Category: News

Newly received or noteworthy information about Makara, especially about recent events.

Makara Health accelerates growth with new hires, and management and leadership team restructure

PRESS RELEASE |

Salisbury, 21 March 2022 – UK-based international healthcare communications agency,
Makara Health, continues to strengthen its offering with the creation of new roles, senior hires and promotions to better support the agency’s next phase of growth.

As a result of phenomenal expansion (160% year-on-year growth over the last three years), new Business Unit Director roles have been created to lead and grow the following functions:

  • Dr (Med) Ekta Rohra has been promoted to Business Unit Director, Digital
  • Helen Rodway has been promoted to Business Unit Director, Learning and Development
  • To further support the Learning and Development offering, Kim Bond has been promoted to eLearning Lead
  • Gurjit Chahal has been promoted to Business Unit Director, PR
  • Dr Annlou Pendse has joined the team as Business Unit Director, Medical Education

Annlou joined the team earlier this year, having previously worked at Langland, to bring her medical education expertise to this newly created role. With her strong scientific background, and more than 15 years’ experience in healthcare communications, Annlou has led teams to deliver European and emerging market multi-country communication programmes across a broad range of therapy areas.

As part of the company’s future growth and development strategy, Makara Health has also restructured its leadership team to more clearly define responsibilities:

  • Katie Bright has been promoted to Deputy Managing Director
  • Helen Laurence has been promoted to Executive Director, PR and Medical Education
  • Diana Evans has been promoted to Executive Director, Patient Education and Head of UK Business Operations
  • Dr Shula Sarner has been promoted to Executive Director, Scientific Strategy

“By introducing new management and leadership roles, we have deepened our expertise in our core offerings and bolstered our integrated propositions for clients. Our strategic changes set Makara Health on a path to the future and are important steps towards continuing to attract and retain talent and clients,” said Louise Sharp, Founder and Managing Director, Makara Health.

“It’s great to see Makara Health continue to grow to a team of over 70 while maintaining our commitment to agile working. We have demonstrated we can successfully operate a virtual working model at scale, delivering award-winning work while promoting flexibility and balance for our people. This has allowed us to attract a wide range of talented and experienced individuals, regardless of where they live. Coinciding with this news, we have launched our new logo and brand identity, to reflect the modern, integrated agency we are today.”

Full list of new team members and promotions in the last three months:

  • Annlou Pendse, Business Unit Director, Medical Education
  • Lauren Wildman, Project Manager, Medical Education
  • Claire Paling, Associate Director, PR
  • Beth Gaffey, Project Manager, PR
  • Caroline Nesbitt, Project Director, Learning and Development
  • Chris Williams, Senior Medical Writer
  • Emily Bailey, Senior Medical Writer
  • Charlotte Hill, Medical Writer
  • Victoria Green, Scientific Associate
  • Anamaria Popescu, Digital Front-End Developer
  • Linda Villegas, HR Coordinator

A nudge in the right direction

by Helen Laurence |

At Makara we are always keen to support our industry and it was great to be able to both sponsor and help shape the recent HCA Annual Conference event: “The Future of Nudge Marketing in HCP Communications.” Well-attended (despite the finish coinciding with the England v Germany match!), this virtual panel discussion considered the role of behavioural science techniques now and in the future, with perspectives from the clinical, consumer and industry settings.

A couple of weeks on, I’ve been reflecting on some of the interesting points the discussion raised. What came through loud and clear for me is that even organisations that are not formally embracing nudge techniques, or similar strategies, are likely doing so unwittingly. Symposium polls and peer-to-peer engagement events rely on our tendency to observe and be influenced by what others are doing – we are driven to conform to social norms and clinicians are no different. The formats and contexts in which we share our data and messages is well thought out to ensure clinicians see the relevant points, in a meaningful way, at an opportune time. The relevance of a piece of information has a big impact on our decision-making and that is at the heart of communications in healthcare. Every communication, every email, notification or reminder, can be a nudge. How effective they are depends on how well they are executed.

What I like about nudges is the fact they are geared towards creating the right conditions for people to make their own changes, rather than forcing change upon them. Doubtless these techniques can be used for commercial or political ends but that’s not what I believe is happening in the healthcare space. The panel were at pains to emphasise that education and patient outcomes should be the guiding principle in any nudge campaign that targets HCPs and, as with all compliance-related questions in our industry, it really comes down to intention. If the intention is to improve outcomes and help patients then nudge techniques are an appropriate tool in our armoury.

