I have to admit that I tend to stay away from writing about Big Pharma and prescription drugs, mainly because, in a US healthcare system that seems to pride itself on being opaque, frustrating, and yet outrageously expensive, the prescription drug industry takes the cake. It’s too much of a mess.
But a “Netflix model” for drug development? Consider me intrigued.
It’s easy to understand why market forces might not do well with rare diseases that need an “orphan drug,” but the “subscription model” approach that the Pasteur Act seeks to address is something that most of us need: antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has made many of our front-line antibiotics less effective, but discovering new antibiotics is a slow, expensive process, and many pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to take the risk. The Pasteur Act would essentially pay for their development in return for “free” use of subsequently invented drugs.
Covid 19 vaccine development may have mainstreamed questions about how to hasten drug development timelines, but Medable, a health tech startup that offers researchers a way to de-centralize clinical trials, has been working to solve this problem for five years. Freshly funded with a $91M Series C raise, co-founder and CEO Michelle Longmire talks through the benefits of “liberating” clinical trials from academic research centers and sending them onto devices into patient’s homes. Traditionally, drug development processes average more than 10 years, cost millions of dollars, and are limited in the diversity of patients they can recruit because of the heavy focus on the geographic location of the research team conducting the trial. Medable’s digital platform breaks these limitations, reducing drug development timelines and costs by making it easier for researchers to draw study participants from anywhere. More importantly, it makes the novel medicines being tested by the trial available to a bigger, more diverse array of patients. Despite the gains made in 2020 toward the de-centralized clinical trial model (Medable’s revenue shot up 500%), there’s concern that Big Pharma may return to the business processes of old once the pandemic is under control. Does Michelle think last year make enough of an impact to change their business model for good? Find out what’s ahead for the future of pharma.
We are all are anxiously awaiting the approval and delivery of a cure to the novel coronavirus – or better yet, a vaccine.
Amid the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine, some may be inclined to give drug companies a pass on their well-established bad behavior related to pricing and market competition.
But that would be an awfully expensive mistake.
As the COVID-19 pandemic claims more lives and families’ livelihood, policymakers and the public must press drug makers for more information on the products they are developing. The country must be protected against price-gouging for therapies that could bring the pandemic to a halt.
Yes, we need America’s biopharmaceutical companies to develop a cure or vaccine so we can resume our normal lives. And yes, they should be compensated for their work.
Big Health bills itself as a “complete 24-hour solution for mental health,” offering Sleepio to those who have trouble sleeping and Daylight to those who suffer from worry and anxiety during the day. Fresh off a $39M Series B in June 2020 (total $54.3M) — and having just landed Daylight onto CVS Health’s digital health formulary to join Sleepio there as a “point solution” payors can easily integrate into their benefits offerings — co-founder & CEO Peter Hames stops by for an ENORMOUS conversation about the ‘state-of-play’ for digital mental health companies like his own. Has CVS Health’s digital formulary made it any easier to contract with employers and get the attention of health consumers? And, what of the attention being paid to Big Health itself? As we hit “peak platformization” in digital health, is the company a prime acquisition target? (Note: Omada Health’s CEO Sean Duffy is a friend and investor and we get a good laugh around the 15-minute mark when we fact-check some rumors… ) Finally, another “insight highlight” worth mentioning: some candid conversation on what’s happening in digital therapeutics (DTx) as Peter is the Chair of the category’s industry org, the Digital Therapeutics Alliance. Does Big Pharma still have an appetite for DTx despite some rough news about partnerships with startups in recent months? You’ll want to tune in around 17:30 for more on that too.
A startup PBM? Partnered up with Walmart to bring “everyday low prices” to prescription drug pricing? Is this too good to be true? A.J. Loiacono, founder & CEO at Capital Rx, gives us a quick primer on “Pharmacy Benefit Managers” (PBMs) and why they’ve become known for the element of mystery they bring to prescription drug pricing. With three big PBMs (CVS’s Caremark, Express Scripts, and UnitedHealth’s OptumRx) controlling three quarters of the total market, it’s no surprise that VC-backed challenger companies in this space are rare. So, how does A.J. believe Capital Rx will shake things up? Learning about this new kind of tech-enabled, customer-focused PBM not only inspires hope for a clear future of prescription drug price transparency, but also makes one wonder about the new vision for American healthcare unfolding at Walmart.
