Hope-infested waters

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James Chase
James Chase

If you were one of the several hundred delegates attending last month's MM&M Virtual Summit, you will have been treated to a smart and stirring State of the Industry address by keynote Deborah Dunsire, MD, president and CEO of Takeda: The Oncology Company, outlining the elements of the perfect storm currently pounding the industry—and how you can weather it.

“Being an optimist, a drug developer and a physician,” she explains, “I'm pretty certain that we can navigate the storm.”

Having spent a day with Dr. Dunsire at the MM&M Awards judging a couple of years ago, I can personally vouch for her aptitude in rolling up her sleeves and getting on with it. But there's a lot more to her credentials than that: In 10 years at the helm of Novartis's U.S. Oncology division, she launched 12 products, building the business from $50 million to $2.1 billion; and before that, she was a clinical researcher responsible for implementing global Phase II and Phase III studies across multiple therapeutic areas.

Dr. Dunsire's mantra is based on discovering and developing new products. “That's really the home of the pharma and biotech industry and that's what I believe we should be doing,” she asserts. “When we really transform health by bringing forward new medicines, then I believe we can make the case that paying for them, and giving patients access, is actually an effective way of controlling costs.”

However, she acknowledges that while the scientific challenge remains largely the same, the environment in which the industry operates has changed. And that means embracing different approaches, such as personalized medicine. “We can't afford to continue treating all patients to get results in maybe 30% of them. We have to figure out ways to ascertain which drug is right for which patient.”

One of the well-documented pressures on pharma is the increasing amount of time it takes to get new drugs approved. But Dr. Dunsire again throws the challenge back to the industry. “The FDA has demonstrated a strong willingness to act very quickly and very collaboratively with companies who are bringing forward medicines that are novel and can truly make a difference,” she contests, citing Zelboraf, Zytiga, Xalkori and Incivek as recent examples of new treatments that were approved less than six months after submission. “There are fast approval rates available where there is transforming data, where NMEs deliver a significant patient benefit.”

Dr. Dunsire is nothing if not consistent. She talks about how the industry has in the past made material advances in solving some of the world's healthcare problems and that that's where the future lies, too. “When I look at a company's strategy and see it focused on addressing unmet medical needs, on being lean—and looking at not only marketing muscle to take market share, but to be transformative—then I'm not as worried.”

When it comes to Millennium's own vision, it will come as little surprise to learn that Dr. Dunsire practices what she preaches. “We aspire to cure cancer. We know that's a lofty goal but it tells us to always aspire to transform so that we will be focused on medicines that truly make a difference.”

In case you missed this State of the ­Industry address, you can stream it for free (along with all the other sessions from the MM&M Virtual Summit) by visiting mmm-online.com.
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