By Sara Aswegan, Chief Commercial Officer & Managing Director Backpack Health Sàrl
Advancing research, support and treatment for chronic health conditions has always been my passion. Helping others with their health began when I started with Bayer in the field as a representative in the chronic and serious conditions of infectious disease, cardiology and endocrinology therapeutic areas. I continued my career in industry in various positions, most recently I dedicated the last 12 years with a focal point in the global rare disease space. A native of Iowa, I studied Business and Communications at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and began my career as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Through my years in industry – both in the field as well as in headquarters – I learned invaluable leadership, business and communication skills which enabled me to build a career leading teams fo – cused on developing comprehensive strategies, with a particular focus in rare diseases.
While serving as part of the HGT leadership team for Shire, I arrived in Switzerland nine years ago for what was intended to be just a short assignment. During this period, I fell in love with the people, the beautiful surroundings of the Swiss mountains and countryside and decided to make Geneva my home. I took up positions in LSD-MPS II and GI Franchises, serving as Vice President Product Strategy Team Lead. I then went on to work for Ultragenyx Pharmaceuticals as Senior Vice President of Commer – cial, Global Strategy. In the last few years I began consulting for patient foundations, biotech/ pharma companies entering the rare disease space and also for Backpack Health, assisting the company in shaping its business strategy.
When I first learned about the company and their work in the rare disease field, my interest was immediately piqued. I took them on as a client, and I was impressed by both the high calibre and passionate team and their product, recognizing its immense potential to empower patients to own and control their own health information. My deep understanding of rare disease and expansive relation – ships across industry, academia and patient foundations especially suited the mission of Backpack Health.
After about a year of consulting with Backpack Health, I joined the company as Chief Commercial Officer and Managing Director, with my home base in Geneva. Together, our team offers patients around the world (with a focus on rare disease communities) a centralized platform where users can securely store, manage and share their health data.
With the ability to translate their health information into six different languages, the platform allows users to engage with their complex medical teams, family as well as travel more easily, without the burden of lugging around heavy binders filled with their health documentation. The mobile tool not only empowers patients by placing them at the center of their health with full access to their own information, but it also connects users to patient specific registries and provides critical resources specific to their own needs. By way of these patient registries, users – with consent – are also able to contribute their de-identified data to advance medical research, helping pharmaceutical companies better develop treatments and cures.
What first struck me about Backpack Health was how it brings together the pharmaceutical industry and rare disease foundations to truly empower their patients and families affected with rare and chronic conditions. Had Backpack existed when I was leading the teams at my former companies, it would have made a huge difference. The ability to augment personal and non-personal outreach to educate, engage and empower patient commu – nities is powerful, and in so many languages. The multi modal, complete and compliant solution allows pharmaceutical companies to interface with individuals and families while contributing to the breakdown of the inherent data silos which exist, allowing more robust data to support advancing re – search efforts. The contribution of patient reported data offers these companies a clear view into the daily lives of patients, such as symptoms of disease and current treatment, providing key insights.
Together with our Product, User Journey, Project and Patient Advocacy teams, we have users in over 80 countries worldwide, all of them empowered to be their own health historians, whether they are individual users or part of a larger care team.
We reach patient communities worldwide – some as small as 25 members, and others with well over 15,000 members. Our users love Backpack Health, as evidenced by their consistent use of our platform with over 77% using Backpack Health at least twice per month.
The information, education and resources that partnering foundations provide to patient communities using Backpack Health has proven invaluable on many occasions. The stories shared by users exemplify how Back – pack affects their lives. In one instance, a user was unresponsive in a foreign airport and emergency responders were able to access her secure Backpack Emergency Share Card, providing responders with her health information in their local language, Portuguese. Her emergency card gave a high-level overview of her rare condition, providing the responders with the correct approach for managing this episode and allowing them to treat her properly.
Each day since I decided to take the plunge and join Backpack Health’s team last June, I am invigorated by Backpack Health’s mission to help patients with rare and chronic conditions around the world and its commitment to fill patients’ unmet needs. The spirit of the people on our team together with the progressive approach we are taking to become the leading innovator in digital health makes my work at Backpack Health meaningful and thrilling on a daily basis. My days are filled with attending medical conferences and patient advocacy events, meeting with clients, or videoconferencing with colleagues and clients from my office in Geneva. Since joining Back – pack Health, I have reconnected with many former colleagues, clinicians and patient advocates to spread the word about Backpack Health as a solution.
As a non-native living in Switzerland, I am also a Backpack user and find it very useful to have my health information instantly translated to French and other languages as we explore the country and the whole of Europe. It gives me extra comfort and confidence as an ex – pat abroad. I am proud to lead the Backpack Health SARL and bring our platform to individuals, families and clients in the region and beyond.
Sara is a seasoned healthcare executive with over 20 years global experience in empowering patients, creating connections, and enabling advancement in research for rare and chronic conditions. She is also an advisor to startup biotech companies and patient organizations, volunteering and consulting to continue her mission to make a difference in rare diseases. Sara serves the team at Backpack Health from its Geneva, Switzerland, office where she resides with her partner, Brian, a diplomat dedicated to humanitarian work. Together, they are committed to making a difference in global health.