with Richard T Thakor, Nicholas Anaya, Yuwei Zhang, Christian Vilanilam, Kien Wei Siah, Chi Heem Wong, Nature Biotechnology
Uncertainty surrounding the risk and reward of investments in biopharmaceutical companies poses a challenge to those interested in funding such enterprises. Using data on publicly traded stocks, we track the performance of 1,066 biopharmaceutical companies from 1930 to 2015—the most comprehensive financial analysis of this sector to date. Our systematic exploration of methods for distinguishing biotech and pharmaceutical companies yields a dynamic, more accurate classification method. We find that the performance of the biotech sector is highly sensitive to the presence of a few outlier companies, and confirm that nearly all biotech companies are loss-making enterprises, exhibiting high stock volatility. In contrast, since 2000, pharmaceutical companies have become increasingly profitable, with risk-adjusted returns consistently outperforming the market. The performance of all biopharmaceutical companies is subject not only to factors arising from their drug pipelines (idiosyncratic risk), but also from general economic conditions (systematic risk). The risk associated with returns has profound implications both for patterns of investment and for funding innovation in biomedical R&D.
with Sonya Das, Contemporary Clinical Trials 62 (2017) 168–174
In this case study, we profile the I-SPY 2 TRIAL (Investigation of Serial studies to Predict Your Therapeutic Response with Imaging And molecular anaLysis 2), a unique breast cancer clinical trial led by researchers at 20 leading cancer centers across the US, and examine its potential to serve as a model of drug development for other disease areas. This multicenter collaboration launched in 2010 to reengineer the drug development process to be more efficient and patient-centered.
Accelerating Biomedical Innovation: A Case Study of the SPARK Program at Stanford University, School of Medicine
with Esther S. Kim, Paige M.C. Omura, Drug Discovery Today 22:7 (2017)
Translating academic medical research into new therapies is an important challenge for the biopharmaceutical industry and investment communities, which have historically favored later-stage assets with lower risk and clearer commercial value. The Stanford SPARK program is an innovative model for addressing this challenge. The program was created in 2006 to educate students and faculty about bringing academic research from bench to bedside. Every year, the program provides mentorship and funding for approximately a dozen SPARK ‘scholars,’ with a focus on impacting patient lives, regardless of economic factors. By reviewing the detailed structure, function and operation of SPARK we hope to provide a template for other universities and institutions interested in de-risking and facilitating the translation of biomedical research.
Use of Bayesian Decision Analysis to Minimize Harm in Patient-Centered Randomized Clinical Trials in Oncology
with Vahid Montazerhodjat; Shomesh E. Chaudhuri; Daniel J. Sargent, JAMA Oncology (2017)
There is general agreement in the biomedical community that the development of therapies for certain diseases should take priority. This ethic has motivated legislative initiatives, such as the Orphan Drug Act of 1983, and underpins several important innovations in regulatory approval processes, such as the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) fast-track, breakthrough-therapy, accelerated-approval, and priority-review designations. However, none of these innovations directly address the critical issue of how to incorporate the patient’s perspective in deciding whether a drug candidate should be approved or not. The current approach in clinical trial design is to minimize the chance of ineffective treatment caused by a type 1 error, that is, a false-positive result. However, the arbitrary nature of the threshold for the probability of type 1 error, alpha, raises an ethical question about its justification.A 2.5% threshold may not be appropriate for terminal illnesses that have no effective therapies; such patients may prefer to take a bigger chance on a false-positive result, even if the likelihood of an effective therapy is small. To quote the noted biostatistician Donald Berry, “We should also focus on patient values, not just P values.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a remarkable agency, one of the crown jewels of the US government. Its staff and structure are dedicated to safeguarding American public health, and although we sometimes complain about its role as gatekeeper, we all sleep better knowing that our foods and drugs have passed the FDA’s careful scrutiny. Its regulatory scope and process reflect the technical demands of its responsibilities, and the FDA is one of the very few federal agencies that have taken a lead in defining and developing the new field of regulatory science
with Vahid Montazerhodjat and David Weinstock, Science Translational Medicine 8(2016), 327ps6
A crisis is building over the prices of new transformative therapies for cancer, hepatitis C virus infection, and rare diseases. The clinical imperative is to offer these therapies as broadly and rapidly as possible. We propose a practical way to increase drug affordability through health care loans (HCLs)—the equivalent of mortgages for large health care expenses. HCLs allow patients in both multipayer and single-payer markets to access a broader set of therapeutics, including expensive short-duration treatments that are curative. HCLs also link payment to clinical benefit and should help lower per-patient cost while incentivizing the development of transformative therapies rather than those that offer small incremental advances. Moreover, we propose the use of securitization—a well-known financial engineering method—to finance a large diversified pool of HCLs through both debt and equity. Numerical simulations suggest that securitization is viable for a wide range of economic environments and cost parameters, allowing a much broader patient population to access transformative therapies while also aligning the interests of patients, payers, and the pharmaceutical industry.
