MassBio’s 2016 Policy Leadership Breakfast tackled two of the most pressing issues facing the Commonwealth—a growing opioid addiction epidemic and a healthcare system that needs to find a balance among access, quality and cost.
Attorney General Maura Healey opened the event, held on Jan. 27 at the Omni Parker House, with a reminder that, on average, heroin and prescription drug abuse is claiming four lives in the Commonwealth every day.
“If we’re going to solve this crisis, we need to come together,” said Healey. “We’re looking to make treatments more available, intervene and educate people as early as possible and get Narcan in the hands of more first responders. We need strong action and we need it now. I know it’s a difficult issue but there’s no greater collection of minds than those in this room.”
Healey also addressed the challenge of treating diseases such as hepatitis C, which is rising in conjunction with injection drug abuse, when the approved drugs come with a list price upwards of $100,000.
“There’s an infectious disease that’s rising, and there’s a cure,” said Healey. “How do we get it into the hands of more patients? Manufacturers and investors should rightly reap their financial reward, yet patients need access.”
She has since sent a letter to Gilead urging for discounted pricing on hepatitis C drugs Harvoni and Sovaldi for the Commonwealth’s public payers. Healey has made it clear she intends to use her authority to shape the conversation and public policy, and hopes to work directly with the MassBio community to do so.
“The work you’re doing is changing lives and building a healthier, more promising future,” said Healey. “But this business is fragile. The reward is great, but so are the risks and setbacks. You need support for workforce development and the [Massachusetts] Life Sciences Center. My office is here to work with you.”
During the panel discussion on innovation’s role in the opioid crisis, Marylou Sudders, Secretary of Health and Human Services, shared her dream for a long-term solution—the development of a non-addictive painkiller, which
MassCONNECT graduate startup Blue Therapeutics is currently working on. Until that comes to fruition, companies throughout the Commonwealth, such as Alkermes, Collegium Pharmaceutical and kaléo are doing their part to create safeguards to prevent and treatments to reverse overdoses, or to find ways to block opioid pleasure receptors.
Michael Heffernan, Founder, President and CEO of Collegium, spoke about his company’s technology platform, DETERx, which provides extended-release drug delivery, while safeguarding against common methods of abuse and tampering including crushing, chewing, heating and injecting.
“Like seatbelts or airbags in a car, it’s not the solution, but it’s part of the solution,” said Heffernan. “We all need to collaborate to form a fully integrated approach to fight addiction.”
Closing the event, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts CEO Andrew Dreyfus and Sarah Emond, Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, joined MassBio President & CEO Robert K. Coughlin to discuss the pressures the healthcare system has faced and what to expect in the years ahead.
“Personalized medicine is upon us and we’ll have to find a way to fund it,” said Dreyfus. “There will have to be a certain level of caution and a focus on those treatments that we know will be effective.”
Emond agreed her organization’s value framework will have to be adjusted to measure one-time treatments such as gene therapy. Coughlin called for a Payer-Provider-Industry Task Force to develop solutions and to bring those solutions forward to policy makers.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Coughlin. “We want to cure diseases with gene therapy and invent non-addictive opioids. No one said it would be easy, but all of us, collectively, can solve these problems. We have to educate and engage every stakeholder to find a path forward together.”