AstraZeneca has enlisted data supplier IMS Health in an effort to collect evidence on how its treatments are doing outside of controlled clinical trials, firms said.

The companies entered a three-year collaboration, in which IMS will give the drugmaker access to anonymous electronic health records containing clinical outcome, economic and treatment pattern data. AZ will seek to scour such observational data for clues to how its treatments fare in the real world.

The tie-up reflects pharma’s predicament nowadays: facing the lull in approvals, and hamstrung by cost controls, industry is seeking ways to distinguish its drugs. Payers, in turn, have grown ever more skeptical and demanding of proof of real competitive advantage before giving drugs the preferred formulary nod.

It’s also an example of comparative effectiveness research (CER) done outside the controlled study environment. Until further initiation of the PCORI (Patient Centered Outcomes-Research Institute), creation of which was set in motion by the healthcare reform law of 2010, payer-initiated research has been one response.

The pact between AZ and IMS, which will provide access to data in European populations, was the latest in a string of similar cooperative efforts between pharma firms and MCOs/PBMs in the US, including Pfizer and Humana, as well as Sanofi and Medco. A year ago, AstraZeneca struck a deal with US insurer Wellpoint’s HealthCore unit to collect real-world evidence especially in the treatment of chronic diseases.

Strange bedfellows? Perhaps, but by mining records, claims information, patient registries and patient surveys for data, firms say they can demonstrate treatment impact on measurable outcomes. Jon Resnick, IMS Health VP of real-world evidence solutions, said the joint initiative reflects “a shared perspective on the transformative power” of this kind of research.

“Our new agreement with IMS Health, like our existing partnership in the US with HealthCore, is part of AstraZeneca’s long-term investment into building industry-leading RWE [real-world evidence] capabilities around the world,” Lynn Shepherd, director, media relations & corporate initiatives, for AZ, told MM&M.