Biopharma Needs to Help Our Children: Perspectives from Industry Thought-Leaders and Parents of Patients

November 12, 2010

Mr. Robert Coughlin, President and CEO of MassBio, Mr. Doug Flutie, New England Patriots NFL legend and Founder of the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, and Mr. Wyc Grousbeck, CEO of the Boston Celtics all have something in common – they are not only inspirational leaders, but also parents of children with cystic fibrosis, autism and blindness.

At a recent industry conference hosted by Wolfe Laboratories, Inc., Emerging Markets and Technologies: 2020 VisionTM, luminaries and influential leaders of the biopharmaceutical industry gathered, alongside academia, investment bankers, venture capitalists, and not-for-profit organizations, to facilitate forward-thinking discussions and high-quality networking opportunities.  While primarily focused on emerging markets and technologies, the conference shed light on a separate issue, one that deeply affected audience members and stirred up controversial feelings among the biopharmaceutical industry.

Mr. Coughlin, Mr. Flutie, and Mr. Grousbeck each shared their personal stories, reminding us why the biopharmaceutical industry exists – to fulfill unmet medical needs and to improve human health.  However, it also brought to light the unmet medical need still present in many diseases, one that weighs heavily on biopharmaceutical executives whose mission it is to vanquish these diseases, but even more so, on the individuals and families struggling to rid diseases without cures.

Mr. Grousbeck charged the biopharmaceutical executives – how can we, as a community, work together to help the millions struggling with these devastating diseases?  “From what I’ve seen in medical research, I think we have miles and miles to go, where we have anything like the teamwork that I’ve seen in sports.  As a father of a patient, I want childhood blindness and infantile blindness eradicated,” Mr. Grousbeck stated.  “What I see is a bunch of silos – individual players, individual companies, individual efforts doing the best they can; populated by very good people and funded by very good people, but not working together the way I would demand as the parent of a patient.”

With this call to action, Mr. Grousbeck brings up a solid point – how is, and how will, the industry work together to address this large unmet medical need?  In the interim, one thing is clear; it is absolutely necessary for biopharmaceutical companies to re-evaluate the ways in which they are serving, or not serving, this unmet need.

The numbers do not lie – an estimated 30,000 children and adults in the U.S., and 70,000 worldwide, have been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, with 1,000 new cases occurring each year (source: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation).  An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S., and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism, accounting for 1 in every 110 births in the U.S. and almost 1 in 70 boys (source: Autism Society of America).  An estimated 1.3 million persons in the U.S. are legally blind, with 93,600 of those being school age children, such as Mr. Grousbeck’s son (source: National Federation of the Blind).  With these staggering statistics, there is no question that something must be done.

During Mr. Flutie’s session, he too insisted that cooperation and collaboration between all parties is imperative, in particular when it comes to government funding.  However, as Mr. Flutie pointed out, part of the challenge is that there are hundreds of competing programs that call for similar funding, making it difficult to receive enough financial support to make a significant difference.  “Government is the bottom line,” Mr. Flutie stated.  “If you’re going to have enough money toward research to make a big difference, the money has to come from the federal government but there is only so much to go around, making it really tough.  How do you ask for more when there are so many other people that need financial support?”

In response to Mr. Flutie’s question, William Chin, MD, Executive Dean for Research at Harvard Medical School and former Eli Lilly executive, brought up an interesting point that might pose a potential solution.  “Research, as you know, is getting better in the sense of understanding the genetic basis of the diseases, but when you think of the whole spectrum of neurological diseases, we know very little about it,” Dr. Chin commented.  “There are only a handful of disorders that actually have some genetic components to it.  For example, bipolar disease and attention deficit disorder, and I think there is more known about autism.  Maybe the government and companies should be looking at this as a whole, because in order to begin to understand other neurologic and psychiatric diseases, you need to understand these other conditions, as well.”

Suggesting that instead of having individual funding and research “silos”, Dr. Chin asserts that it would be more beneficial to create an overarching therapeutic area that encompasses all diseases under that domain.  Grouping these related diseases under one spectrum would lead to increased funding and research, and would therefore, improve the chances of finding cures.  Dr. Chin’s comment highlights the same line of reasoning that both Mr. Grousbeck and Mr. Flutie discussed – teamwork is necessary for overall success; and this is one aspect that biopharma cannot dispute.

The remainder of the conference turned its focus back towards emerging markets and technologies, while making it difficult to forget the stark reality that the biopharmaceutical industry faces.  Janet Wolfe, Ph.D., President and Founder of Wolfe Laboratories, opened the event with remarks on the state of the industry, including its transformation and future outlook.  Following Dr. Wolfe’s introduction, morning sessions addressed emerging technologies and included presentations from:

Dr. Armstrong noted that a successful pharmaceutical R&D paradigm requires and depends on three things: a source of molecules, which ultimately come from ideas around the globe; a source of capacity and capability, which are the experienced individuals that can carry out this work; and lastly a source of funds, also known as the risk-bearers.

“The key to success is implementing the most effective and efficient linkage between these three critical components,” Dr. Armstrong stated.  “Instead of thinking about the interface between R&D, think about the interface between sources of ideas, capabilities, and risk-capital.”

Afternoon sessions provided an overview of emerging markets and included presentations by:

“People all around the world share one desire – everyone wants healthcare that they can afford.  One of the challenges that pharmaceutical companies face is how they can get their drug and vaccine to the 80% of the world population that currently isn’t being served,” Dr. Turner said as he discussed Merck’s emerging market strategy, observing that emerging markets will drive global growth over the next decade.  “That 80% of the world population is growing very rapidly in its prosperity and its ability to pay for medical needs.  This is why so many companies are drawn to the area.”

A personalized medicine panel moderated by Steven Dickman, CEO of CBT Advisors also took place in the afternoon and   included:

Stressing the impact of biomarkers on drug development complexity and cost, Dr. Averbuch highlighted three key factors that were identified in his research to create stratified medicine applicability: therapeutic effect variability across the population; biomarker prevalence in the patient population; and the companion diagnostic clinical performance, which is the power to separate high responders from low responders.

The 2010 Wolfe Biopharma was made possible by the following organizations:

Audience member testimonials noted the success of the conference.  “The conference was quiet informative and was a great motivator for us all to work together to solve medical problems,” Shirish Hirani, Vice President of ARIAD Pharmaceuticals commented.

“The sessions were passionate and full of information,” said Kees Been, President and CEO of EnVivo Pharmaceuticals.  “You singularly are instrumental in lifting our Mass Biotech community to a higher level.”

With a strong commitment to providing science education to underprivileged youth, Wolfe Laboratories will donate net proceeds to the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley’s Math, Science, and Technology initiative, which provides after-school programs in science- and technology-related fields.

The company is currently working on programming for the 2011 Wolfe Biopharma Conference.  To learn about available 2011 sponsorship opportunities, email events@wolfelabs.com. To view the full 2010 conference brochure, click here.

About Wolfe Laboratories, Inc. (WLI)

WLI is a biopharmaceutical development company that offers customized translational research services and comprehensive IND-enabling programs for biologics and small molecules.  Through its development services in the CMC and ADMET areas, as well as cGLP and cGMP testing, the company brings value to its clients by rapidly providing high quality project planning and execution through its experienced staff and management team.  Drug Development Done Right.  On Time. For more information, visit www.wolfelabs.com.

 

 

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