In March 2018, German pharma player Boehringer Ingelheim (BI)‘s Consanas Rehabilitation and the Shanghai International Medical Center (SIMC) jointly established a Rehabilitation Medicine Center for stroke patients with the mission to bring and deliver German stroke rehabilitation treatment standards to patients in China.
According to Consanas Rehabilitation, there are a number of advantages to the German approach to stroke rehabilitation. Firstly, it advocates the active participation of patients, while the clinical team’s duty is to guide patients in staying active, persistent and motivated for the duration of the treatment process. This happens through measures like psychological counselling, emotional support, family education, group therapy and others.
We merged the German style of stroke rehabilitation with elements of Chinese culture and treatment, and this new method has proven quite effective
Paul Schoenle, Consanas Rehabilitation
Two innovative methods have been designed for the Rehabilitation Medicine Center. The first is group therapy, where three to five patients with a similar functional status are treated together by a therapist. Participants are required to interact with, assist, and even compete with each other, and compete, to improve their functional levels after training. The second is personalized life scenarios, which treats patients’ needs according to their functional levels. Both programs are divided into three units: self-care, personal skills, and social participation, with the ultimate aim of helping patients gradually return to normal and independent lives within society.
According to Professor Paul Schoenle, the clinical head of Consanas Rehabilitation, “we merged the German style of stroke rehabilitation with elements of Chinese culture and treatment, and this new method has proven quite effective… Moving forward, we need to continue exploring and developing innovative new treatment methods to help more stroke patients follow effective rehabilitation programs, get access to rehabilitation earlier in their recovery journey, and return to their families and their normal lives as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Three years on, the company can already point to significant signs of success in their approach. In particular, the clinical data supports the existence of what they call a ‘golden rehabilitation period’, where, if functional rehabilitation is begun during this time, patients see greatly improved benefits.
There are 3,500,000 new stroke patients every year in China. Strokes are one of the leading causes of death amongst China’s 1.4 billion population, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total mortality rate in 2018. In addition, following a stroke, patients often suffer from harmful sequelae like hemiplegia, aphasia and cognitive dysfunction, which exacerbates the negative impact of strokes on patients, their families and society at large.
Rehabilitation is scientifically proven to be one of the most effective means to reduce the rate of disability among stroke patients. In Germany, 85 percent of stroke patients move directly from treatment to rehabilitation, while in China, that figure is only 11 percent. Shockingly, almost half – 42.4 percent – of stroke sufferers have never received any rehabilitation.
As BI Greater China CEO and president Felix Gutsche shared in a 2019 interview with us, this was a project that he personally worked on as the head of corporate strategy and development at headquarters. He explained, “from a strategic perspective, we have a significant amount to bring to the table when it comes to stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, not only through our portfolio of stroke and hypertension medications but also our long experience in the market. In addition, the gold standard for stroke rehabilitation was established by Germans.”
This is just one of the BI’s initiatives in its transformation from a pharma company into a healthcare company. He pointed out, “when it comes to stroke, from a purely pharmaceutical perspective, we are not seeing much innovation in the industry. This is why we want to take it to the next level and focus on the patient journey: what do patients need in order to return to their normal lives? With very new and innovative drugs, they stand for themselves when it comes to value. However, even when we look at more dated portfolios, especially those in chronic diseases, we can reach the next level of innovation, which is about focusing on patient-centricity and meeting the overall needs of the patients rather than treating a specific condition or symptom.”
This initiative is also very much aligned with China’s national blueprint for health. The ‘Healthy China 2030’ plan highlights the importance of early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for patients in general, in line with a global shift away from acute care to preventative care, in a bid to improve patient outcomes while controlling healthcare expenditures.
Cardiovascular diseases are a focus area for BI as a company. In addition to this initiative, BI has also established the Chengdu Stroke Care Academy (SCA), the first clinical training base for stroke care in West China. During the third China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai in November 2020, BI also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Chinese Stroke Association.
These efforts form just a part of BI’s ongoing investment in the world’s second-largest healthcare market. In March 2020, BI announced that it would establish the first BI digital lab outside of Germany in Shanghai, and in July 2020, it launched an external innovation hub in Shanghai. Overall, the company plans to invest EUR 451 million (USD 529 million) in China between 2020 and 2025.