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Fighting Cancer at the Personal Level

01/10/2019

Innovation is moving at a speed that we have never seen before. Driven by big data, cross-industry collaboration and a renewed sense of urgency to help patients, the goal to accelerate the speed of discovery has never been stronger.

 

These sentiments were recently voiced by Dr. Giovanni Caforio, chairman and CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, at People v. Cancer. Hosted by The Atlantic, this event featured representatives from America’s biopharmaceutical companies who spotlighted the latest advances in cancer research and explored how the oncology community is investing its resources, energy and talent in the collective fight to conquer this devastating disease.

“At Bristol-Myers Squibb, we’ve really been privileged in participating in the front line of today’s research revolution, and we’ve seen how patients have benefitted from new approaches to drug discovery,” said Dr. Caforio. “In the medium- and long-term, the use of technology and data in drug development can really push us to a new level of innovation.”

 

Dr. Steven Benner, senior vice president and global therapeutic area head for oncology at Astellas and another featured guest, agreed, noting that “in recent years, the pace of change in the R&D community has picked up dramatically, as has the number of medicines in development and the number of clinical trials.”

 

Dr. Benner’s comments are echoed in a 2018 report, which found there are more than 1,100 medicines in development for the treatment of cancer – all of which are in clinical trials or awaiting review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Driving these advances are breakthroughs in the fields of immuno-oncology and personalized medicine, which together are ushering in a new era of cancer understanding and treatment. Even in just the last year, 47 new immuno-oncology treatments were added to the development pipeline, and a December 2018 report found there are more than 100 cell and gene therapies in development for the treatment of cancer.

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One specific example of how these advances are delivering new hope to patients is in the field of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that is predicted to cause nearly 11,000 deaths this year in the U.S. alone, according to the American Cancer Society.

 

“Until just the last few years, the scientific community had not produced any new drugs to help treat AML,” said Dr. Benner. “Now, the field of personalized medicine is opening new avenues for providing treatment. By understanding the biology of the disease, we’ve been much more successful in identifying therapies that we think could make a real difference for patients.”

 

Dr. Benner also referenced the need for supportive policies to help ensure patients can access these new therapies. Lori Reilly, executive vice president of policy, research and membership at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), agreed, noting that America’s biopharmaceutical companies are helping to develop several initiatives to support this goal.

 

“We believe we need to evolve toward a system where we’re actually paying for the outcomes that a medicine achieves,” said Reilly, referencing a range of new value-based contracts that tie reimbursement for medicines more closely to value for individual patients. These voluntary, private arrangements include performance-based contracts that link payment to demonstrated patient outcomes, varying payment based on how a medicine is used and other forms of risk sharing.

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Reilly also discussed efforts to improve transparency around drug costs in direct-to-consumer advertising, and other policy proposals related to patient access.

 

“We believe that our system in the U.S. balances innovation with cost,” she said. “What we don’t want to do is move toward a system like we have in some countries where patients are unable to get the kinds of therapies we’ve been talking about today.”

 

Reilly’s comments were motivated by the incredible treatment progress researchers have seen recently, as well as a sense of urgency to continue supporting the U.S. as the global leader in drug development.

 

Photos courtesy of Kristoffer Tripplaar