Build It And They Will Come
“If the medicines are good, they’ll generate value”. It’s time to let the scientists lead the way, says AstraZeneca’s Mark Mallon
In the award-winning 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field on his farm in Iowa. "If you build it, he will come,” says the voice. Against the warnings of many, and with nothing but faith, he builds the field and (spoiler alert!) his dream comes true when he meets and plays ball with his hero, baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson.
While the pharmaceutical industry is not well-known for such whimsical notions, for a sector rooted in science, it takes a lot on faith. We – the thousands whose jobs depend on it and the millions of patients worldwide – trust that the industry’s scientists will find and nurture the next generation of life-changing medicines.
At AstraZeneca, the science behind future medicines has been placed at the heart of company strategy, says Mark Mallon, EVP, Global Product and Portfolio Strategy, Global Medical Affairs and Global Corporate Affairs.
“A key element of our approach is to really focus on scientific leadership – we definitely bring in commercial perspectives to understand the potential financial value of a medicine, but first and foremost, we focus on the unmet need and how to alleviate it, and how differentiated the medicine will be. We apply the commercial lenses later in the process, when things are clearer. At the start, you need to trust the scientists and, if the medicines are good, they’ll generate the value.”
A core part of Mallon’s role is to inform that process. “My priority is to shape and deliver the portfolio, to make sure we’ve got the right external and customer insights and perspectives coming into our product strategies and that they’re well executed to deliver the maximum benefit to patients and the healthcare systems, as well as for the company. But, it all starts with the science.”
His role has become more challenging as the external environment becomes more complex, he says. “A couple of decades ago, we were focused very much on the science and patient need, and we’re still doing that, although we need to be much more sophisticated in how we approach it. What’s changed is that we now have more payer-related issues and we are looking to find ways to help them get the most from their healthcare budgets.”
To deliver for each stakeholder groups, all voices need to be brought into the decision-making process, says Mallon. “First of all, we want medicines that have a big impact on people’s lives – ultimately, we’re trying to get to the point where we’re changing the course of a disease through a cure or by treating the fundamental causes. That way, we can have a longer-lasting and bigger impact. When making decisions, the biggest aspect for me is to really understand the unmet need out there and to know what impact a medicine will have on them.”
This information plays an important role at key development decision milestones. “Once we’ve got through phase II and we know the medicine works – or we have a high degree of confidence that we’re going into phase III – we create global product teams to plan the development of the medicine.
“From here on, people from medical affairs bring in the healthcare system perspective and people from our payer, evidence and pricing group bring in the economic or value perspective. So, from the design of phase III studies onwards, we’re thinking about the economic messages we need to be able to deliver for payers, what the potential benefits are in terms of quality of life and the overall impact on health and productivity. These are incorporated into our studies as much as possible – we can’t get everything in there but we’re doing it much more than we once did,” he says.
He cites the company's PARP inhibitor, a targeted oncology drug, as an example where the science came to the fore. “We knew it could make a huge different for ovarian cancer patients but if we had only thought about it in commercial terms, it is possible we would have hesitated, as the first indications were relatively small. However, the difference made by the medicine to those patients’ lives was significant, so we moved forward.
“Now, as it turns out, we’ve seen more evidence on the mechanism around genetic repair, which is much broader than we initially expected, so the scope of what the drug can do in treating people with DNA repair mutations is broader. It is going to be a great medicine for patients and also very positive for the business from a shareholder value perspective,” says Mallon.
The key to success is twofold – genuine focus and lots of external input. “At AstraZeneca, we have a unique set of capabilities – we have small molecules and biologics, immunotherapies, protein engineering technologies and devices, so we have pretty much all the tools we need to tackle a disease. We then deploy these in a very focused area with multiple perspectives feeding into the development program.”
Mark Mallon will be taking part in eyeforpharma Barcelona between 13-15 March.
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