by Paul Hudson
I’ve had the privilege of working in biopharmaceuticals for more than 25 years, and over that period of time I’ve witnessed remarkable progress and breakthroughs in science and the development of innovative medicines. From HIV/AIDS to cancer to heart disease, new therapies have improved health outcomes, extended life expectancy and enabled a better quality of life for patients. For example, since peaking in the 1990s, cancer death rates have declined nearly 22 percent,1 and today, two out of three people diagnosed with cancer survive at least five years. In lung cancer specifically, in the last four decades, the survival rate is up by 54 percent.
Despite the great progress, however, there are still only 500 treatments available for roughly 7,000 known diseases. To close that gap we must work toward new and innovative ways to engage with patients more effectively. With personalized medicine we have the exciting opportunity to identify, target and engage with patients more effectively. An even greater opportunity for individualized treatment exists when we look beyond disease states and see patients as partners, not as data points.
For example, we now know that cancer is not a single disease, but rather more than 200 unique diseases, many of which are caused by genetic mutations. As the biopharmaceutical industry investigates and earns FDA approval for more targeted therapies in oncology and other disease states, the benefits are clear: better diagnoses, fewer adverse drug reactions, increased patient adherence, improved quality of life and, ultimately, significant savings in overall U.S. health care costs.
Scientific advances, healthy market competition and better information-sharing — and the potential benefits for every stakeholder in our health care system — are all driving the industry toward increasingly personalized health care solutions. Last year alone, 20 percent of FDA approvals were for targeted therapies. At AstraZeneca, more than 80 percent of our pipeline has a personalized medicine approach, and the FDA has approved two new AstraZeneca medicines in just the past 12 months that align with an FDA-approved diagnostic to detect specific mutations.
As remarkable as recent progress has been, in the next quarter century we have the opportunity to produce even more astounding medical breakthroughs, including treatments that transform our current perception of cancer to no longer be a death sentence, but rather a chronic condition. However, realizing the promise of personalized medicines, for patients in need of innovative treatments right now and for future generations, requires more than great science. Our nation’s regulatory framework, clinical trial designs and traditional approaches to insurance coverage and reimbursement haven’t kept up with the pace of advancing medical science.
Initiatives proposed over the past year by the Administration and both houses of Congress are promising in that they address some areas where modernization is desperately needed. Progress also requires exceptional collaboration by health care providers, payers, the government, researchers and even patients. Biopharmaceutical companies share that accountability, too, especially in articulating the value of targeted therapies to payers and providers.
We have some competing interests, to be sure — competition is good business, and in our business, healthy competition inspires the development of new, innovative medicines that address unmet patient needs or improve the current standard of care. Yet everyone with a stake in health care has common interests as well — most notably the heath and well-being of patients, who are also our friends, families and often ourselves.
The bar has never been set higher for the health care industry as a whole to pursue innovation collaboratively. We’re moving faster than ever before and change is rarely easy, but I’m confident in a bright future ahead, for the health care industry and the millions of patients counting on us.
I look forward to discussing these immense opportunities before us, and hearing others’ views on how we can progress personalized health care solutions, at the Personalized Medicine Conference in Boston next month.
President, AstraZeneca U.S.
Executive Vice President, North America