I love the word association TV show “$100,000 Pyramid,” where the challenge is to identify a common theme from sometimes disparate clues.
How about we play? The clues are: PR Account Management for Pharmaceutical Clients…Advocacy…Brand Positioning…Nonprofit Communications. For Geralyn LaNeve, Director of Communications & Marketing for the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), one answer stands out: improving public health and the lives of patients.
Geralyn’s focus in healthcare communications began at a small agency where one of her clients was the New Jersey Sharing Network, a non-profit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for those in need of a life-saving transplant. “From then on, I remained focused on health/medical accounts, which brought together so many aspects of my career interests — my journalism and communications studies at Rowan University; the science and medicine, which satisfied my appetite for learning something new; taking on the challenge of solving public health issues and doing something day-to-day that improved people’s lives,” she said.
There’s one more important element that connects the others, all with their own skillsets: engaging the patient and caregiver. Whether supporting pharma clients at Cooney Waters Unlimited and Ruder Finn, or taking a communications leadership role at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and now ADDF, Geralyn says, “Some of my greatest moments have involved working with patients or caregivers, who were seated at the table in one way or another as a way to raise awareness and educate, advance research, and even influence policy.”
She gives some examples:
- Facilitating the first-time meeting between a transplant recipient and organ donor family (not a dry eye in the room – including the camera operator and reporter)
- Sharing cancer patients’ stories of hope – whether in media interviews, patient summits or community walks/runs
- Creating a coalition of medical and public health groups to rally around the common goal of universal flu vaccine, including an advocacy group of families who lost their children to flu
And since joining the ADDF in August 2018, Geralyn has seen her role bring together all her career experiences. Her current role is focused on health and science communications for the non-profit. She notes, “The mission solely focuses on the discovery and development of therapies to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s, and our guiding stars are the patients and families.”
For more than a year, like other communications leaders, Geralyn has strived to keep the ADDF’s mission in the public’s consciousness during a behemoth pandemic. The ADDF continued to amplify its important work through a community of voices, including the scientists and researchers, and the personal stories of its volunteers and advocates.
“Our CEO, Mark Roithmayr, who has worked at nonprofits throughout his career, reminds us to always make our mission relevant,” she explains.
The ADDF currently invests more than $168 million to fund over 650 drug discovery, biomarker and clinical trial programs led by researchers around the globe. With 50 million people worldwide affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias, the need for a safe, effective cure or way to slow down disease progression is enormous. Geralyn says her ADDF colleagues believe answers for this complex disease are nearer than ever, with every study bringing us closer to the long hoped for therapy, or more likely, combination “cocktail” therapy.
Increasingly, says Geralyn, in the field of healthcare communications, members of the patient/caregiver community are taking more prominent roles and speaking with a stronger voice.
“Many advocates, who have family members who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, want to do more than write a check. They want to use their talents and skills by joining a board or committee, volunteering to help support the advancement of science and research. They’re engaged at new, higher levels.”
A perhaps surprising subset of ADDF’s presence: Its Young Professionals Committee, a group of about 65 investors in their 20s and 30s who’ve witnessed the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s on grandparents or parents. “They’re convinced Alzheimer’s shouldn’t be accepted as a natural part of aging,” notes Geralyn, “and they are determined to do something about it by supporting the organization in its pursuit to find a cure.”
They are making an investment for their own future.