By Wendy Meyeroff
Many life sciences materials are translated for foreign clients for a simple reason: Regulations in one country or another require it. “Some European countries have laws that require certain documentation to be in that county’s native language,” says Paul Carlson, program manager, Global Quality Operations at Abbott Laboratories in Chicago.
But experts say that there are benefits to translating life sciences materials that go far beyond meeting regulatory demands. “Going to the trouble of translating material is important from a branding and imaging perspective,” says Jessica Eker, VP/global life sciences at TransPerfect, headquartered in New York. One of the world’s largest translation services, TransPerfect’s life sciences division specializes in pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device translations while separate groups handle industries like travel, technology, legal, and others. “You want the target population to feel that you’re truly invested in their country, so native-level language is vital to maintaining credibility,” Eker explains.
Waldemar Frank, director of business development for LUZ, a San Francisco-based translation services company, adds, “One of the things that we have discovered is that life sciences companies cite risk management as a big reason for utilizing a service likes ours.” LUZ specializes in clients in the life sciences industry, including medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare services. “It’s because the types of products life sciences companies develop affect life and death. We enable clients to communicate their ability to improve people’s lives and also, indirectly, manage their risk.”
Eker agrees. “We do a lot of clinical packaging, labeling, informed consent forms, protocols, etc. Incorrect translation of this high-risk material can result in misinterpretation for inclusion and exclusion criteria or for randomizing correct subjects. On a more extreme level, misdosing a subject or misuse of a medical device due to an incorrectly translated IFU [instructions for use] can ultimately result in serious adverse events or even death,” she points out.
Frank had just returned from a conference discussing patient reporting outcomes when he spoke with LSL. “These outcomes are surveys to collect patient input on how well a drug works,” he explains, noting that such outcome surveys are required for drug manufacturers to confirm their labeling claims. “At first glance, it’s just a short survey, so the perception is, how hard could it be to translate it properly, compared to a big manual? But if the questions you raise aren’t formulated correctly, or the scaling system isn’t right across cultures, the feedback you get won’t be valid,” he says. “You want the people in Italy to understand the survey questions the same way as the people in Poland.” That’s more than risk management, he points out: It’s data accuracy.
Should You Be Providing A Corporate Glossary?
“It’s not uncommon for a company to say, ‘Everyone throughout the company speaks English, so that’s our language,’” says Eker. “But that doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable or most effective working in English.”
Recognizing that fact is exactly why Carlson turned to LUZ when he had to develop training materials to be distributed throughout Abbott’s international facilities. “We wanted to provide the training in the languages of the people we’d be training. We have plants all over the world, so we have people speaking German, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese … we’re even throwing in Swedish now,” Carlson says. “Plus there are different regional dialects that must be considered. The Spanish we use in Spain may not be exactly what’s typical for Mexico, Latin America, and so on. It’s a matter of being truly global, using the language that is truly effective for the people doing the work.”
Sometimes the “dialect” being sought is even subtler. “Bristol-Myers Squibb, for instance, has its own internal ‘language,’ so we have to not only translate traditional languages for them, but take into account the ‘Bristol-Myers Squibb’ vernacular,” Eker says.
Such in-house translation may even require a corporate glossary (another service the translation agency should be able to provide) for everyone to follow. That’s because the project may have several levels of executives reviewing the material. They may all speak Russian, but what happens when they each speak a different dialect? A corporate glossary can help avoid confusion.
Components Of Translation Service Providers
Both LUZ and TransPerfect do careful screening of the linguists they hire. “Some clients think because we’re an agency and I’m sitting in the United States, that we’re not using resources in their native country. That’s not true. The linguists we choose are, for the most part, located in their native country. If they’re not, they have to travel back there regularly to keep abreast of the latest linguistic nuances and changes in terminology,” says Eker.
In health communications, the client needs to consider how specialized a translation it needs. It’s not just a matter of in-country regional language variations or the “company dialect.” You may need a translator even more specialized (e.g. someone who understands neurology versus cardiology, or even stroke versus Parkinson’s disease).
Frank points to a service called “back translation.” “Usually, especially with big pharma, the client provides the original text in English, which we translate into Chinese, for example, or any other language,” says Frank. “With back translation, you then use a different translator to translate the document from Chinese back into English and see how clear or ambiguous it is when it comes back.” It’s an extra step, and it tends to be expensive, but it’s one that Frank says can be critical for a project requiring a higher level of risk management (e.g. something clinical versus creative marketing).
More and more, technology is playing a role in helping speed the translation process. Eker and Frank both mentioned working through a translation portal that everyone can access whenever it’s convenient. “It used to be the system was: 1. We’d send the translation to the client. 2. They’d provide their comments in track changes and send it back to us. 3. We’d revise and send it back to them. 4. It might get forwarded on to a reviewer, and who knows who else,” says Eker. It’s a procedure that obviously takes a lot of time.
“Now, with an online review tool, everyone can log on and make their changes in a centralized location whenever it’s convenient, which decreases the overall length of the process. Then the program submits automated alerts that a comment is waiting. It also can hide words they’ve already translated so they don’t have to review them again. Using a tool like this can reduce overall review time by approximately 20% to 40% and also lessen the manpower needed,” Eker adds.
Be Clear On Your Translation Goals
LUZ’s Frank notes that clients often assume that translation happens “magically” somewhere, but it’s up to companies like his to help clients understand how it happens. In fact, the company name, LUZ, means “light” in Spanish, and Frank says it was chosen because one of the company’s main goals was to make the whole process of translation more transparent, shedding light on how it works. “You can buy a cheap translation from anyone. But if the client understands the process, it understands it’s buying more than just translation. It’s buying peace of mind,” he says.
Both Frank and Eker stress that the key to a successful translation service is accurately understanding the full scope of the project and the goals of the pharma company. Ekers says, “It’s the translation company’s job to help make sure everyone is on the same page before any actual translation work begins.” For instance, if a pharma company is trying to register a product, it needs more than just an accurate translation. “It has to understand regulatory requirements from authorities like the FDA. That’s different from simply translating information,” Frank explains.
Think Hard About Self-Translation
There are still a number of life sciences companies (especially the bigger ones) that think they can handle their own translation needs. While do-it-yourself is a great cost-containment idea (especially having learned some lessons during the recession), there are times it can cost more than it saves.
There are liability issues if the material confuses the target audience. For instance, trials may have to be interrupted and restarted if instructions aren’t clear. “You need to look at the overall cost of time-to-market delays if the work isn’t done right the first time. There’s more to consider in the long-term service and overall business partnership that your translation vendor can provide,” Eker concludes.