with, the better you can capture patient experiences and compare data. In any case, the burden falls on researchers to focus on patient approval in addition to FDA approval, and making it easy for them to contribute.

I was thrilled to be asked to return and give a presentation again in July; this time at the Medical Affairs Leaders Forum USA, in Princeton, New Jersey. For more information, please see NextLevel Pharma’s website here. I’ll be looking forward to participating again and networking with all of the wonderful individuals working to improve the appreciation for patient centricity within the field of Medical Affairs.