Walking the MS Mile for charity

Dice were proud to take part in the MS Chilterns Centre ‘Walk the MS Mile’ in Marlow on Tuesday 22nd September. If you think walking a mile seems piffling, you’d be right…unless you have MS.

It was very humbling to see people with MS, normally wheelchair-bound, making their way around the park, despite the torrential rain. The charity were so unlucky with the prevailing weather, but there will still upwards of 50 people making the walk and we were delighted to be able to make a contribution.

Multiple Sclerosis forms a big part of life here at Dice with all our work for Biogen, but it’s only when you see its effects at first hand that you realise the devastation it can wreak on the human body.

We wish the MS Chiltern Centre good luck in their 30 walks to celebrate their 30 years of fundraising. We sincerely hope they reach their target of £30,000. If you would like to donate, please visit this page:


Pictured here are four of the Dice team at the end of the walk.ms mile


Back to a familiar theme

I’ve written a number of blogs and articles over the years that focus on my irritation regarding the bad press that the pharmaceutical industry receives and I make no apologies for continuing. I feel passionate about the successes of our industry and I don’t think these are recognized by the general public, which is both disappointing and a missed opportunity.

Why a missed opportunity? Well because there are inevitably times, as with any industry, when things are not quite so rosy and poor decisions or questionable commercial practices take place and quite rightly the whole industry comes under scrutiny.

But if there is nothing in the credit column to counterbalance the bad publicity, then ‘Big Pharma’ will always struggle to be loved and will continue to attract negative headlines like the one below.


My main complaint about this article in the Sunday Times (01/03/15) is that it is full of contradictions and a balanced view of what is written would leave a reader bemused by the headline.

Here are some extracts from the article that demonstrate my point:

‘…in December Roche halted trials of its new drug which was being tested on patients yet to show signs of dementia…other high-profile failures include bapineuzumab, which was being developed jointly by Pfizer and J&J.’

So that’s three of the world’s biggest drug companies actively involved in Alzheimer’s Disease – hardly a case of ‘forgetting’ as the headline would have you believe.

And further: ‘…GBI Research found that despite the string of failures, there are 583 Alzheimer’s treatments still being worked on globally.’

Five hundred and eighty three! I think by anyone’s standards, that is a sign of serious commitment from the pharma industry.

So perhaps a fairer headline would be ‘Big Pharma trying, but struggling, to cure Alzheimer’s’.

I live in hope that one day our industry will be regarded as the friend of the doctor and the patient, because that is what ‘Big Pharma’ genuinely is, then maybe these headlines won’t be so carelessly written.

Knowing yourself, more or less

The following is a blog from our newest recruit – Sarah Galvin, Account Executive

Since the turn of the year, a fresh wave of holiday deals and diet plan advertisements have been assailing us. However, one ad I didn’t expect to see is for personal genomic testing and analysis, supplied by the Californian company 23andMe, for only £125. Marketed as a gene test for over 100 health conditions and traits, it uses a saliva sample to help interpret the unique mutations in your genetic make-up. Based on these results, it’s possible to identify if there is an increased risk of developing certain conditions and predict the efficacy of various medicines, thereby enabling you to adjust your behaviour accordingly. Additionally, you can view your lineage (ancestry and family tree plotting) and also have the option to allow your data to be used for further scientific research to help others.

At first, the scientist in me was impressed because I support the idea of personalised treatment choices based on your own specific genetic information. This is essentially what 23andMe can help with, but with varying degrees of detail. When I looked closer at the specific genes chosen to test for a given condition/trait, I was excited to recognise a few. Clear explanations were given for why these genes were picked with evidence from reputable research articles to back it up. I see how the 23andMe test would appeal to human curiosity but the interpretation of data needs to be considered carefully. 23andMe states that ‘a combination of genes with well-known associations’ are covered in the test, as well as some more recent discoveries. However, this does not cover all possibilities; there is no certainty that you will develop any disease even if you test positive for an associated gene. Genetics is a complex science and it is known that environmental and lifestyle events affect the presentation (of phenotype) in varying degrees of severity. There is potential for results to cause unnecessary anxiety over small increased risks; for example, unnecessary prophylactic surgery for cancer.

However, some productive decisions about your health can be made. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, you avoid cheese. If you and your partner are both carriers for a specific inherited condition, you can get further advice from a genetic counsellor. Other traits are just plain quirky: caffeine metabolism; response to diet; earwax type; hair curl/colour/thickness; finger length ratio – the list goes on.

Comments from consumers during feedback suggest an interest in tracking their genetic ancestry and where their DNA has travelled on a global scale. Both maternal and paternal lineages can be traced, although this has been noted to be quite vague. Another global feature finds relatives (who have also taken the 23andMe test) with a certain percentage of DNA similarities. There are stories that this has helped with reuniting adopted families, which could be a double-edged sword if family members don’t want to be found. It may also provide false hope for adoptees if they don’t find what they looking for, or you find out you’re related to someone in a way you didn’t expect.

Not only your reaction to the results should be considered, but also what the company does with your data once the test is complete. All data is kept on a ‘secure’ server and you receive your results through an online platform. As we are constantly reminded by the media, how safe are you really online? The 23andMe privacy policy states certain products/services can be sold to you in relation to your results. They admit to sharing aggregate information about users’ genomes to third parties as long as users ‘cannot be reasonably identified’. However, there is a potential for future developments in policy to allow insurance or pharmaceutical companies to better sell their services, or deny them completely leading to genetic discrimination.  In this case, how can the consumer receive guaranteed security when it comes to handling the sensitive data our life is based on? Who should draw the line over how our data is used?

