A new oncology-focused contract research organization (CRO) may have found an ideal way to tap into the large patient population participating in Brazil’s public healthcare system.
Oncopartners, a management-funded U.S. company with a wholly owned Brazilian subsidiary, has entered an exclusive worldwide partnership with Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa em Câncer (IBPC), a non-profit entity created to build a network of oncology clinical researchers from 18 public cancer hospitals in Brazil.
Oncopartners has funded and designed the IBPC infrastructure to support international clinical research in each of the public hospitals. Those sites treat more than 30,000 new incidences of cancer annually.
This is a brand-new CRO model for Latin America and an important one. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies usually have the option of outsourcing an entire clinical trial, and often do, so the model for a particular country, especially in an emerging region, can be all-important.
According to Michael Choukas, president and CEO, Oncopartners, 70% of Brazil’s 180 million-plus population has access to healthcare through the public system, and the country’s national formulary has not added a significant new oncology treatment since 2000.
This environment offers centralized access to a motivated patient and physician population, offering one budget and contract — a real opportunity for Oncopartners.
Normally, big pharma and biotechs would have to create a budget and contract for each hospital, a labor-intensive process at a time when faster time to market for drugs is an important metric that emerging countries offer.
As I’ve written in an earlier post, cooperative oncology groups (COGs) in the U.S. are receiving less funding from the National Cancer Institute and have had to make tough cuts to their programs, which will cause more pressure on privately owned sites to enroll cancer patients. These COGs enroll half the patients for oncology trials in the U.S.
Cutbacks have led the COGs to announce that they will have to shut down 95 — or nearly half — of the oncology clinical trials they conduct annually. This would eliminate up to 3,000 —out of 20,000 — patient slots in clinical trials across all cancers, but mainly those for rarer cancers such as sarcoma, some childhood tumors, and head and neck cancers.
Emerging markets in clinical research, such as Brazil, will start to pick up the slack when COG-like businesses, such as Oncopartners, flourish there. Choukas sees his CRO scaling to several thousand patients a year fairly quickly and sees no reason why Brazil couldn’t contribute 20% to 25% of the patients in a large phase III trial.
“Historically, that’s been unusual because much of the research has happened in the private hospitals, which don’t have that kind of patient flow. The research that’s gone on in the public hospitals—and there’s been a lot of it—has not had the benefit of centralized support and resources and has not achieved the kind of enrollment metrics we’re planning on,” he said.