ELITE Patient Advocate Karen Iannella of Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Karen Iannella

Executive Director, External Affairs

Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc.


Expanding Patient Engagement

When patients first started taking a larger role in their own treatment, the executives at Boehringer Ingelheim took notice. They knew they needed to change the way their company interacted with patients in response, so they created the Patient Advocacy Relations department. Choosing a leader for this new department would be key. But that’s where Karen Iannella came in.

Karen’s background—including time at Hoffmann-La Roche, the National Stroke Association, and at BI (where she worked on the launch for Aggrenox)—provided the department with someone who could understand the task at hand from the patient and advocacy perspective along with the business side. Under her lead, the group has quickly grown both in size and responsibility.

A team of three began work on patient advocacy. Professional relations was added, followed by a group who works with colleagues in the earlier stage pipeline, such as R&D and clinical development. Most recently, a stakeholder relations team focused on identifying the top national opinion leaders. Before Karen knew it, the group had grown to 20 people—and Karen worked with corporate headquarters in Germany to help set up a team on their end.

The team’s work is already making waves in the patient community. For example, they partnered with the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation on a documentary about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), which was shown on Discovery Channel three times to reach more than a million viewers. The success of the program led to a bipartisan Congressional briefing on IPF, with more than 60 attendees, in February 2015.

Karen is now working with a cross-functional team on the Patient Engagement Model: A process they hope to put in place that will explore the best time to engage patients in each part of the product lifecycle (R&D, clinical trials, manufacturing, marketing etc.) in order to learn how the company can better serve patients.

“Patient engagement is a term that is frequently used in today’s environment,” she explains. “We really want to do the best job possible of involving patients in our decision making that ultimately leads to even better outcomes for patients.”


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