A Reflection Over The Past 5 Years
Sprout co-founders Christina Jackson and Lina Eliasson met at UCL School of Pharmacy in London, bonding over a shared passion for health psychology. In 2017, they founded Sprout Behaviour Change to elevate the role of behaviour science in pharma-sponsored patient support programmes for people living with chronic health conditions. It was novel thinking at the time, placing them at the vanguard of utilising behaviour psychology to impact healthcare outcomes. Two years later, Sarah Clifford joined as Partner to lead a new Clinical Outcomes Assessment (COA) service line, broadening the scope of Sprout into clinical trials and regulatory work.
In celebration of the 5th anniversary of their trailblazing company, Christina, Lina and Sarah shared their thoughts about how they – and the industry – have evolved. Check out their story to learn more about how Sprout partners with clients to strategise and execute person-centric campaigns across rare disease, oncology, inflammatory conditions, chronic health and many more conditions.
Why did you establish Sprout?
Christina: When I started my PhD there were no jobs in health psychology. By the time I graduated, agencies were starting to recognise the value of using behaviour change science to identify and address unhealthy behaviours. I saw an opportunity to bring more academic skills and research into the industry setting. I envisioned a place where the psychologist was leading the project with 1:1 client contact, not just sitting behind account services. No other companies were doing this.
Lina: Christina and I had a very trusting professional relationship with deep mutual respect. When she approached me with the idea of starting a company, I was excited about working with her to create something completely new, with patient support at the heart of our mission.
What is Sprout’s primary point(s) of difference?
Christina: The academic expertise of our team allows us to systematically use evidence, generate evidence, and make decisions based on evidence. With that approach, programmes are likely to be more effective in supporting healthy behaviours. We also understand the regulations, marketplace, and culture of different companies. Our programmes are powered by an engine of academic insights coupled with commercial know-how.
Lina: We have done quite a few assessments of patient support programmes sponsored by pharma that are nicely designed and well-funded. When we dig in, we see a few behaviour science approaches – some reminders, some disease information, an expert educational video – but only a handful of the hundreds of behaviour change techniques available. At Sprout, we work with a much broader toolbox of behaviour change techniques to identify and address barriers and beliefs for improved health.
And, with the addition of COA services under Sarah’s leadership, we are uniquely able to facilitate patient engagement throughout the entire drug development pathway.
Sarah, what attracted you to Sprout – and what opportunities did all of you see in expanding beyond behaviour change?
Sarah: After working in COA consulting for over 10 years, I was excited to join Lina and Christina as a partner in Sprout and to establish a US entity and new service line. In our COA work, we support pharma, biotech and device companies in incorporating the patient voice from early on in their drug development program all the way through to regulatory approval. There was a great synergy with the patient-centred work Lina and Christina were already doing at the commercialisation and launch stage of drug development programs.
Christina: To honour the patient voice across the entire drug development pathway, we need to engage them at every stage, from pre-Phase 1 through commercialisation and the real world. Adding COA and PRO (Patient Reported Outcomes) enabled us to guide biotech and pharma in selection and use of traditional and digital COA endpoints in all phases of clinical trials for new drugs, medical devices, and digital therapeutics.
Lina: Sarah and her team have the experience to understand and anticipate the regulatory point of view across individual countries. They bring strategic insights early in the drug development process, so our clients’ COA strategy work sets them up for regulatory success downstream.
What’s the meaning behind the Sprout name?
Christina: Sprout is about positive transformation and growth. We want to help people live healthier lives.
Lina: It’s memorable and makes people smile. In recognition of the new COA and PRO services, in 2019 we rebranded the company as Sprout Health Solutions. It’s a fitting name to cover the broader services that we now offer to clients.
What are the most significant changes to your business over the past 5 years?
Lina: In the beginning, we spent a lot of time explaining the basic theories of behaviour science and how it could be leveraged to improve the patient experience. Today, pharma and biotech are more familiar with the discipline, and value what it brings to patient engagement and clinical trial work.
Sarah: In the COA space, we have seen ever-increasing requests from pharma and biotech companies to support them in developing and implementing evidence-based COA strategies in their drug development programs. A big change is that we are seeing clients come to us very early in their trial planning process (pre-Phase 2), which is different to earlier years where sometimes COA strategy would not be thought of until quite late (sometimes a bit too late!) in the clinical trial program. We are also seeing an increasing amount of work in the rare disease space – supporting biotechs doing important work to develop and evaluate drugs for patient communities who often do not have any available prescription treatments.
Christina: Recently, we have also worked more closely with the medical community, applying behaviour science to pharma’s interactions with HCPs. For example, these experts typically know information about a new drug or treatment, so more information won’t necessarily motivate them to prescribe according to latest recommendations and guidelines. There is often an emotional barrier – a fear of the unknown and a worry about doing harm with a switch. That’s not a data-driven decision. It’s a risk-benefit decision that is grounded in their compassion for patients. We can use behaviour change techniques to have that dialogue with an HCP.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Christina: I am very proud that we are a company that working mothers want to work at. I am proud of the high calibre of people we’ve attracted to our business.
Lina: We are a company of women who support each other through life stages and changes. Our employees say that being at Sprout feels like working with a supportive family. They feel their team always has their back. This is even more special when you realise we’ve always been virtual and remote, across time zones and continents.
Sarah: We feel very strongly about supporting our amazing team in their Sprout career trajectories and have tremendous pride in celebrating their growth. For example, Emma Lyon Carroll was one of the first to join our team and it’s incredibly rewarding to see how she has evolved her role from project management to being a key part of the operational management of the business.
What is your vision for the future of Sprout?
Lina: We are energised about the huge opportunities on both sides of the business. Pharma recognises that evidenced-based patient support campaigns have real impact, real value that can be measured and communicated. In our COA work, we see regulators asking for evidence for all conditions, not just in the ones with symptoms that could only be reported by patients. We are also more involved in supporting our clients’ goals for sustainability and health equity.
Christina: Our range of services today is much broader than when we started, and I see that continuing to grow. We are just starting to get involved in product development, including digital therapeutics in partnership with digital healthcare providers. We’re working with collaborators in the AI space. It’s an exciting time to advocate for and support the patient voice.
Sarah: We want to support more pharma and biotech companies with the strategy and expertise to meet the opportunities and challenges they face in designing and implementing truly patient-focused drug development programs. We are excited about helping sponsors strategise early on in their programs about what to measure and how to measure it; and helping set them up for success in their pivotal trials.
Congrats on the new website – why the change?
Christina: Our services have evolved so much over the past 5 years – a new website and updated branding was a fitting anniversary present to reflect our broader capabilities and celebrate our amazing growing team.