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Why patient care is a public affair

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Japan-based Kyowa Kirin might not have the largest footprint in the U.S. — but it’s finding its niche in the specialty and rare disease arena.

Since 2018, the U.S. subsidiary Kyowa Kirin North America (KKNA), which is focused on four core therapeutic areas — nephrology, oncology, immunology, and allergy and neurology, has had three medicines approved by the FDA: Nourianz for symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, Sancuso for nausea associated with chemotherapy and Poteligeo for certain cancers, including rare forms of cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL).

In addition to these wins, the company is distinguishing itself by developing deep relationships with patient advocacy groups and patients themselves. Key to achieving this mission is having a patient-centric public affairs strategy. Enter Lauren Walrath, who took on the role of vice president of public affairs in 2019. With a broad range of industry experience at the ready, she went straight work crafting a vision for KKNA’s public affairs operations.

Lauren Walrath computer Kyowa Kirin

Lauren Walrath, VP, public affairs, Kyowa Kirin

Permission granted by Kyowa Kirin


“The role was scoped around leading and building our functions and capabilities for communications and patient advocacy. From a communication perspective, it is somewhat all encompassing. It’s corporate communications, internal and external communications, as well as sharing information through digital channels,” Walrath said. “On the patient advocacy side, it is working with all the disease areas that we support, both from a commercial perspective as well as the patients’ groups that we’re working with, which informs our clinical development programs.”

Walrath recognizes that the power of patient advocacy groups continues to evolve and is eager to tap into their insights.

“There’s a growing recognition in our society that patients’ voices matter in their treatment,” Walrath said. “We are seeing the importance of this now from regulatory agencies, as well as from other groups like those that develop formularies that they need to have a patient perspective in making decisions about treatments. Patient groups are getting more powerful, and that’s because their opinions are being sought and respected, not just by pharmaceutical companies, but by many of the different stakeholders in healthcare.”

In addition to growing her group’s capabilities to support the delivery of medicines, Walrath has her pulse on the increasing importance of health equity, especially in the rare disease space where patients face the additional burden of a difficult “diagnostic odyssey.” Here, Walrath discusses keys to patient engagement, how patient affairs fits into the equation and one program that’s having a measurable impact.

The interview has been edited for brevity and style.

PHARMAVOICE: Can you share what makes for a successful patient engagement program?

LAUREN WALRATH: Recently, we were preparing for an upcoming meeting, and we had several advocates and patients on the call from the different disease areas we work with. We posed the question about patient centricity and what it means to them. Everybody talked about the importance of listening and truly understanding the patient experience. When I think about success of a patient engagement program, it starts from that … by making an effort to reach out to the leaders and the members of different advocacy organizations and starting a conversation about what patients are facing, the challenges they maybe experiencing in getting a diagnosis or managing their treatment — sometimes over long periods of time or even a lifetime.

During these listening sessions, is there a common theme as to what patients want?

It’s interesting. Two of our medicines are in rare diseases and one of our medicines is for a more common disease. But, again, what really stood out is the difficulty of getting a diagnosis, which is obviously common in rare diseases. That’s one of the big challenges we hear over and over again, whether it’s a disease affecting pediatric patients or a disease affecting adult patients — it’s that diagnostic odyssey.

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