How Precision Medicine Can Change the Drug Pricing Conversation

By Alif Saleh, chief executive officer, Scipher Medicine.

Alif Saleh

One of the sole national issues that the government can agree on is bringing down the astronomical costs of drug prices in the United States. The Senate Finance Committee and House Oversight Committee began to take on drug prices by holding two hearings this year on the issue with leading pharmaceutical companies, and a third planned for early April to examine pharmacy benefit managers’ role in the issue after they were called out as major contributors in previous hearings.

During the February meeting, the biggest players in the industry testified before the committee and it became clear that big pharma and the government are having trouble coming to a solution.

There has been much discussion around this critical issue of drug pricing in America but now a few innovators are shifting the conversation to how precision medicine provides hope for a possible solution. Therapeutics come with the risk of not working effectively for some patients and causing adverse side effects. However, applying precision medicine stratifies patients based on their disease biology and matches that patient group to the drugs that target their specific disease.

The drug prescribed will be more likely to effectively work and the cost of treating the patient group will decrease. While the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s investigation can eventually lead to legislation to mitigate price hikes, precision medicine technology currently exists to be a key driver in deflating drug spending for patients and payers and, thus, reducing drug prices. Two ways this type of technology can help to lower drug costs are: cutting spending on ineffective treatments and motivating the industry to develop and market personalized treatments.

The healthcare industry currently wastes roughly $2.5 billion in ineffective treatments annually. Take for example, the 1.3 million Americans living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – because autoimmune diseases like RA vary significantly from patient to patient, blockbuster therapies, which are “targeted” therapies and therefore only treat one pathway of the disease, are not effective for 66 percent of patients taking them.

This means that patients who see little or no benefit from these treatments are still paying up to $38,000 annually, proving to be a significant financial and emotional burden to patients and their loved ones. As medicine advances, it is becoming more apparent that giving these drugs to everyone diagnosed with the respective diseases no longer works, they need to be prescribed to sub-groups of patients based on their specific disease biology to truly be effective.

Through RNA data analysis, precision medicine can both help patients with autoimmune diseases like RA find targeted treatments that they are more likely to respond to before treatment is prescribed and direct pharmaceutical companies to develop targeted drugs specifically for those who do not respond to currently available therapies.

This more personalized treatment approach allows patients and payers alike to know they are only investing money into effective treatments, ultimately providing patients the greatest value for their money, the ability to lead quality lives, as well as avoid unnecessary exposure to serious side effects.

By bringing together a breakthrough understanding of complex protein-to-protein interaction data with artificial intelligence, patients will finally be able to reap the benefits of precision medicine to receive effective treatment from day one. As big pharma goes back and forth with the government about who must sacrifice what to move the needle on drug pricing reform, they should instead be together investing in these kinds of technologies to progress the conversation and create real change.

Through the innovation of companies, like Scipher Medicine, to advance precision medicine, the pharmaceutical industry can give patients the effective and fairly-priced treatments they need without sacrificing the development of new critical therapies.

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