So what does the future hold? Well, we can likely expect campaigns to become more sophisticated as digital platforms allow for new mediums of communication and a greater capacity for personalisation.  Given access to user data, the ability to target HCPs with relevant information, in a format they prefer, is becoming ever easier and we are already beginning to see online platforms offering clinicians a more Netflix-style experience when it comes to educational content. Will technology also enable greater personalisation for patients, particularly as we move to a more virtual approach in terms of consultation and care?

Personally, I hope so. Nudge strategies coupled with personalisation represent a powerful tool when it comes to behaviour change and, as long as we get the intention right and make evidence-based interventions, the potential for improvements in health outcomes could be significant.

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Want to know more? The panel helpfully signposted some useful resources:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/behaviour-change/resources

https://www.bhub.org/

https://www.bi.team/publications/mindspace/

Leading the way or leaping into the unknown? UK to press ahead with COVID-19 challenge trial

by Matt Wheeler |

In mid-February, it was confirmed that a selection of up to 90 young, healthy volunteers, unlikely to develop serious illness, would be deliberately infected with COVID-19 in a UK study1. This will be the world’s first study of this type for COVID-19, and has been under consideration since the pandemic began.

The UK has ostensibly done nothing by halves during the last year – hit overwhelmingly hard by cases, pressure on the National Health Service, and, tragically, lost lives, it is now seemingly the poster child for rapid vaccination roll-out. As of February 20th 2021, almost 17 million2 people have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the United Kingdom.

The UK government appears determined to remain at the forefront; this challenge study has already received £33.6 million3 in investment.

In the first stage – known as the virus characterisation study4 – researchers will investigate the required viral load to cause infection in this group (using the ‘original’ strain that has been circulating in the UK since March 2020). Following this, a small number of volunteers will be given vaccine candidates proven safe in clinical trials, and then exposed to COVID-19, with the aim of identifying the most effective vaccines and accelerating their development.

The history of challenge trials

The first challenge trial is perhaps the best known5, as a staple of school biology syllabuses. In 1796, Edward Jenner created the earliest version of a smallpox vaccine by taking a sample from a cowpox sore and putting it into the skin of his gardener’s eight-year-old son. He then deliberately exposed the child to smallpox, but he did not become infected. Not likely that this would be ethically acceptable today!

Jenner went on to test the method in over 6,000 people – and 200 years later, smallpox vaccines allowed for the eradication of the disease in the global population.

During the 20th and 21st centuries, challenge trials have been conducted in influenza, cholera and malaria, among others. They have also been under consideration for the Zika virus that emerged as a major health crisis in Brazil and other South American and Caribbean countries in 2015.

Why conduct challenge trials?

Challenge trials are not a required element of every vaccination development program. However, there are a number of factors that may make conducting such a study desirable for a specific disease6:

  • Animal models are imprecise in reflecting human disease caused by the infection
  • The disease has an acute onset, and can be readily and objectively detected
  • There are existing effective treatments that can be administered at an appropriate time to prevent significant illness, and prevent risk of death
  • There is a significant time imperative to develop understanding of the disease and vaccines/treatments for it – clearly the case with COVID-19

Ethical considerations

There will inevitably be questions as to the requirement for such trials for COVID-19:

  • Why would anybody agree to be deliberately infected with a virus that, as yet, has no effective rescue therapy?
  • Do we need to take the risks when we now have a number of approved vaccines being rolled out?
  • Whilst young people may be at the lowest risk of serious illness and death, some people suffer with debilitating symptoms for many months (‘long-COVID’), which may not be reversible
  • Considering the current lack of full understanding of COVID-19, how does this challenge trial sit with the medical principle of ‘do no harm’?
  • If a participant becomes seriously ill, will significant damage be done to public trust in science at a critical time, when vaccine hesitancy is already prevalent in some communities?

Human challenge trials are not new, and hold promise in building our knowledge of COVID-19. However, the ethical implications are many, and must be carefully considered.


  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-56097088
  2. https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/vaccinations
  3. http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_news/uk_to_launch_world-first_covid-19_human_challenge_study_in_the_next_few_weeks_1363536
  4. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/worlds-first-coronavirus-human-challenge-study-receives-ethics-approval-in-the-uk
  5. https://www.1daysooner.org/past
  6. https://www.who.int/biologicals/expert_committee/Human_challenge_Trials_IK_final.pdf

Searching for the ‘silver lining’

by Matt Wheeler |

2020 will not, for the vast majority, be looked back on as a good year.