with Tomas Philipson and Andrew von Eschenbach, JAMA Oncology 2(2016), 17–18.
Americans are increasingly apprehensive about our future, so it is inspiring when Congress produces legislation intended to both enhance our health and expand our economy. The 21st Century Cures Act, recently passed by the House with an impressive bipartisan majority vote of 344 to 77, intends to accelerate the many-step process of drug discovery and development, from basic scientific research to clinical development to delivery, distribution, and ongoing monitoring. Among other things, the legislation boosts National Institute of Health funding, dramatically speeds up the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process, and aims to make use of new information technology to better monitor the performance of medical products after they reach the market. This landmark bill now awaits a comparable piece of legislation being developed by the Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Together, they will transform the biomedical ecosystem and provide the foundation for the next several decades of innovative life-saving and health-enhancing solutions for our nation and the world.
with Tito Fojo , Lancet Oncology 17(2016), 3–5.
The reports by Wim van Harten and colleagues and Sabine Vogler and colleagues in The Lancet Oncology on the costs of cancer drugs in European countries deserve special attention from all oncology and biopharmaceutical stakeholders. van Harten identified that, in 15 European countries, list prices can be up to 92% lower than the highest reported, with actual prices paid up to 58% lower. These findings are backed up by Vogler and colleagues' study 2 in 16 European countries, Australia, and New Zealand, which documented that highest-minus-lowest list price differences ranged from 28% to 388% for cancer drugs. Such variability argues strongly for greater transparency in drug pricing and the circumstances leading to such differences. But most importantly, it underscores the need to establish the true value of cancer therapies, and those who have championed this cause have been handed unequivocal evidence confirming what they have long suspected: drug prices are typically driven by what the market will bear.
with Esther Kim, Journal of Investment Management 14(2016), 87–101.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a rare genetic disorder affecting thousands of individuals, mainly young males, worldwide. Currently, the disease has no cure, and is fatal in all cases. Advances in our understanding of the disease and innovations in basic science have recently allowed biotechnology companies to pursue promising treatment candidates for the disease, but so far, only one drug with limited application has achieved FDA approval. In this case study, we profile the work of an early-stage life sciences company, Solid Biosciences, founded by a father of a young boy with DMD. In particular, we discuss Solid’s one-disease focus and its strategy to treat the disease with a diversified portfolio of approaches. The company is currently building a product pipeline consisting of genetic interventions, small molecules and biologics, and assistive devices, each aimed at addressing a different aspect of DMD. We highlight the potential for Solid’s business model and portfolio to achieve breakthrough treatments for the DMD patient community.
with David Weinstock, The Boston Globe
"A new class of medications was recently approved that cures more than 95 percent of people with Hepatitis C in only six weeks at a cost of about $84,000 per person, and new therapies with price tags that are likely to exceed $1 million per person are now available or coming soon. How can patients possibly afford them? "In an article published in the journal Science Translation Medicine, we outline a feasible market-based solution that could immediately expand access to transformative medications, including cures for Hepatitis C and cancer. The basic concept is to convert a large upfront medical expense into a series of more affordable payments, akin to getting a mortgage when buying a house. The challenge of curative medications that only require a short course of therapy is that the whole price is paid upfront — how many homeowners could buy their houses using only cash? Instead, most home buyers get a mortgage and make monthly payments for as long as they benefit from owning the house or until the full amount is paid. We propose the same solution to overcome the liquidity problem that prevents access to curative medications, which we call “health care loans,” or HCLs..."