All in all, I see the potential in this growing area of scientific research and therapeutic discovery. It is coming on in leaps and bounds. For now I believe it to be in its infancy with issues that need to be addressed if it becomes standard practice. This test is currently an optional service, which could make sharing your results with loved ones (however it may impact them) a tricky decision. I keep finding myself asking: do the benefits outweigh the risks? You have the opportunity to adjust your behaviour towards a healthier lifestyle specific to yourself, but with the potential for misuse once your sensitive information is on record. Tighter guidelines would need to be developed, but by who? I will be watching with interest as to how this will evolve.

Because headlines are supposed to be creative

I’ll let you into a secret. There are a lot of ‘creative’ agencies out there and every one of them, at some time, will have been struggling for inspiration on a brief – maybe one
of yours. So the lazy copywriter will try to fall back on various ‘tricks’ that seem like they are original ideas, but actually are just ancient creative cliches dressed up for your eyes.

The classic is the ‘Because’ headline or tagline. I counted at least half a dozen on display at the recent PM Awards, so what follows really needs saying.

If you ever see an agency present a concept that begins with ‘Because…’ you should politely ask them to go away and have a real idea. Why? Because (no irony intended), EVERY brand in the world and EVERY product in MIMS could have a ‘Because’ headline written for it and anyone could do it.

For example, I’ve taken three brands at random from MIMS and for each of them I’ve written a ‘Because’ line in only a few seconds.

Pentasa – because ulcerative colitis deserves to be taken seriously

Fosamax – because fractured bones mean fractured lives

Prezista – because HIV patients need rapid viral control

Do you see what I mean? Try it for yourself – it’s easy. But because it’s easy it doesn’t mean it’s right. Those three copy lines above are simply anodyne statements from the school of the obvious and as such do absolutely nothing to differentiate or position the brand.

So watch out for that little agency trick – it’s a sign that they’ve run out of ideas.

Typos or grammatical errors – which are worse?

I wouldn’t say I was a perfectionist, but I do like things to be right. Anyone who works in communications will know that it’s very difficult to completely eradicate the typo that somehow makes it through to the finished article, but here at Dice we do our utmost to eradicate the silly error. However, I must to confess that our system sometimes breaks down and a rogue mistake creeps in. (See what I did there?)
What can’t be excused though, is the basic grammar or spelling mistake and in the last couple of days I’ve seen two perfect examples.
At the PM Awards on Friday, the very first advertisement I looked at in the exhibition had a mistake in the headline. I can’t remember the brand but it was a product for shingles and it ended something like ‘… affects peoples’ lives.’
That little apostrophe looks so innocent, but it’s wrong. The only meaning in which it would be correct is if you were describing something affecting the various peoples of the world, e.g. the peoples of Africa or Asia. However, I’m pretty sure that is not the intention. So if they mean it’s affecting the lives of people, then it clearly should be written as people’s.
Now you might think I’m being a pedant and I probably am, but the written word needs rules otherwise communication eventually just descends into meaningless babble. The problem is, this sort of sloppiness now goes right to the top, because in a Daily Telegraph lead article from today, there is the increasingly common mistake of ‘…if they loose interest…’.
Anyway, time to get down from my soapbox and get back to work. What’s the next job? Oh yes, proof reading that new sales aid….

NHS waste – everything little thing adds up

I have recently come across two classic examples of completely avoidable waste in the NHS that are sheer idiocy.
The first involves my elderly mother who has many conditions that you would expect of an 82 yr old, but deafness is not one of them. She could hear a pin drop in a canning factory.
Nevertheless, one of her nurses recently decided she needed a hearing test and for some bizarre reason, (probably confusion), she was deemed to require a hearing aid. The said device now sits gathering dust in a drawer along with the batteries that come in the post every month without fail. My mother has given up asking for them to be stopped.
The second example concerns a colleague’s grandmother. Because she recently had a small leg ulcer (which healed spontaneously and quickly), someone somewhere decided she needed to stock up on wound care products, so a nurse duly delivered a LARGE bag full of materials (see picture).
Despite protestations that they are not needed and untouched, both the nurse and the pharmacist say they cannot be taken back as they are unusable.
Now if you know of someone who is on a waiting list for a serious operation, or who has been denied a cutting-edge drug on cost grounds, I suggest you don’t share these stories with them. But perhaps we should all share them with the Secretary of State for Health. photo-5

The pharma industry – credit where credit is due

I have many soapboxes in life – as all my friends and colleagues would testify to – but the one I return to most frequently is the issue of public perception of the pharmaceutical industry. I can never understand why we are not much better at shouting about the good – and indeed the great – things the industry does.
I had personal reason to be reminded of that this weekend. My brother was recently diagnosed with CML and when I saw him shortly after his diagnosis, it was truly shocking to see how the disease had reduced him physically in such a short time.
Luckily he is in very good hands and less than a fortnight ago began treatment with Glivec, the Novartis ‘wonder’ drug. Believe me, that monicker is richly deserved. After swallowing only 12 tablets, the recovery in his physical condition is astounding. Of course he will be on it for the rest of his life, but only 12 years ago he might not have had a life to look forward to.
This is just one example of many where the fortunes of a particular patient group have literally been transformed by the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry – and obviously the thousands of non-industry scientists that we collaborate with. Yet the only pharma stories we encounter in the media are the negative ones.
We really should do something about that, collectively as an industry. We owe it to everyone who works in pharmaceuticals, but most of all to the great scientists who, against all the odds, frequently come up with life changing discoveries.
For an informed and interesting read about the discovery of Glivec, take a look at this: http://tinyurl.com/49vp9z4