Experts Gather to Discuss Impacts of Healthcare Costs and Patient Access

February 27, 2014

By Meaghan Casey

Addressing a crowd of nearly 300 gathered for the 2014 MassBio Policy Leadership Breakfast, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh took to the podium to share his deep-felt gratitude and respect for the life sciences industry.

Walsh’s investment is two-fold: as a policy maker and as a patient. He battled Burkitt’s lymphoma at age 7 and credits his survival in part to the experimental treatments and extraordinary care he received at Children’s Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

“In 1974, the survival rate for Burkitt’s lymphoma was about 15 to 20 percent,” said Walsh. “Now it’s about 90 percent. There’s probably someone in this room who contributed to that, and for that I’m especially thankful. The research you do every day is saving lives.” Walsh, who took office just a few weeks prior to the Jan. 29 event at the Omni Parker House, went on to announce his commitment to growing the Innovation District and attracting more businesses—particularly medical device manufacturing—to the region.

“You certainly have my commitment, here and in Washington, to try to bring in more funds for research and brick-and-mortar projects,” said Walsh. The event also featured a discussion on the value of medical innovation in an era of cost containment. Moderated by WBUR health reporter Martha Bebinger, a panel—consisting of Robert J. Beall, President and CEO of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation; David M. Cutler, Professor of Applied Economics at Harvard University; Andrew Dreyfus, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts; Geoff MacKay, President and CEO of Organogenesis and Chairman of MassBio; and Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, President of Brigham and Women’s Health Care— discussed efforts to get a handle on the ever-rising cost of healthcare, as well as new approaches to ensure patients receive quality care and breakthrough therapies.

“Our charge is to infuse innovation and discovery in everything we do—in research space, in education models and in delivery of care,” said Nabel. “The last thing anyone wants to do is stifle innovation,” said MacKay. “We have to accept that we’re going to get it wrong. But with industry, academia, hospitals and private insurers working together, we can make corrections as we go. If we get it right, Massachusetts will be the blueprint for the rest of the country.”

The panelists agreed that in order to conserve and contain costs, healthcare providers will have to ensure the right patients are receiving the right therapies 100 percent of the time.

“What people really want is better value for what they’re spending,” said Dreyfus. “And for patients, the best value is the best outcome. In the past, we haven’t successfully targeted therapies to specific patients who will absolutely benefit.”

“That’s where genomic sequencing is really going to play a role,” said Nabel. “By targeting specific mutations, we can avoid giving a very expensive drug to a patient who wouldn’t benefit from it.”

At the conclusion of the breakfast, the 2014 MassBio Policy Leadership Award was presented to Nick Littlefield, a retired partner at Foley, Hoag LLP and longtime staff director and chief counsel for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Over the course of his career, Nick worked on landmark legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ryan White AIDS Care Act, the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, the NIH Revitalization Act, and the bipartisan legislation reforming health insurance
known as HIPAA. As a partner at Foley Hoag, Nick advised clients on issues like Medicare coverage and reimbursement, orphan drug status and protection of intellectual property. He was also intimately involved in the 2007 Congressional effort to establish a legislative pathway for FDA to approve biosimilars.

“Anytime I need a jolt of inspiration, I sit across from Nick Littlefield,” said Wendy Everett, president of the New England Healthcare Institute. “Nick has the biggest heart, the biggest brain and the biggest dose of enthusiasm. He is irrepressible.”

“I want to thank everyone here,” said Littlefield, who now lives with Parkinson’s disease. “When I was working with Sen. Kennedy on orphan diseases, I never thought I’d come full circle and be here in the patient seat. From this perspective, I can fully recognize that what you do is the most important thing. There is simply no substitute to the policy work and research you all are doing.”

As part of his award, Littlefield was presented with a piece of artwork from Art in Giving, which will hang in his honor at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.

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