At the time of writing in mid-November, over 50 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed globally, with more than 1 million deaths. These are stark figures, the signature of a virus that has torn across the planet, and is still rife in many communities.

However, there is finally (seemingly) light at the end of the tunnel. Phase III vaccine results are beginning to emerge, with levels of efficacy exceeding even the most optimistic predictions when development began. Submission to regulatory authorities is imminent, and there is hope that the mammoth task of roll-out may even begin before the end of the year. Perhaps by mid-2021, life may look more ‘normal’.

It is human nature to look for the silver lining in situations, no matter how bleak. The question is, can there be any ‘silver lining’ to a scenario like this one? There is certainly no equivalence to be drawn in terms of good and bad outcomes, no disputing the horrendous toll that the disease has taken. But is there anything we can learn? Any scraps of positivity that may be useful for humanity ‘post-COVID’?

Public health awareness

  • Hygiene has never been more important. The concept of keeping your hands clean to minimise the risk of catching bugs is not new, but is now at the forefront of minds
  • This renewed focus also extends to educating children. WHO has partnered with Peppa Pig to launch the ‘Wash Wash Wash Your Hands’ singalong video, which, thanks to my niece, is now indelibly burnt onto my brain – although, that’s the whole point…

Innovation

Collaboration and altruism in the pharmaceutical industry

  • In the search for a vaccine, big pharma companies have joined forces, including partnerships between Pfizer and BioNTech, and GSK and Sanofi respectively, accelerating the development process and giving hope of more than one viable product being made available
  • More broadly, companies are using knowledge gained from decades of experience with similar viruses to pilot treatments, donating compounds formerly tested on other viral pathogens such as Ebola and HIV, and exploring technologies for upscaling production of any successful vaccine candidate

Family time

We all hope that pharmaceutical innovation and public health policy are able to control the pandemic as quickly as possible. In the meantime, perhaps we can take some solace in the human capacity to adapt, and, ultimately, overcome.

The evolving story of coronavirus and the media

by Chrissie Hartgill |

A couple of weeks’ ago, if someone had said the word “corona” you’d probably be thinking about that free-living summer beverage while you struggle through Dry January. Now, almost everyone exposed to the news will associate it with the SARS-like virus that started in Wuhan, China. In just 12 days, the number of confirmed cases has increased from 60 to nearly 10,000, and deaths have risen from 2 to 213. The media is updating us daily, giving higher figures and increases in the number of countries affected with each day.

It’s interesting to see how the media reports on something that’s evolving so quickly over time, when even the World Health Organization hasn’t known the full scale of the problem. Language has been fairly standard for this type of story, with phrases like “deadly”, “death toll surges” and “evacuations”. Seems quite strong for something that’s in the same viral family as the common cold.

We’ve seen this before, with the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic – but in 2020, daily news just isn’t enough. It’s assumed we want minute-by-minute updates: new figures, ‘has it hit the UK?’, ‘have they stopped flights from China?’ – especially with many flocking to Twitter to consume the news as it happens.

Public Health England has been publishing updates every day at 2pm and, in contrast, its communication is pragmatic and reassuring, despite containing increasingly alarming figures and outlining tighter measures being taken by the UK government.

Health comms professionals are only too aware that unless a story is shocking, tapping into our emotions and vulnerabilities in a big way, it’s less likely to see the light of day. As a result, important stories about diseases that impact fewer readers or have a lower profile are unlikely to be of interest to national media. When the Ebola virus first hit, the national media were alive with fear because it had the potential for mass devastation – we thought it might be airborne at one point. As soon as it was under control and only affecting certain developing countries, the papers went quiet. Last year, a life-saving vaccine was approved – but the national media had moved on.

The media are only reporting what is deemed to be in the biggest public interest – but is it time we started questioning what that is? What if some readers would welcome a less generalist, less sensational approach to breaking news? The constant barrage of round-the-clock updates can certainly feel overwhelming.

One of the most worrying properties of the coronavirus is its 14-day incubation period, during which there are no symptoms. It will therefore be interesting to see how the story evolves further over the next few weeks. It seems inevitable that we’ll be faced with the “first UK case of coronavirus” stories that hit the papers, and the close monitoring of its travels will continue. Much is still unknown, and it’s a waiting game for reassurance and appropriate action. If you’re worried, try not to drink in the alarmist language too much, don’t forget about Public Health England and its useful updates and, if in doubt, keep washing your hands!