Philadelphia, PA -- Frank Spinelli, Medical Director of Patient Affairs at US ViiV Healthcare started his career in private practice. The transition to industry was a big one. He said in private practice there aren’t that many layers, “it’s you and the patient; you and the pharmacists; you and your staff.” As he’s learned how the development process works, he’s found places to bring that patient intimacy to many aspects of it.

Spinelli shared several cases about how the patient voice is changing development of HIV / AIDS. But first he took us back to 1981 when we first saw appearances of a new “cancer” in men who had sex with other men. It was not until 1987 that the first FDA-approved drug became available. That drug was from Novartis. The investment and aggressive development process was driven by activists. Activists have a powerful history in driving change in HIV care and ViiV is giving them a strong voice today.

Aging and AIDS

Aging didn’t used to be part of the conversation in AIDs. People were told they had 5 – 10 years to live. ViiV engaged a community panel to learn more about the experience of living with the now-chronic disease into later and later decades. They found:

  • Some co-morbidities, like frailty, loss of muscle and bone, weren’t fully addressed and were coming earlier than expected
  • Doctors needed treatment guidelines for older patients
  • There’s a need to redefine the risk / benefit equation for certain medication by age, gender, etc.
  • Health literacy and awareness are issues. Spinelli shared an example in the Hamptons of a doctor who has a Ferrari out front and migrant workers in the waiting room who, as he talked to them, had real gaps in basic understanding of their disease
  • Inclusion of older people in clinical trials is critical
  • Action is needed to tackle stigma and discrimination – especially when you add in aging

Pills vs Injections

Some of ViiV’s new trails are investigating long-term injectable therapies. They first researched the patient need with doctors who said patients wouldn’t want them; people don’t like injections. Then, they engaged a patient panel that had a very different response. Patients said, “no pills and a shot once a month? Or every other month? I’ll do that.” They said it would be easier and it’s freeing because it's a regimen that’s not in your home and transparent for others to see.

Some of the findings led them to change the approach to the study design to produce data about the impact of removing pill fatigue.


Informed Consent Design

ViiV had patients review the ICF for the two drug regimen injectable treatment. They uncovered some simple improvements to make the form more useful and more comfortable:

  • Patients wanted more graphics and pictures to help them navigate the content
  • The animal study information was difficult to understand, too much information and just felt scary
  • They wanted more information around needs and lifestyle impact implications
  • Patients preferred detailed instructions rather than narratives – what do I have to do when?
  • Finally, a more balanced approach was need to language that felt stigmatizing. Like changing HIV infected patients to people living with HIV

*Disclaimer: Mentions contained in these posts do not indicate any association between the products and companies and INC Research/inVentiv Health. All details, statistics and figures are taken from the noted presentation.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.