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Billions spent in oncology translate to patient bedside: Life Sciences LIVE panelists

Triangle Business Journal | October 26th, 2017

When it comes to the challenges of drug development in oncology, it’s no surprise that perpetually increasing costs are at the top of the list. And that challenge applies to not only the companies and organizations working to secure funding for such ventures, but also the physicians and patients in need of life-saving treatments.

“We’re all aware of the skyrocketing costs of therapies, and we understand what it takes to bring a drug to market,” says Triangle Business Journal Life Sciences LIVE panelist Dr. Matthew I. Milowsky, the section chief of the Genitourinary Oncology Service and co-director of the Urologic Oncology Program at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“When I’m in the clinic seeing a patient, there is a trickle down to the patient sitting in front of you, and so cost becomes part of that discussion; whereas, in the past, it wasn’t nearly as important,” he says.

For instance, the price tag for a new cancer therapy from Novartis is $475,000 per patient.

“In making decisions about these treatments it is, not only the effectiveness of the treatment, but it is also the impact on quality of life that’s incredibly important to take into consideration in a very serious way by us as the physicians [and] also by our leaders in national organizations like the American Society of Clinical Oncology,” Milowsky says.

Recommendations for the treatment of patients increasingly involves the consideration of cost, he notes. While there are programs that patients can participate in when it comes to treatment options, “those funds don’t last forever, so we’re going to need to be able to think about how to provide the best care for patients in spite of hurdles in regards to cost.”

In terms of clinical trials that patients may be able to participate in, particularly, when it comes to oncology, “It really has become an interconnected way of delivering treatment and care,” says panelist Joe D’Ambrosio, a partner in the Clarkston Management Consulting practice. Cloud-based capabilities can increasingly be “tapped into by clinicians and researchers and oncologists, and have an incredible impact on the ability to match up patients with the types of trials that are going on, faster than ever before.”

As for funding – which can range into the billions – needed to get a therapy to market, D’Ambrosio notes that, “While IPOs are down, there is still plenty of capital in the biotechnology sector, both from venture capital and from strategic capital or corporate investors.”

More than 30 percent of venture financing in the biotechnology sector last year was in Series A rounds; however, “The market is crowded,” he notes. In securing that funding, companies must be able to demonstrate the therapeutic value of the drug they’re looking to develop – and clinical evidence is the first item investors are looking for.

In terms of areas of development that physicians see a particular need in when it comes to oncology, Milowsky notes biomarker development as one critical component. It essentially allows for a better understanding of which patients will respond to certain treatments.

There’s also a need for pharmaceutical companies to continue to work collaboratively with drug development, he says, regarding new combination therapies.

“We talk about the billions of dollars that will be spent,” says D’Ambrosio. “Every one of those at the end of the day translates back to a person, a patient, and how it’s practiced by the bedside.”

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