The Patient Voice: An Integral Part of Leen Kawas’s Drug Development Philosophy
Over her accomplished career, scientist Leen Kawas has developed a firm conviction that patients’ firsthand experiences and perspectives can provide invaluable insights to enhance the drug development process. This passion now infuses her leadership as Managing General Partner at the venture capital firm Propel Bio Partners.
Historically, patients have not been included in most phases of drug development, only participating in late-stage FDA advisory committees in a limited patient representative role. However, Kawas advocates for incorporating patients’ voices into multiple cycle stages. She puts this belief into practice by guiding Propel’s biotechnology partners to gather patient input during their R&D processes.
Kawas’s stance aligns with the FDA’s Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD) initiative, which also calls for capturing patients’ needs and priorities when designing clinical trials and shaping regulatory decisions. The FDA sees opportunities to use patient perspectives to streamline burdensome trial enrollment, enable personalized risk/benefit assessments, systematically gather patient preference data, and structure patient feedback loops.
Similarly, Kawas leverages insights from her experience as CEO of the clinical-stage company Athira Pharma. There, she focused intently on serving patient stakeholders by designing trials to drive higher retention rates. For instance, Kawas arranged catered meals for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers during a trial to remove logistical barriers to participation. By solving issues important to patients, she gave them a voice in optimizing trials to meet their needs.
Today’s tech-empowered patients also increasingly participate in advocacy networks, research forums, and data exchanges to take charge of their health journeys. They bring firsthand experiences, allowing drug developers to understand real-world patient populations better. Some pharma companies have even formed closed groups for ongoing patient dialogues and potential research collaborations with patient organizations.
Kawas continues searching for new ways to amplify patients’ voices at Propels’ partner firms as part of her leadership philosophy. She firmly believes patient involvement delivers better insights and better outcomes all around. When patients participate as partners in the process, they help drive revolutionary innovations in medicine.