Anne Whitaker - Sanofi

Blazing a trail on the digital frontier

Name: Anne Whitaker
Title: President, North America Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi

There's nothing like impending disaster to inspire a little soul-searching. As Big Pharma faced an oncoming train loaded with patent expirations, the danger birthed a moment of clarity: Drugs are not enough. For Sanofi ($SNY), that meant "moving beyond the molecule"--to selling not just treatments, but health.

Anne Whitaker and her team in North America are drawing up a pharma-marketing blueprint to do just that.

Consider the company's new approach in diabetes. The French drugmaker, already a leader in diabetes treatments with its megablockbuster insulin Lantus, has added a scaffolding of devices and apps to support the usual drug therapy. A small iPhone plug-in, the iBGStar, serves as a glucose monitor. It feeds blood-sugar data into an app that tracks trends over time, so doctors can quickly see when and how drug therapy might need a tweak or two.

The iBGStar and a sister product link into healthy-living websites that vary by market. In Canada, patients can not only see their blood-sugar stats, but find lifestyle advice, log meals and exercise, and even get pointers from live coaches. In the U.S., the iBGStar portal features "GoMeals," an app for logging blood sugar, workouts, and so on, with social-media features. It also links to Discuss Diabetes, a site with regular posts on disease news and healthy living, and to a searchable glossary-cum-encyclopedia, "Diabetapedia." The Lantus website itself covers lifestyle recommendations and how-tos.

The idea is to show payers that Sanofi can deliver more than just an effective insulin in a nifty injector. It can save doctors time with that iPhone blood-sugar log. It can keep patients compliant with reminders to check blood sugar and take meds. If the company can keep patients on the right track with their treatment, and as a bonus remind them to eat right and exercise, then those patients would need less costly medical care, theoretically at least. The more integrated approach then gives Sanofi's diabetes treatments an edge over those from companies that don't offer the supporting gadgets and lifestyle assistance.

Health plans are focusing more on patient outcomes these days, Whitaker told Medical Marketing & Media. "And they're looking at who can be the best partner," she said. "By showing up with a more comprehensive solution, we're demonstrating that we're putting the patient at the center."

That integrated approach has plenty of other applications. The company recently launched a texting program for prostate cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Developed with Mobile Commons and the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Sanofi U.S. program Prost8Care is a text-messaging service that issues how-to communiqués timed to a patient's chemo treatment cycles.

The new device-plus-drug-plus-digital architecture requires a different sort of mindset, a different set of skills and a different cast of characters from the old doctor-detailing model. Sanofi has teamed up with outside partners--such as the iBGStar's developer, AgaMatrix--as well as developed new expertise in-house. It has also raised a flag to potential partners with its Data Design Diabetes challenge, which invited digital entrepreneurs to come up with digital aids for diabetes patients.

"It's a learning experience for us, and that's one reason we're choosing partners that have experience in this space," Whitaker told MM&M, "so we can learn along with someone who is experienced in getting products like this--solutions and services--to market."

-- Tracy Staton (email | Twitter)

Anne Whitaker - Sanofi