Click Therapeutics is a digital therapeutics company that develops and commercializes “software as medical treatments” — basically building digital formularies of prescribable software tools the same way a traditional pharma company would create a formulary of prescription drugs. CEO David Benshoof Klein stops by to talk about Click’s array of solutions and the support they’ve received from those traditional pharma companies, including investment from Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures (which led their last funding round of $27.4M in October 2018) and a new partnership with Otsuka America, Inc. to fully fund development of an app to combat Major Depressive Disorder.
Filmed at Frontiers Health in Berlin, Germany, November 2019.
Almirall is a dermatology-focused pharmaceutical company based in Spain, and its investment in R&D for developing new therapeutics leads the way as the largest within the country’s pharma industry. It’s no surprise, then, that Almirall has also adopted a digital therapeutics and digital health strategy to augment it’s molecular innovations with a ‘beyond the pill’ approach. We sat down with Almirall’s first-ever Chief Digital Officer, Francesca Wuttke, to hear about the pharma company’s digital strategy which is centered on laying the framework for advanced analytical platforms that gather more health data about patients and skin health. For help and fresh ideas, Francesca has opened Almirall’s doors to health tech startups, launching a brand-new accelerator program cutely called ‘Almirall’s Digital Garden,’ to ‘seed’ and ‘grow’ innovative solutions. Are there lots of health startups out there that focus on treating psoriasis, acne, and other dermatological conditions? Francesca tells us what she hopes ‘reap’ from the Digital Garden and how she hopes her broader digital strategy will flourish at the boutique pharma company.
Filmed at Barcelona Health Hub Summit in Barcelona, Spain, October 2019.
I have noticed several articles describing how antibiotic development has bankrupted some pharmaceutical companies because there isn’t enough potential profit in a ten day course to treat multi-resistant superbug infections.
Chronic disease treatments, on the other hand, appear to be extremely profitable. A single month’s treatment with the newer diabetes drugs, COPD inhalers or blood thinners costs over $500, which means well over $50,000 over an effective ten year patent for each one of an ever increasing number of chronically ill patients.
Imagine if the same bureaucratic processes insurance companies have created for chronic disease drug coverage existed (I don’t know if they do) for acute prescriptions of superbug antibiotics: It’s Friday afternoon and a septic patient’s culture comes back indicating that the only drug that would work is an expensive one that requires a Prior Authorization. Patients would die and the insurance companies would be better off if time ran out in such bureaucratic battles for survival.
As recent events in northeastern Syria make clear, the number of displaced people in the world is rising — as are their health needs.
In 2018 I went with a team of other doctors to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. At one stop, a woman offered us homemade bread as we examined her husband, although the couple had very little money and not enough food for themselves. As we ate the bread, she asked if we could leave them extra medications since they didn’t know when the next humanitarian mission would come through their camp.
Her request was reasonable in the situation – indeed, many other refugee families we treated asked us the same thing. Their host countries’ healthcare systems are simply not equipped to handle their needs. Lebanon alone has almost 1.5 million refugees, an increase of 1/4 of their population.
But expecting vulnerable and displaced people to hoard needed medicine is neither sustainable nor humane. Instead, we must make it part of the social contract for healthcare corporations to use some of their massive wealth to help reduce disparities in global access to healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies and the retail industry have already created efficient models healthcare corporations could follow.
Big news from Aetion CEO, Carolyn Magil, as she talks about the addition of former FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, to her Board. WHOA. What a HUGE endorsement of support for what Aetion is building…which is what, exactly? Carolyn explains how the company is using real world data (any data outside of clinical trial data) to figure out how different people will react to the same drug. That means they’re using data from health insurance claims, EMRs, wearables, pharma registries, etc. to ultimately save the time, money, and headache of finding out which medicines will work best for which patients. What’s more? A priority for Aetion is helping bring to light how populations usually under-represented in clinical trials (women, seniors, kids) will react to certain treatments. Backed by $77M in funding, and now the former FDA head, tune in to find out what’s next for Aetion.
Filmed at the HIMSS Health 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, CA in September 2019.