Convergence is Key, says PricewaterhouseCoopers

By Kevin Davies

March 16, 2010 | In a report on The New Science of Personalized Medicine published late last year, consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) painted a rosy picture of the prospects for a $232-billlion market poised for annual growth of more than 10%. One of the chief trends that PwC sees isn’t growth but convergence.

“We’ve got three convergence factors,” says Michael Mentesana, a partner in the health industry advisory group of PwC’s pharmaceutical and life sciences division. “Payer, provider and biopharma all need to work more collaboratively together and supported by the government.”

“What we need are fundamental changes in the ways of working. Technology will continue to move, but we need changes in behavior. We need a culture of acceptance of personalized medicine. If we get that, then personalized medicine will stop being a pipe dream happening in small places and really be the catalyst for change.” Mentesana says the PwC health advisory practice issued the report “because it drives us internally to think about industry challenges and put out a vision and a point of view”—looking ahead in a holistic sense, providing insights that clients might not see, particularly an increased focus on a customer centric view.

Blockbuster RIP

“There is no doubt that the blockbuster model will no longer be the sole engine that drives big pharma. I mean, there will be more blockbusters, but it will not be the fuel that it has been in the past for the pharma industry. All the low-hanging fruit has been tapped. The advances in ‘omics, the human genome map, targeted therapeutics, the continued use of smaller patient populations, orphan drug status, you start looking at more selectivity... The focus has evolved from treatment to prevention and, hopefully, curative therapies.”

“Convergence—that’s what has to happen,” Mentesana continues. He cites interest from pharmacy organizations in diagnostics and delivery of care. “They are taking things out of the hospital setting and into the home setting. That convergence in itself would be huge progress.”

Other convergence factors include rising health care costs and our aging population. “As collaboration continues to get more and more closely aligned, you’re going to see the emergence of a new hospital structure of the future,” tied together with companies such as Google and Microsoft.

Art Karacsony, PwC’s director of US pharmaceutical and life sciences marketing, agrees that many non-traditional companies are taking a closer look at personalized medicine, including software vendors, internet providers, and large retail organizations. They will have a role in supporting the move toward personalized medicine to provide more data to make more informed decisions.

Improvements in the ways drugs are developed and managed won’t reduce the drug development cycle overnight, because of issues surrounding safety and efficacy. “But they’ll get more efficient drugs that are transforming the cost-of-care so the industry will get the premiums they need to fund their R&D … It’s about efficiency, reducing cost of care, and outcomes.”

In the Clinic

Mentesana says the prevailing attitude in pharma is to view personalized medicine as “an inevitable conclusion. It will allow us to get to more patient populations, even though they might be smaller. The industry will have higher success rates if the drug or therapy delivers what has been promised … If this works, the industry can help take the cost of care down.”

“From a culture perspective, the pharma companies need to keep working with the FDA to validate more selective biomarkers. These methods need to be accepted by the industry, but also by the providers to implement it in the hospital setting and the payors. That’s why the convergence engine is the most important one … Everyone collaboratively working, in a pre-competitive space, on selective biomarkers ensure no one misses the boat on personalized medicine.”

Mentesana sees technologies such as in silico modeling as potentially disruptive. The combination of animal models with in silico models will be a major scientific innovation and “will push the companies closer to personalized medicine.”

“I’m really excited with the idea of having everyone [being able to get their] electronic health record,” facilitated by the likes of Google and Microsoft. “I’d love to see a day when the technology is on [my] mobile device so I can update my medical record. Whoever cracks the code, and gets it accepted and connects it all to the hospital—that will be the way forward.”

PwC sees a growth business with the “non-traditional players” in helping them develop new business models and organizations to support personalized medicine. “Some companies are also asking us to help with organizing funding. Or they ask strategy questions, for example: What does personalized medicine mean to us? What should our strategy be? What is the business model for our organization and how do we organize funding? To be fair we are in the infancy of this process.”

FURTHER READING: The PwC report on The New Science of Personalized Medicine can be obtained here:

This article also appeared in the March-April 2010 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine.
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