World Multiple Sclerosis Day 2021: a Q&A with Cathy Trzaskawka and Richard Nieman

May 26, 2021

With World Multiple Sclerosis Day recognized on May 30, hear from Cathy Trzaskawka (Traz), executive director, Bristol Myers Squibb Patient Advocacy, and Richard Nieman, senior vice president, Worldwide Medical, Immunology & Fibrosis, to learn how Bristol Myers Squibb's work in multiple sclerosis (MS) goes beyond the medicine, and how the company supports the entire community.

Q: How does Bristol Myers Squibb support the MS patient community?

Richard Nieman: We know that approximately 2.5 million people worldwide are living with MS, an immune-mediated disease in which the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath (a white fatty substance) that covers the nerves. Patients with MS cope not only with physical symptoms of the disease, but also emotional and cognitive challenges that impact daily life. Facing unpredictable and debilitating symptoms such as vision loss, difficulty walking, brain fog and slowed thinking, most people with the disease experience periods of relapse, followed by partial or complete remission.

Richard Nieman (left) senior vice president, Worldwide Medical, Immunology and Fibrosis and Cathy Traz (right), executive director, Bristol Myers Squibb Patient Advocacy

Richard Nieman (left) senior vice president, Worldwide Medical, Immunology and Fibrosis and Cathy Traz (right), executive director, Bristol Myers Squibb Patient Advocacy

Cathy Traz: For all of us at Bristol Myers Squibb, patient-centricity is critical to ensuring that we are continuing to advance research for patients in need. This means that our work goes beyond providing therapies – we think about the entire patient journey, the community and all those who interact with the patient in order to best determine the needs of those involved in the MS community. Integral to this support is our partnership with the MS patient advocacy community, who we partner with to provide resources to those impacted by the disease, including educational resources as well as information on our clinical trials and marketed product.  

Q: How has Bristol Myers Squibb continued to advance progress for MS patients in need?

Richard: Working to provide treatment options to patients in need is of the upmost importance. Our focus remains on advancing pathbreaking science to delay progression and prevent disability for those living with MS. We continue to build on our research exploring how early damage to both white and grey matter of the brain may lead to physical and cognitive decline. This research has led to new solutions and the awareness of endpoints that better assess cognitive health along a patient’s journey. Our goal is to continue to address the disease's hallmark relapses and brain lesions — and ultimately move the field forward. 

Q: Why is it important for companies to stay connected to patient communities?

Cathy: All of our work is motivated by the needs of patients. We are committed to listening to the needs of patients, helping to identify where changes can be made and maximizing opportunities to partner with the patient community. In 2020, Bristol Myers Squibb launched a program called PEER (Patient Expert Engagement Resource) to ensure that the patient perspective is heard and considered at every step of the drug discovery and development process. In doing so, our goal is to develop therapies with input from the patient community. Additionally, we are partnering with the MS community to gain their input on educational programs and resources, patient support programs and patient access initiatives.

Q: How has Bristol Myers Squibb supported MS patients during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Cathy: During this time where many individuals have felt isolated, at Bristol Myers Squibb we continue to advocate and support patient communities around the world. One example of this is our partnership with GRYT Health to launch the COVID Advocacy Exchange – a virtual platform for advocacy organizations, industry leaders and patients, including those impacted by and supporting MS. By uniting these groups, we can work to synchronize efforts, facilitate resource sharing with one another and allow for increased collaboration in a time when connectivity is of the utmost importance. 

Richard: Awareness initiatives like World MS Day are an important moment in time, building momentum that carries forward over the course of the next year. Bristol Myers Squibb supports, educates and rallies around patient communities during these key moments, and all year long. With an unwavering commitment to transform lives through science, we remain dedicated to delivering what matters most — the promise of living a better life.