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Immuno-Oncology: Driving value through data

March 15 |

Over the last year, clients within the healthcare space have sought to learn more about the future of Immuno-Oncology and how recent acquisitions, FDA approvals, and pending product releases could impact their business. Regardless of their position — payer, provider, biotech, or diagnostic manufacturer, you name it — these groups were interested in speaking with similar expert archetypes: 1) published key opinion leaders (KOLs) who have dedicated their careers to expanding our understanding of cancer and 2) senior executives from biotech and pharma companies responsible for introducing cell-based and combination-based immunotherapies to the market. It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of the I-O pie.

Taking that in, we found a way to help our clients hear from the experts they regularly requested and get a better understanding of the concerns their industry peers had on the topic.

In partnership with our AlphaView team, who organizes a call series featuring senior Advisors discussing the latest industry themes and market trends, I was able to produce and moderate an expert panel discussion on Immuno-Oncology featuring a 20-year pharmaceutical veteran, the recent head of global commercialization for a cell and gene therapies unit at a large drug maker, and a leading investigator and oncologist regularly working with patients in early phase immunotherapy clinical trials that focused on developing cell-based, monoclonal, and immune-stimulating immunotherapies.

Here are six key takeaways from the event:

1) Data is VERY important and can be your competitive advantage. With so many clinical trials launching / in progress, companies need to share data from their tests to connect thinking across trials and indications. Regardless of whether or not it relates to developing a new treatment or getting one reimbursed, it’s imperative that organizations identify the best sequence and best patient set so they can properly identify what value their product delivers. It will become more important to capture transverse data from different trials and actively collaborate to justify value for reimbursement. In short, sharing data makes it a lot easier to understand who best benefits from therapy, understand the patient and the disease, and define a course of treatment that delivers more favorable outcomes worthy of a price increase.

2) Payers are not great at measuring value, so do your best to do it for them. Payers are used to passing on additional costs to employers and to the insured. The bright side is that most therapies will become available, but in truth, it creates a costly healthcare system. Patients have access to everything but if an organization takes immunotherapy and adds another combination to the mix at full price (especially while guessing whether or not it’s in proper sequence), it can create an immense amount of waste at a hefty price tag. It’s now critically important, more than ever, to make judgments for payers more palatable by having a high response rate and strong efficacy in a product. If an organization has strong biomarkers, it can then predict who will respond well to a treatment and can make a firm decision about which groups they’ll reimburse or not. Payers also need to start refusing agents for the benefit of the patient and the field as a whole. Oncologists should be incentivized to avoid prescribing off-label products and enroll in trials of whatever indication they’re treating.

3) Smart acquisitions are key for latecomers to the immunotherapy space. Large entities that have not gotten involved in immunotherapy should enter the market by identifying a smaller biotech company with promising data and acquiring it. Smaller groups tend to be more nimble, closer to new technologies, and typically move quicker throughway of clinical development. Historically, companies tend to look to acquire others that are the biggest in the space, but moving forward, companies should consider buying those that are winning specific patient groups in a profitable way and establishing themselves in a niche space. Great deals don’t need to come with a $12 billion price tag.

4) Innovation is still important for leaders in the market. Companies that already have established products in the market or have products familiar to providers and patients, should focus on new indications. Innovation is key to staying ahead of the I-O curve. They should consider bringing in or partnering with other orgs with rational assets that can be combined with their already established agents and see if they can develop synergies in a new indication or access a new disease type.

5) The future is bright. Companies should focus on getting their treatments approved for new indications. Cell-based therapies like CD19-CARS are in ongoing trial or getting approval to treat Adult ALL, CLL, and Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas where there’s a large unmet medical need. Looking forward, innovation will likely bring immunotherapies to Myeloid Leukemias but it will become increasingly important to develop treatments for solid cancers — T-cell receptor therapies have been shown to cause cancer regression in a very select group of solid cancers, but we anticipate that expanding. Long-term, we imagine that cross-organization partnership and third-party approaches to treating diseases (e.g using cells not from the patient to treat a disease) will become available.

6) Looking forward and overcoming pain points. To grow, companies need to view themselves as strong distributors AND drug developers. They must live up to the gold standard and be customer-service oriented, add value through the strength of their supply chain, and manufacture products better than ever before. Since those are a lot to focus on, they should consider cross-partnerships to divide up core competencies and play to each other’s strengths. Those complexities present a real barrier to entry. Early entrants have a huge competitive advantage by already having skin in the game, but that doesn’t mean they can neglect to master their craft in the interim.

At AlphaSights, we work to connect our clients with KOLs, thought leaders, customers, competitors, payers, and regulators to accelerate the progress they make in overcoming business-critical situations. If any of the points above resonate with your organization, I’d be happy to connect and hear what you’re presently doing to overcome your own research gaps.

Christian Anderson joined in July of 2015 and served as a Client Development Executive.