Venture Philanthropy: A Case Study of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation2019
Advances in biomedical research have created significant opportunities to bring to market a new generation of therapeutics. However, early-stage assets often face a dearth of funding, as they have a high risk of failure and significant development costs. Historically, this has been particularly true for assets intended to treat rare diseases, where market sizes are often too small to attract much attention and funding. Venture philanthropy (VP) — which, for the purpose of this paper, is defined as a model in which nonprofit, mission-driven organizations fund initiatives to advance their objectives and potentially achieve returns that can be reinvested toward their mission — offers an alternative to traditional funding sources like venture capital or the public markets. Here we highlight the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation, widely considered to be the leading VP organization in biotech, which facilitated the development of Kalydeco, the first disease-modifying therapy approved to treat cystic fibrosis. We evaluate the CF Foundation’s example, including its agreement structures and strategy, explore the challenges that other nonprofits may have in adopting this strategy, and draw lessons from the CF Foundation for other applications of VP financing.
Machine-Learning and Stochastic Tumor Growth Models for Predicting Outcomes in Patients With Advanced Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer2019
The prediction of clinical outcomes for patients with cancer is central to precision medicine and the design of clinical trials. We developed and validated machine-learning models for three important clinical end points in patients with advanced non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC)—objective response (OR), progression free survival (PFS), and overall survival (OS)—using routinely collected patient and disease variables. We aggregated patient-level data from 17 randomized clinical trials recently submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration evaluating molecularly targeted therapy and immunotherapy in patients with advanced NSCLC. To our knowledge, this is one of the largest studies of NSCLC to consider biomarker and inhibitor therapy as candidate predictive variables. We developed a stochastic tumor growth model to predict tumor response and explored the performance of a range of machine-learning algorithms and survival models. Models were evaluated on out-of-sample data using the standard area under the receiver operating characteristic curve and concordance index (C-index) performance metrics. Our models achieved promising out-of-sample predictive performances of 0.79 area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (95% CI, 0.77 to 0.81), 0.67 C-index (95% CI, 0.66 to 0.69), and 0.73 C-index (95% CI, 0.72 to 0.74) for OR, PFS, and OS, respectively. The calibration plots for PFS and OS suggested good agreement between actual and predicted survival probabilities. In addition, the Kaplan-Meier survival curves showed that the difference in survival between the low- and high-risk groups was significant (log-rank test P, .001) for both PFS and OS. Biomarker status was the strongest predictor of OR, PFS, and OS in patients with advanced NSCLC treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors and targeted therapies. However, single biomarkers have limited predictive value, especially for programmed death-ligand 1 immunotherapy. To advance beyond the results achieved in this study, more comprehensive data on composite multiomic signatures is required.
Funding Long Shots2019
We define long shots as investment projects with four features: (1) low probabilities of success; (2) long gestation lags before any cash flows are realized; (3) large required up-front investments; and (4) very large payoffs (relative to initial investment) in the unlikely event of success. Funding long shots is becoming increasingly difficult—even for high-risk investment vehicles like hedge funds and venture funds—despite the fact that some of society’s biggest challenges such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, global warming, and fossil-fuel depletion depend critically on the ability to undertake such investments. We investigate the possibility of improving financing for long shots by pooling them into a single portfolio that can be financed via securitized debt, and examine the conditions under which such funding mechanisms are likely to be effective.
Adaptive Platform Trials: Definition, Design, Conduct and Reporting Considerations2019
Researchers, clinicians, policymakers and patients are increasingly interested in questions about therapeutic interventions that are difficult or costly to answer with traditional, free-standing, parallel-group randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Examples include scenarios in which there is a desire to compare multiple interventions, to generate separate effect estimates across subgroups of patients with distinct but related conditions or clinical features, or to minimize downtime between trials. In response, researchers have proposed new RCT designs such as adaptive platform trials (APTs), which are able to study multiple interventions in a disease or condition in a perpetual manner, with interventions entering and leaving the platform on the basis of a predefined decision algorithm. APTs offer innovations that could reshape clinical trials, and several APTs are now funded in various disease areas. With the aim of facilitating the use of APTs, here we review common features and issues that arise with such trials, and offer recommendations to promote best practices in their design, conduct, oversight and reporting.
