Pharmaceutical firm Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) and digital oncology company GRYT Health have released the Advocacy Exchange patient platform. Building upon the existing COVID Advocacy Exchange, the technology is intended to bring together advocacy organizations, patients, and life-sciences leaders to exchange information, foster dialogue, and share best practices.
Cathy Traz, executive director for BMS Patient Advocacy, spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about the Advocacy Exchange. She discussed how it works, and the benefits it offers to stakeholders.
OSP: Could you please share how BMS has evolved in its approach to increasing patient centricity, and why it’s important?
CT: One of the reasons I am so proud to be a part (BMS is our approach toward patient-centricity and integrating the patient voice into everything we do.
For example, in the last year, we worked closely with expert patient advocates to establish the Patient Expert Engagement Resource (PEER) across all markets and therapeutic areas to ensure that the patient advocate voice is heard at every step of the drug development process. As a result of this initiative, all stages of our clinical trials include this input and cannot proceed without it. PEER also helps promote health equity by including various voices in this process—another pillar of patient centricity that BMS values in helping underserved patients access the care they need.
We are also in constant communication with the global patient advocacy community beyond conversations related to clinical trials. During the pandemic, we heard from many of the advocates about their unique concerns related to this time and the challenges they were facing—one of which was the pause on medical meetings and industry events. These meetings are critical because they are one way we engage with patient advocates and how the advocates themselves get the latest information on disease areas.
In response, BMS partnered with GRYT Health, a digital oncology company, to launch the COVID Advocacy Exchange (now known more simply as the Advocacy Exchange) in May 2020. The Exchange is a virtual platform created to unite advocacy organizations, patients, and industry leaders in the exchange of information, and to foster meaningful growth and partnership across disease areas.
Ultimately, patient-centricity is important because patients and their caregivers are the ones using our treatments; they are at the center of all that we do. We should work to completely understand their disease area, the unmet needs there, and identify all opportunities to incorporate their perspective—from the design of clinical trials to commercialization and beyond.
OSP: Specifically, how did the COVID-19 pandemic impact efforts to include the patient’s voice in various studies, and how did companies like BMS (and their research partners) work to overcome obstacles that made patient-centricity challenging?
CT: When the pandemic arrived and the world shut down, technology was key to maintaining the stream of conversation between BMS and patients, including those participating in clinical trials. Solutions like telemedicine allowed for trial participants to check in remotely and safely.
However, again, I think this is where PEER has taken that even further and has addressed the challenges we’ve seen not only during the pandemic but historically across the industry. With PEER, we are really trying to capture the patients’ overall clinical trial experience, identify treatment preferences and attitudes about risk/benefit, and understand patient views on labeling when a product goes to market. It’s about co-informing clinical results, co-building market initiatives, and staying engaged after the product launches.
The pandemic gave us the opportunity to step back and refine our process sooner than initially anticipated and confirm that PEER is an effective program.
OSP: Could you please share a little more detail about the COVID Advocacy Exchange, and how your interaction with patient advocates involved in the Exchange lead to the Advocacy Exchange?
CT: The year before the pandemic, BMS partnered with GRYT Health for the Global Virtual Cancer Conference. As the effects of the pandemic became clearer and BMS was looking for ways to support the patient advocate community, we asked GRYT’s CEO and Co-Founder, David Craig, about partnering on a similar platform. To our excitement, he instantly agreed and the COVID Advocacy Exchange (CAE) was born soon after that.
The platform was created to be a completely free, all-virtual hub that offers advocacy organizations and the patients they support the opportunity to participate in live virtual sessions, Working Group discussions, and provides access to materials from BMS, patient advocacy organizations, and experts through a virtual exhibitor space.
We’ve hosted live sessions on topics such as resiliency and taking action to correct health inequities and have engaged a variety of panelists such as Dr. Cary Adams, the CEO of, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), Pat Garcia-Gonzalez, the CEO of The Max Foundation and Reverend Anthony Evans, the President of the National Black Church Initiative.
What is especially exciting about this platform is that it is entirely co-created and co-led with the advocates themselves, so a lot of the discussions we have are based on what the advocates want to hear.
Now, we are starting a new chapter where we are expanding and enhancing the platform to best serve the community’s current and future needs. We felt it was appropriate to remove the word “COVID” from the name to reflect the goal of this resource to support advocacy efforts more broadly.
The impacts of COVID continue to be felt by many, so this topic will continue to have a presence at the Exchange, however as the world opens up again, we are exploring what this means for the advocates, patients, and the healthcare system as a whole.
OSP: Could you please share some detail about the Advocacy Exchange, and how the platform will work in terms of bringing patients, advocacy organizations, and other stakeholders?
CT: The Advocacy Exchange keeps key features of the previous COVID Advocacy Exchange platform—live monthly discussions where advocates, patients, providers, and industry leaders come together for conversations around different topics, a virtual exhibit hall where the 50+ participating organizations can share resources and learn from one another and Working Group discussions. These Working Groups were established via direct feedback from the advocates and are meant to produce tangible solutions in the following focus areas:
- Health Equity: Racial & Ethnic Health and Healthcare Disparities
- Health Equity: Access to Care
- Patient Voice/Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD)
- The Future of Advocacy
Building on this, the new Advocacy Exchange platform also incorporates fresh branding, an updated website and user experience, and additional features to support community engagement, such as a searchable resource library and a chatroom for the Working Groups.
OSP: Do you have anything to add?
CT: I would like to express my gratitude to the global advocacy community for their collaborative spirit and support in shaping this platform into a first-of-its-kind virtual resource. Together, we have seen 31,000+ people from over 139 countries visit the platform, 300+ patient advocacy organizations have participated, we have co-created a series of 19+ live sessions and established four working groups covering topics ranging from health equity to patient-focused drug development.
The response and engagement have been overwhelmingly positive and we are eager to see how the Exchange continues to evolve and meet patient advocates where they are. You can check out the Advocacy Exchange and register for free at www.TheAdvocacyExchange.com.