Monday, November 17, 2008

Will Change in Washington Bring Change in Clinical Research?

On January 20, 2009 change will come to Washington. Will a new resident in the White House have implications for drug development? Here are a few areas of possible impact:

Investments in Health Information Technology
Both Obama and McCain featured increasing investments in Health Information Technology as part of their healthcare reform proposals, and the recent Max Baucus reform proposal continues the trend. While the intent from the politicians is to decrease medical costs, reduce errors, and improve quality, there is great potential for clinical research as a by-product. The proliferation of electronic medical records and personal health records can bring transformation in the conduct of clinical research -- new opportunities to find patients, integration of EMRs and electronic data capture (EDC), running virtual trials, identifying biomarkers, the list goes on.

Personalized Medicine
Obama demonstrated awareness of the potential for personalized medicine back in 2006 when he introduced the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act. And while the act never became law, the passage of GINA earlier this year did bring some protection around the use of genetic information. Outgoing HHS secretary Michael Leavitt has left a note to Obama emphasizing personalized medicine as a potent tool for repairing the healthcare system, which should be a good reminder to the new president that there is still work left undone. Increased investment in personalized medicine will bring more companion diagnostics into clinical development with each new drug, affecting everything from sample size to study logistics.

Continuing Focus on Drug Safety
Most feel the pendulum has swung and the FDA is focusing on safety over accelerating drugs for efficacy. With the media focusing on everything from safety of drug imports (including ingredients used to manufacture drugs) to what seems like every anecdotal report, there is no sign of this trend changing. For clinical development, sponsors will continue to aspire to accelerated approvals -- but will plan for the realities of studies large enough to demonstrate safety (to prove that every needle has been found in the haystack).

Beyond Safety and Efficacy -- Comparative Effectiveness
Once upon a time it was sufficient to run a development program to demonstrate safety and efficacy. Lessons learned from the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have taught us the future adds a third endpoint -- comparative effectiveness. In fact, recent healthcare plans in Washington suggest creating an independent "Comparative Effectiveness Institute" for the United States, tasked with head-to-head comparisons of quality and cost for one drug vs. another. Be sure to have a few more voices at the table when writing that next registration study protocol (outcomes research, evidence-based medicine, etc).

Autism and Vaccine Safety Research
Obama and McCain were both enjoying the response of crowds on the campaign trial when raising the potential link between autism and vaccines. Assuming this campaign themes travel from Chicago to Washington in January, there is certainly the suggestion of additional research for vaccines new and old.

Stem Cell Reversal
Most seem to be anticipating an Obama reversal of the Bush restrictions on stem cell research. If this happens and if this research is successful, it would still be several years before one would see any heightened impact of stem cells in clinical research. But clinical trials of stem cells would certainly bring heightened planning -- from dose setting to safety monitoring.

New FDA Leadership
Other far more qualified political sources have taken educated guesses at naming the next FDA commissioner (including Scientific American's proposal of Stephen Colbert). We will need to wait and see in a few weeks, but the new leadership will certainly be expected to bring change within the agency -- which in turn will bring it's impact on clinical research.

Doing More with Less (and less and less...)
We have heard it time and time again. Big pharma are being hit by loss of patent protection to generics coupled with a weak pipelines and the growing risk of reimportation. And now small biotechs are expected to see challenges in raising capital to maintain their development work due to the credit crisis. This conspires to mean a familiar message for clinical development -- the need to do more (more products, more trials) with less. Except the "more" seems to keep growing and the "less" keeps shrinking.

What will come to fruition? Time will tell. But at last check we still have an aging population
in this country, and plenty of unmet medical need to go around. (Personally, I am going to make sure I know what HIT, EMR, and PHR all stand for...)

Image: Flickr


David L said...

This is a nice summary of what has and may happen with the change of government. Now I won't have to read the news sections on health care...........thanks!!! It will be an interesting few years in health care particularly considering the failing economy. Very hard to predict! What impact with a Democratic govt. have on the FDA, CMS, etc.?

The PharmaSherpa said...

Fair question about the impact of the new administration on FDA and CMS. The best predictor for now is likely to be the pending leadership appointments. One would anticipate different impact of an FDA appointment of Steve Nissen versus Janet Woodcock (both names that have been suggested in the media and blogosphere).

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