What Are the Chances of Getting a Cancer Drug Approved?2019
Billions of dollars are spent annually on cancer drug development, yet effective treatments for many types of cancer remain as elusive as ever. Recently, the MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering announced the launch of Project ALPHA (Analytics for Life-sciences Professionals and Healthcare Advocates), a large-scale estimation of clinical trial probabilities of success (PoS) for a variety of drug development programs, where a single program is defined as the set of all clinical trials corresponding to a unique drug-indication pair. In that study, we found that only 3.4 percent of all cancer drug development programs from 2000 to 2015 moved from phase 1 to regulatory approval, despite the fact that oncology accounted for 42 percent of all drug development programs in that dataset.
Bridging the Valley of Death Through Financial Innovation2019
Congressional testimony prepared for the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee Hearing on Examining Private Market Exemptions as a Barrier to IPOs and Retail Investment, held on September 11, 2019.
Professor Lo discusses proposed legislation intended to allow innovative companies to gain greater access to investors who are comfortable with the higher risks (and rewards) of private investments. He highlights the "Rare Disease Fund Act" sponsored by Representatives Juan Vargas (CA-51) and Scott Peters (CA-52), which proposes the development of a "megafund"—created under the full supervision of the SEC—to acquire the development rights to multiple rare disease therapeutic candidates. Such a public-private fund focused on rare diseases could serve as a viable pilot project for further development of the megafund concept. Professor Lo remarks, "With more innovative financial and business structures, and the already existing close partnership between orphan drug developers and government agencies like the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, we can make even greater progress in easing the burden of disease for millions of Americans."
Risk and Reward in the Orphan Drug Industry2019
Thanks to a combination of scientific advances and economic incentives, the development of therapeutics to treat rare or orphan diseases has grown dramatically in recent years. With the advent of Food and Drug Administration–approved gene therapies and the promise of gene editing, many experts believe we are at an inflection point in dealing with these afflictions. In this article, the authors propose to document this inflection point by measuring the risk and reward of investing in the orphan drug industry. They construct a stock market index of 39 publicly traded companies that specialize in developing drugs for orphan diseases and compare the financial performance of this index, which they call ORF, to the broader biopharmaceutical industry and the overall stock market from 2000 to 2015. Although the authors report that ORF underperformed other biopharma companies and the overall stock market in the early 2000s, its performance has improved over time: from 2010 to 2015, ORF returned 608%, far exceeding the 317%, 320%, and 305% returns of the S&P, NASDAQ, and NYSE ARCA Biotech indexes, respectively, and the 83% of the S&P 500. ORF does have higher volatility than the other indexes but still outperforms even on a risk-adjusted basis, with a Sharpe ratio of 1.24 versus Sharpe ratios of 1.17, 1.14, and 1.05, respectively, for the other three biotech indexes and 0.71 for the S&P 500. However, ORF has a market beta of 1.16, which suggests significant correlation to the aggregate stock market and less diversification benefits than traditional pharmaceutical investments.
A Portfolio Approach to Accelerate Therapeutic Innovation in Ovarian Cancer2019
We consider a portfolio-based approach to financing ovarian cancer therapeutics in which multiple candidates are funded within a single structure. Twenty-five potential early-stage drug development projects were identified for inclusion in a hypothetical portfolio through interviews with gynecological oncologists and leading experts, a review of ovarian cancer-related trials registered in the ClinicalTrials.gov database, and an extensive literature review. The annualized returns of this portfolio were simulated under a purely private sector structure both with and without partial funding from philanthropic grants, and a public–private partnership that included government guarantees. We find that public–private structures of this type can increase expected returns and reduce tail risk, allowing greater amounts of private sector capital to fund early-stage research and development.
Machine Learning with Statistical Imputation for Predicting Drug Approvals2019
We apply machine-learning techniques to predict drug approvals using drug-development and clinical-trial data from 2003 to 2015 involving several thousand drug-indication pairs with over 140 features across 15 disease groups. To deal with missing data, we use imputation methods that allow us to fully exploit the entire dataset, the largest of its kind. We show that our approach outperforms complete-case analysis, which typically yields biased inferences. We achieve predictive measures of 0.78, and 0.81 AUC (“area under the receiver operating characteristic curve,” the estimated probability that a classifier will rank a positive outcome higher than a negative outcome) for predicting transitions from phase 2 to approval and phase 3 to approval, respectively. Using five-year rolling windows, we document an increasing trend in the predictive power of these models, a consequence of improving data quality and quantity. The most important features for predicting success are trial outcomes, trial status, trial accrual rates, duration, prior approval for another indication, and sponsor track records. We provide estimates of the probability of success for all drugs in the current pipeline.
