US stock markets have been roiling over a possible trade war between the world’s largest economies, the US and China. American President Donald Trump proposed nearly $50B in tariffs on Chinese goods, leading Chinese leaders to propose some of their own, but one product they’re not interested in taxing is foreign cancer drugs. China does have the world’s largest population of cancer patients after all. Drugmakers like Roche, Novartis and AZ should be pretty happy with the zero-tariff arrangement, while Chinese leadership hopes the move will push local pharma to improve their technological capabilities. Why can’t we go back to the good ol’ days when both the Chinese and Americans could ask “War, HUH, yeah, what is it good for?”
With all due apologies to EF Hutton (the commercial will make you feel older than you might want to), when Vasant Narasimhan, Global Head, Drug Development and CEO of Novartis speaks we should all probably listen. In a recent article he outlined three areas that will change medicine in 2018, and spoiler alert, they all have to do with “big” data. The three areas he outlines include; the Internet of things, AI and machine learning, and emerging data platforms. He also introduced InsightCity (and maybe you) to a new term: data lakes (def. virtual warehouses holding immense amounts of raw data in their native form.) Look for “data lakes” on an upcoming IC Buzzword Bingo. FYI, a great 60-minute precision medicine panel discussion from the World Economic Forum/Davos can be found here.
We’ve all seen the Ancestry.com ads for DNA tests that reveal your ethnic mix. Harmless enough. But what if a similar test indicated you had a low risk for coronary heart disease? Would you start swallowing these 2,000+ calorie bombs at every meal? Not harmless. Consumers are increasingly embracing genetic health risk (GHR) testing to understand their individual risk for developing diseases and the FDA recently released an update to streamline the development and review pathway for GHR tests. These tests can be valuable for drug development (see how Novartis is using genetic testing in an Alzheimer’s trial) and treatment decisions and the CDC has some thoughts on the topic.
And soon it starts to add up. This week the NIH announced a pretty cool partnership with the private pharma industry. The Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapies (PACT) is a five-year public-private research collaboration totaling $215 million as part of the Cancer Moonshot project. 11 pharma companies (AbbVie, Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer) will contribute $1M each for five years. The NIH will contribute $160 million. The goal: “to identify, develop and validate robust biomarkers — standardized biological markers of disease and treatment response — to advance new immunotherapy treatments.” Sweet. If you want to read what pharma PR folks have been up to you can read their responses here. For the top 10 private-public immuno-oncology collaborations, look here.
Last week, the FDA approved Novartis’ Kymriah—a “living drug” that works by making immune cells realize they should get rid of those pesky leukemia cells making a mess of things. We’ve been following this story since June, because it’s really cool for a couple reasons. First, it marks the first time a gene therapy has been approved for use in the US, although more CAR-T treatments are in the pipeline. Second, the treatment is designated for the most prevalent form of childhood cancer in the US—acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). There is a bit of worry that the treatment is prohibitively expensive, which is what sunk the first gene therapy approved in the EU, but maybe competition will help drop prices.
Many people feel constantly under attack from gastrointestinal issues like IBS, IBD and gastritis. However, not all GI symptoms are what you might think. Drug manufacturer, Novartis, has recently launched a campaign entitled, What Am I Wrestling With, encouraging people to get to know and ask more questions about their symptoms. The campaign features a pesky professional wrestler who they hope will bring awareness to knowing your symptoms and talking to your doctor about carcinoid tumors. Carcinoid tumor symptoms can mimic the symptoms of IBS and proper diagnosis is critical for treatment. Hopefully, the campaign is a success and no one will have to endure a German Suplex from a carcinoid tumor.
The answer is Beau. How do we know? Because the Cancer Moonshot has been renamed the “Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot” in honor of the VP’s late son who died from brain cancer. Armed with $1.8B in funding, VP Biden recently gave an update on the project. One highlight is how the National Cancer Institute created the Genomic Data Commons, which archives cancer patient data using Amazon’s cloud computing software. Researchers have accessed this information about 80 million times, so that is a lot. In another initiative, companies like AZ, Novartis, Pfizer, and Celgene, just to name a few, are contributing to the Blood Profiling Atlas in Cancer (BloodPAC) consortium. Go team.