By Paul Hudson, President, AstraZeneca US and Executive Vice President, North America
Changes are happening right before our eyes as the world moves on from a one-size-fits-all approach. With recent advancements in wearables and mobile health technology, we are able to see what was once invisible – our steps, our calories, our sleep patterns. As patients and consumers, we’re becoming accountable. We’re demanding answers to questions. We’re taking our health into our own hands.
The game has changed across the healthcare industry, and discoveries in personalized medicine underscore just how. As we observe Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I am reminded of the incredible potential that personalized approaches offer for patients. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer causes the most cancer deaths worldwide, accounting for 1.6 million deaths in 2012.
Science has come a long way. We’ve learned that not every case of lung cancer is the same, and we know that we can no longer treat the disease as a whole. Patients have different genetic mutations on their lung cells, some of which develop resistance to certain types of therapies and treatments. At AstraZeneca, we’re working to understand why resistance emerges to certain therapies so that we can design improvements in the drugs we use to overcome those mechanisms of resistance.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Personalized Medicine Conference in Boston, presented by Partners HealthCare, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School, and I challenged the audience of key industry stakeholders to work differently to research and develop new medicines, and to collaborate more effectively to discover solutions for patients. Personalized approaches can help to eliminate guesswork, wasted money for payers and uncertainty for patients. Faster, better treatments can reduce doctor visits and hospital stays, ultimately reducing the overall cost burden on the healthcare system.
And while personalized healthcare is strongly associated with oncology therapies, its potential has far-reaching consequences for other therapeutic areas as well. Figures from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggest that over 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. However, we’re increasingly finding that the triggers and drivers of these types of respiratory conditions differ from one individual to the next, and from one country or region to another. By taking a targeted approach, our scientists are working to show that asthma is not one disease, but many smaller clusters of diseases, each with a different cause. And each different cause requires a different treatment, not unlike cancer.
But these breakthrough innovations mean nothing if patients can’t access them. I am realistic that no single company has all the answers. We’re seeing the potential to begin aggregating large amounts of data through information-sharing across the healthcare system. At the same time, we need drug development teams and diagnostic partners to work alongside industry stakeholders and regulatory authorities to help shape the treatment pathways for personalized healthcare and support smart clinical trial design.
This important subject has been elevated to the highest levels of the government, and important dialogue is beginning to take place in the nation’s capital through initiatives like 21st Century Cures, the Senate HELP Committee’s Innovation for Healthier Americans Report and President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.
Many of these recommendations look to bring about incremental advancements in the way the FDA uses real world evidence, can lead to improvements in how the FDA approaches drug and device combination product reviews and can help to ensure that the agency is more broadly accepting of novel clinical trial designs.
It’s imperative that we evolve our pricing structure to better reflect this value – for both patients and healthcare stakeholders. Payers are beginning to use personalized approaches to data aggregation to assess the risk of beneficiaries, and the pharmaceutical industry is working with payers to partner on innovative ways to maximize the healthcare dollar. At AstraZeneca we’ve already started these types of partnering efforts by entering into agreements with large payers in the area of risk sharing, and also experimenting with various value-based and outcomes-based agreements.
Never before has there been so much hope for patients, and opportunities for those of us across the healthcare industry to make a significant difference. At the same time, if we’re unable to keep pace with the rapid changes all around us, we will have collectively failed so many. Many of the breakthroughs of tomorrow will only be possible through advancements in personalized medicines and a clear path to making them accessible to patients.
To read more from Paul Hudson, check out his guest blog post on the Personalized Medicine Coalition’s Education and Advocacy page.