Acceleration of Rare Disease Therapeutic Development: A Case Study of AGIL-AADC2019
Rare-disease drug development is both scientifically and commercially challenging. This case study highlights Agilis Biotherapeutics (Agilis), a small private biotechnology company that has developed the most clinically advanced adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene therapy for the brain. In an international collaboration led by Agilis with National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital and the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) program of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health, Agilis’ gene therapy for aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency (AADC), AGIL-AADC, was granted biologics license application (BLA)-ready status by the FDA in 2018 only 18 months after being licensed from NTU by Agilis. Here, we highlight the factors that have enabled this remarkable pace of successful drug development for an ultra-rare disease.
Estimation of Clinical Trial Success Rates and Related Parameters2019
Previous estimates of drug development success rates rely on relatively small samples from databases curated by the pharmaceutical industry and are subject to potential selection biases. Using a sample of 406,038 entries of clinical trial data for over 21,143 compounds from January 1, 2000 to October 31, 2015, we estimate aggregate clinical trial success rates and durations. We also compute disaggregated estimates across several trial features including disease type, clinical phase, industry or academic sponsor, biomarker presence, lead indication status, and time. In several cases, our results differ significantly in detail from widely cited statistics. For example, oncology has a 3.4% success rate in our sample vs. 5.1% in prior studies. However, after declining to 1.7% in 2012, this rate has improved to 2.5% and 8.3% in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In addition, trials that use biomarkers in patient-selection have higher overall success probabilities than trials without biomarkers.
Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive?: A Bayesian Decision Analysis of Clinical Trial Design2019
Implicit in the drug-approval process is a trade-off between Type I and Type II error. We propose using Bayesian decision analysis (BDA) to minimize the expected cost of drug approval, where relative costs are calibrated using U.S. Burden of Disease Study 2010 data. The results for conventional fixed-sample randomized clinical-trial designs suggest that for terminal illnesses with no existing therapies such as pancreatic cancer, the standard threshold of 2.5% is too conservative; the BDA-optimal threshold is 27.9%. However, for relatively less deadly conditions such as prostate cancer, 2.5% may be too risk-tolerant or aggressive; the BDA-optimal threshold is 1.2%. We compute BDA-optimal sizes for 25 of the most lethal diseases and show how a BDA-informed approval process can incorporate all stakeholders’ views in a systematic, transparent, internally consistent, and repeatable manner.
Optimal Financing for R&D-Intensive Firms2018
We develop a theory of optimal financing for R&D-intensive firms. With only market financing, the firm relies exclusively on equity financing and carries excess cash, but underinvests in R&D. We use mechanism design to examine how intermediated financing can attentuate this underinvestment. The mechanism combines equity with put options such that investors insure firms against R&D failure and firms insure investors against high R&D payoffs not being realized.
Competition and R&D Financing: Evidence from the Biopharmaceutical Industry2018
What is the interaction between competition, R&D investments, and the financing choices of R&D-intensive firms? Motivated by existing theories, we hypothesize that as competition increases, R&D-intensive firms will: (1) increase R&D investment relative to assets-in-place that support existing products; (2) carry more cash; and (3) maintain less net debt. We provide causal evidence supporting these hypotheses by exploiting differences between the biopharma industry and other industries, as well as heterogeneity within the biopharma industry, in response to an exogenous change in competition. We also explore how these changes affect innovative output, and provide novel evidence that in response to greater competition, companies increasingly “focus” their efforts—there is a relative decline in the total number of innovations, but an increase in the economic value of these innovations.
Alzheimer’s Disease is About to Become a Crisis. Here’s How California Could Lead2018
Opinion article by Andrew W. Lo and Kenneth Kosik on the potential role of California in the space of Alzheimer's Disease research.