As the research industry marches with longer strides toward tailored medical treatments, a new partnership between Thermo Fisher Scientific and West China Hospital of Sichuan University to develop a joint precision medicine research platform is the latest herald of an era of greater cooperation between diverse partners.
As medicine moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach, experts say targeted therapeutics will involve active collaborations, perhaps with unusual bedfellows. “Collaboration is going to be more cross-industry,” said Stuart Goldberg, M.D., chief medical officer of the health informatics and precision analytics company COTA. “You’re going to see hospitals partnering with pharmaceutical companies, which then partner with diagnostic companies— and then doctors collaborate with insurance companies. You need the different pieces to communicate and work together.”
Thermo Fisher’s partnership is aimed at making West China Hospital, one of the largest single-site hospitals in the world, a leading global molecular diagnosis center. Joint efforts include construction of training bases for standardized pathology quality control and standardized pathologic diagnosticians, and the development of advanced laboratories with efficient, safe and integrated business procedures.
Li Weimin, president of West China Hospital, stated that the Thermo Fisher partnership will enhance the quality of pathological research and clinical diagnosis, and will help accelerate the development of precise pathological diagnoses.
Less than a decade ago, the advancement of precision medicine research was slow due to a number of barriers—in particular the pharmaceutical industry’s reluctance to move away from the model of developing blockbuster drugs for broad patient groups. But this has changed, said Edward Abrahams, Ph.D., president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition, an education and advocacy organization.
Today, personalized medicine “has captured the imagination of the pharmaceutical industry,” Abrahams said. “There’s been an exponential increase in the number of drugs approved with biomarker strategies. This has transformed clinical research.” He noted that in 2005, the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research approved only one personalized medicine; in 2015, the FDA approved 13 targeted therapeutics, accounting for 28% of the year’s total approvals.
A 2015 survey by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development found that biomarker strategies comprised 42% of current biopharmaceutical company pipelines—and 73% in oncology. The study found that biopharmaceutical companies had nearly doubled their research and investment in personalized medicine over the course of 10 years.
The obstacles that remain, Abrahams believes, are regulatory and payment systems that are stuck on past practices and do not embrace the implications of new targeted discoveries. But this, too, may be changing.
Last year, President Obama announced $215 million in funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative. The funding supports advances in research, technology and policies to allow researchers, providers and patients to work together to develop individualized care.
Collaborations will continue to be key to the advancement of precision medicine, Abrahams believes. “Clearly, precision medicine calls for partnerships, especially between pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, and the third partner is the provider,” he said. “I think we’re going to see more products that are focused on molecular pathways, that require an integration of diagnostics to decide how therapies can and will be administered.”
Stepping up precision medicine research has special meaning to Kerri Antonuccio of North Reading, Mass. Three years ago, at age 37 and the mother of a young child, she was diagnosed with a rare form of choriocarcinoma, a fast-growing cancer of the placenta that metastasized to her lungs and brain. Surgery, a stem cell transplant and a year-long chemotherapy course were unsuccessful; she was out of traditional treatment options.
Her medical team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute devised a treatment strategy for her based on her personal genome, and she embarked on a seven-month, single-patient clinical trial. “I felt I had nothing to lose, because we were at the end of the road,” she said. “My doctors figured out what drugs could kill those tumors—and they worked.”
Today she is cancer-free, feeling healthy, and committed to advocating for precision medicine research. “It literally saved my life,” she said. “Without precision medicine, I certainly wouldn’t be here.”
Marc N. Casper, president and chief executive officer of Thermo Fisher, said in a statement, “We share a commitment to advancing precision medicine, and we’re excited about strengthening our collaboration with West China Hospital to provide technologies and expertise that will ultimately improve patient care.”
This article was reprinted from Volume 20, Issue 24, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »