AstraZeneca/WellPoint Look for Cheaper, Better Ways to Treat Disease

Includes: ANTM, AZN
by: The Burrill Report

by Daniel S. Levine

Big Pharma has expressed suspicion about comparative effectiveness research, fearing it will be used as a blunt tool to cut costs. But AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) is charging ahead into an area others have feared to tread, saying it is entering into a collaboration with WellPoint (WLP) clinical outcomes research subsidiary HealthCore to conduct real-world studies to determine how to most effectively and economically treat disease.

The companies plan to analyze how drugs used today are working in a number of disease areas, but will place an emphasis on chronic diseases. The studies will rely on data culled from electronic medical records, claims information, and patient surveys. HealthCore databases combine medical, pharmacy, laboratory results, and other information drawn from 36 million enrollees in local Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.

The companies say that examining such data can show a drug's impact on such things as hospital length of stay, readmissions, overall health status, cost of care and other key evidence-based outcomes. It also could point to the areas in greatest need of new therapies to treat and prevent disease. The companies did not disclose financial terms of their agreement.

The collaboration, they say, reflects the growing demand among doctors, payors and policymakers for clinical and cost effectiveness data through comparative effectiveness research taken from real-world experience. In the emerging era of personalized medicine, it could also help discern why certain drugs are effective in some people but not others.

"We are seeking to answer a fundamental question with this research: How can we improve overall patient health while lowering the total cost of care - especially in the treatment of chronic diseases?" says James Blasetto, AstraZeneca's vice president of U.S. strategic development. "In doing so, the research will help drive the development and delivery of medicines with clear value to patients and payors, creating an opportunity to change the focus of the healthcare conversation from cost to value."

Blasetto says the companies hope to expand the collaboration to include both public and private healthcare organizations, accelerating efforts to integrate community health information and enhance community health.

As resource-constrained governments and payors seek to rein in the rising cost of healthcare, the agreement could represent a bit of a preemptive effort to combat the growing use of generics in the hopes of demonstrating newer drugs are not just safe and effective, but provide an economic benefit as well. There's no guarantee the results will yield what AstraZeneca may want to hear, but it is a nod to the types of information pharmaceutical companies will need to be successful in the future.