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Eli Lilly, Boehringer roll out video game for doctors to highlight cardio-renal-metabolic disease connections

October 8, 2021 Natalie Missakian

Like the pipes in the plumbing of a building, the heart, kidneys and endocrine system are interwoven. Disease in one area will often affect the others.

Yet specialists treating patients with cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases—known  collectively as CRM—too often focus only on their own areas of expertise.

Drugmakers Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim want to change that, and they’ve turned to gaming to encourage a more cooperative approach at a time when their Jardiance diabetes drug is moving toward a key approval in patients with chronic kidney disease with or without diabetes.

The companies teamed with animation production studio Psyop to develop a construction-themed online game called CRMSynced. It takes place on a virtual building site where players are tasked with reconnecting incomplete plumbing among the 21 floors of  “Sync Tower” using only the supply of pipes they have on hand.

Players can choose from four aptly named avatars: Dr. Grace Hart, cardiologist; Dr. Kit Nee, nephrologist;  Dr. Gage Sugarman, endocrinologist; and Dr. Howie Feelin, a primary care physician. 

As they work through the levels, players earn points and add more pipes to their inventories if they answer questions from the other fictional doctors about hypothetical patients. 

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Launched last week, the game targets cardiologists, nephrologists, endocrinologists and primary care practitioners and promotes new professional medical association guidelines that call for a holistic, cross-specialty approach to treating patients with CRM-related conditions.

Through the game, Boehringer and Lilly hope to spark quicker widespread acceptance of those guidelines, said Mohammed Eid, M.D., BI’s vice president for clinical development and medical affairs, cardio-metabolism and respiratory medicine. 

Eid said the mission is an urgent one. Combined, CRM diseases affect more than a billion people worldwide and are a leading cause of death.

“About 50% of chronic kidney disease is actually triggered by diabetes and obesity. And for those with diabetes, the most common cause of death is cardiovascular disease,” Eid said. People with chronic kidney disease also commonly die from heart-related conditions, Eid explained.

“It’s clearly important that we look at those disease areas as overlapping,” he said. “Improvement in one area actually does lead to improvement in [the others].”

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Boehringer and Lilly teamed up in 2011 to focus on drug development for diabetes. Although the CRMSynced campaign is unbranded, the pair’s SGLT2 diabetes drug Jardiance in 2015 became the first diabetes med to show it could improve cardiovascular outcomes for high-risk Type 2 patients. 

In August, Jardiance scored its first FDA approval outside of Type 2 diabetes with a nod to treat non-diabetes patients who have heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. The companies are also testing the drug for chronic kidney disease, and the FDA fast-tracked that program early last year, and they’re expecting outcomes data in 2022.

Eid said the companies chose a video game format for the CRM campaign because research shows game-based learning can improve retention. They also wanted it to be fun, engaging and easy for busy healthcare professionals to fit in their schedules. 

“This is a really simple platform,” Eid added. “With a few clicks, a [healthcare provider] can log into the system at their leisure and test their knowledge at their own pace.”

Boehringer and Lilly are promoting the game on social media and through a dedicated website, which includes additional resources for healthcare providers who treat CRM conditions. 

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