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Saving the Day for those with IBD
A first of its kind collaboration between Takeda and an entertainment company has produced a visual patient campaign with a difference.
Who said the pharmaceutical industry isn’t innovative when it comes to communicating with patients? A new graphic novel and superhero devised as part of a first of its kind collaboration looks set to blast that perception out of the water.
Japanese behemoth Takeda and Marvel Custom Solutions, the content marketing agency offshoot of the comic book publisher, have teamed up as part of a new drive to raise awareness of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Called Samarium, the IBD superhero is inspired by the experiences of the IBD patient community, and aims to celebrate the superhero-like qualities of those who live with this painful, debilitating, and complex condition that affects more than five million people worldwide.
Samarium is just the first superhero to be unveiled as part of “IBD Unmasked”, a global awareness initiative Takeda has launched. According to the company, the hope is that members of this community will be inspired to express their personal experiences, and have the conversations they need to with their healthcare professionals, family and friends.
This unprecedented use of a superhero character not only brings a new dimension to communication surrounding the disease, the entire campaign is also perfectly suited to the new era of social media and online interaction, particularly as IBD tends to occur in adolescence and early adulthood.
In addition to the first chapter of an IBD Unmasked graphic novel series, the campaign website (www.IBDunmasked.com) also features interactive quizzes, facts and infographics, and an expert Q&A. More content will be unveiled in the coming months, including more educational resources, new members of the IBD Unmasked team of superheroes, the next chapters in the graphic novel series, as well as the ability for users to create and share their own heroes.The US, in partnership with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, is the first country to launch IBD Unmasked, with additional countries in Europe, Asia and South America launching throughout the year with additional content and campaign partners.
“As a company, we are focused on providing continued support to the IBD community. In partnership with Marvel Custom Solutions, we are tapping into the power of visual storytelling to raise awareness and help people living with IBD feel more confident expressing themselves to their family, friends and IBD community,” says Elissa Johnsen, Head, Global Product & Pipeline Communications, Takeda.
“Takeda is proud to launch “IBD Unmasked”, and hopes to help spark productive conversations, shift perceptions and improve understanding of the impact of these diseases, in order to provide ongoing support for people with IBD.”
Johnsen explains to eyeforpharma that Takeda spent a lot of time speaking to patients and physicians to better understand the patient experience of IBD from all angles, as well as engaging in extensive market research. This knowledge helped them devise a campaign tailored to the needs and wants of the IBD patient population.
Because UC and CD can impact each individual differently, it’s especially important for people living with these conditions to have an ongoing and open conversation with their healthcare team about what they’re experiencing in order to find the treatment and overall management plan that’s best for them.
“We learned that patients are typically in the prime of their life when they begin their journey with IBD, and what they go through is dramatically different to what their life was like before. We wanted to develop something that empowered them to understand their disease and feel motivated and in charge of their own journey,” she says.
Current trends in graphic art and the fact that Marvel had created the superhero phenomenon made the collaboration a natural fit.
“We felt that this was something that patients could not only relate to, but also become a part of. We hope this creative outlet helps patients find a way to better talk about and approach their journey with their support network and their caregivers.”
Quality of life
A recent European survey of people living with IBD found that almost 50 per cent of participants said their lives were either significantly or somewhat impacted by IBD symptoms even between flare-ups, with a quarter saying their disease made making and keeping friends difficult.
Dr. James Lindsay, lead consultant for IBD at Barts Health NHS Trust agrees that IBD has a significant impact on quality of life.
“IBD refers to either Crohn’s disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC), which are a common cause of chronic gut inflammation. Both conditions result in a burden of unpleasant symptoms including diarrhea, bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss. These can have a major impact on a patient’s quality of life. They can affect people of any age but diagnosis is most common in adolescence and early adulthood.”
One of the main issues that patients face is the unpredictability of their symptoms, he notes. With patients reporting ongoing issues with studying, work and maintaining relationships, living with a chronic disease like IBD may be challenging, isolating, mentally and physically exhausting as well as embarrassing to discuss. This can mean that optimal treatment can be difficult to achieve.
“Because UC and CD can impact each individual differently, it’s especially important for people living with these conditions to have an ongoing and open conversation with their healthcare team about what they’re experiencing in order to find the treatment and overall management plan that’s best for them,” says Dr. Lindsay.
Unsurprisingly, the embarrassing nature of the condition also means that there is a distinct lack of general awareness about IBD, making it even more challenging for patients experiencing disruption to their daily lives. This lack of public awareness means that many people confuse IBD with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There is a big difference as patients with IBD face a lifetime of medication and may require surgery to remove part of the affected bowel, which can result in a stoma.
James Lindsay, therefore, believes that the superhero theme is an appropriate one.
“I witness the impact IBD has on patients living with this chronic disease first hand in my clinic. It is often humbling to see how well these young people cope with symptoms and a situation that might seem overwhelming to others. So my patients are often superheroes as they manage this condition day-in and day-out.”
It can be a challenge in terms of coming up with something that really empowers patients, not just providing resources or education but creating something where the patient is encouraged to have their own dialog, tell their own story and take action as an individual.
The treatment landscape for people with IBD is currently evolving and an open discussion about their symptoms can help plan the best strategy for an individual patient. “It’s important for patients to recognize that there are multiple treatment options available. Each individual’s experience and disease course will be different and may require a different treatment approach. They should feel empowered to be an active participant in the decision-making process with their physicians or other HCPs to find a treatment plan that works best for them.”
Johnsen admits that it can be difficult for pharma to educate and inform patients and the wider public in dynamic and engaging ways.
“It can be a challenge in terms of coming up with something that really empowers patients, not just providing resources or education but creating something where the patient is encouraged to have their own dialog, tell their own story and take action as an individual.”
With such a unique storytelling platform, Takeda hopes to actively engage the IBD patient population, she adds.
“The best benefit we could possibly see is patients getting excited about the campaign and taking action. We want them to feel like they can discuss their experiences of living with IBD openly as well as possible treatment options with their healthcare professional. There is a certain level of fear and shame associated with talking about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. We hear that universally – from patients, from caregivers, from physicians too. With IBD Unmasked, we hope to create a platform for them to tell their stories in a way that is comfortable and empowering.”
James Lindsay agrees, and says the new campaign is an opportunity to “break down barriers” when it comes to IBD and other conditions where patients may find it difficult to discuss their symptoms.
“The IBD Unmasked initiative featuring a new superhero representing the IBD community gives a new perspective and opportunity to break down barriers. Raising awareness of this condition should be a number one priority for all involved in the care of patients with IBD. As a physician, I believe it’s crucial to help break down these barriers and encourage people living with IBD to open up to their healthcare professional to discuss what they are experiencing and work together to find a management plan that provides the most benefit and support for them. In addition, talking to family and friends about their disease, although often difficult, allows patients to receive their support and understanding.”
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