Accelerating Biomedical Innovation: A Case Study of the SPARK Program at Stanford University, School of Medicine2017
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 Oncology2017
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.”
New Directions for the FDA in the 21st Century2017
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
Letter to Senators Wyden and Grassley: Comment on Their Sovaldi Report2016
In response to the senators January 21, 2016 request for comment on their Sovaldi report, February 27, 2016. On behalf of all patients and their family members and friends, thank you for conducting the study on the pricing strategy of Gilead Sciences and shining a spotlight on the issue of drug pricing. When access to life-saving therapies is limited by affordability, important moral and ethical issues must be considered in addition to economic and political ones. For too long, we in the United States have ignored these issues for fear of “death panels” and difficult end-of-life decisions. But the growing number of breakthrough therapies and the rising cost of healthcare will soon force us to confront these issues directly. Your report and is an important step in helping us to develop a rational, ethical approach to dealing with this looming challenge.
Health, Wealth, and the 21st Century Cures Act2016
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.
Price, Value, and the Cost of Cancer Drugs2016
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.
Business Models to Cure Rare Disease: A Case Study of Solid Biosciences2016
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.
Health Care Loans For Hep C Cure2016
"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..."
Buying Cures Versus Renting Health: Financing Health Care with Consumer Loans2016
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.
Financing Drug Discovery via Dynamic Leverage2016
We extend the megafund concept for funding drug discovery to enable dynamic leverage in which the portfolio of candidate therapeutic assets is predominantly financed initially by equity, and debt is introduced gradually as assets mature and begin generating cash flows. Leverage is adjusted so as to maintain an approximately constant level of default risk throughout the life of the fund. Numerical simulations show that applying dynamic leverage to a small portfolio of orphan drug candidates can boost the return on equity almost twofold compared with securitization with a static capital structure. Dynamic leverage can also add significant value to comparable all-equity-financed portfolios, enhancing the return on equity without jeopardizing debt performance or increasing risk to equity investors.
Lessons From Hollywood: A New Approach To Funding R&D2016
In this article, we suggest an alternative structure for undertaking the long-term, high-risk, highly capital-intensive R&D programs that typify science-based settings. We refer to this structure as a project-focused organization (PFO). PFOs are entities that are created with the sole purpose of conducting a specific R&D project. When the project is completed, the PFO is disbanded, residual returns (if there are any) are distributed to investors, and intellectual property and other assets are sold off. We think PFOs are an attractive alternative to both the traditional vertical integration model and the traditional venture capital/entrepreneurial startup model. We discuss how such PFOs could work in practice, using the example of biopharmaceutical R&D, although we argue that the structure has much broader applicability.
Megafunding Drug Research2015
As price-gouging practices by a handful of drug companies attract headlines, one troubling aspect of the story remains underplayed. Exorbitant increases in the prices of existing drugs, including generics, are motivated not just by crass profiteering but by a deep skepticism about the economic feasibility of developing new drugs. That skepticism is justified.
Traditional models for funding drug development are faltering. In the US and many other developed countries, the average cost of bringing a new drug to market has skyrocketed, even as patents on some of the industry’s most profitable drugs have expired. Venture capital has pulled back from early-stage life-sciences companies, and big pharmaceutical companies have seen fewer drugs reach the market per dollar spent on research and development...
FAQs for Megafund Financing2015
A document answering frequently asked questions about the megafund idea.
Funding Translational Medicine via Public Markets: The Business Development Company2015
A business development company (BDC) is a type of closed-end investment fund with certain relaxed requirements that allow it to raise money in the public equity and debt markets, and can be used to fund multiple early-stage biomedical ventures, using financial diversification to de-risk translational medicine. By electing to be a “Regulated Investment Company” for tax purposes, a BDC can avoid double taxation on income and net capital gains distributed to its shareholders. BDCs are ideally suited for long-term investors in biomedical innovation, including: (i) investors with biomedical expertise who understand the risks of the FDA approval process, (ii) “banking entities,” now prohibited from investing in hedge funds and private equity funds by the Volcker Rule, but who are permitted to invest in BDCs, subject to certain restrictions, and (iii) retail investors, who traditionally have had to invest in large pharmaceutical companies to gain exposure to similar assets. We describe the history of BDCs, summarize the requirements for creating and managing them, and conclude with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the BDC structure for funding biomedical innovation.
Financing Translation: Analysis of the NCATS Rare-Diseases Portfolio2015
The portfolio of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) rare diseases therapeutic development program comprises 28 research projects initiated at the preclinical stage. Historical data reveal substantially lower costs and higher success rates but longer preclinical timelines for the NCATS projects relative to the industry averages for early-stage translational medical research and development (R&D) typically cited in literature. Here, we evaluate the potential risks and rewards of investing in a portfolio of rare-disease therapeutics. Using a “megafund” financing structure, NCATS data, and valuation estimates from a panel of industry experts, we simulate a hypothetical megafund in which senior and junior debt yielded 5 and 8%, respectively. The simulated expected return to equity was 14.7%, corresponding to a modified internal rate of return of 21.6%. These returns and the likelihood of private-sector funding can be enhanced through third-party funding guarantees from philanthropies, patient advocacy groups, and government agencies.