Consumer awareness, needs generating shifts in precision medicine landscape  

Healthcare consumers are increasingly aware of specific therapies in development or on the market that can help treat the diseases they or their loved ones may be suffering from — and this growing awareness is changing the precision medicine arena.

Though the healthcare industry has been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic, investment in the precision medicine sector appears to be healthy, with high valuations and more generalist investor interest in the area than ever before, experts at a MedCity INVEST Precision Medicine panel said. But several trends, including growing consumer awareness, are changing the precision medicine landscape and impacting investing in this sector.

Whether its databases of drug trials, or other educational outlets, patients and their loved ones are increasingly aware of the sorts of therapies available for their particular disease, Christopher McFadden, managing director at global investment firm KKR Credit said at the virtual conference.

There is a consumer education element that’s informing physician-patient discussions. But also there needs to be a better way for patients to afford these often exorbitantly priced therapies. Patients’ out-of-pocket costs are growing, with more than 40% of all employer-based healthcare plans effectively functioning as high-deductible health plans after taking into consideration rising co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles, he said.

Further, consumers have a “walk away” price, Julie Grant, general partner at early-stage venture capital firm Canaan, said during the discussion. And that price is much lower than most people think it is.

“People walk away from the counter at CVS for a terminal lung cancer product for $200 out-of-pocket,” she said. “So, when we are talking about consumer choice in cancer, I fear that the wording is a little bit light in terms of what the practical realities are for people.”

According to Grant, who focuses on investments in the pharmaceutical sector, there needs to be a national conversation and understanding of patient affordability and long-term sustainability of all healthcare payments, and precision medicine is a part of that.

“[We talk about] should patients be paying massive out-of-pocket costs for ‘the drug they want,’ — [but] no one wants these drugs, no one wants these conditions,” she said. “They need them. And so, how do we shut [down] deductibles, how do we get rid of co-insurance is top of mind for me in the pharmaceutical industry…When you have $1 million per patient for some of these gene therapy products, with a 95% margin, I would pay all day long to shut the deductible for that patient, because it’s pennies on the dollar.”

Another way in which consumers have a role in the precision medicine arena, and drive investments trends, is through patient advocacy groups for rare diseases, Dr. Jeffrey Low, principal at life sciences investment firm Novo Growth, said during the panel. These groups urge the healthcare industry and academia to study their rare diseases and find treatments.

“People do not want to start research or start [drug] development on a disease [for] which you cannot recruit patients,” Low said. “And to start with the very patients and segments that you need [via the advocacy groups], I think that is often a good starting point in precision medicine.”

Enhancing patient segmentation — that is, finding the right sub-group of patients who would truly benefit from a specific therapy — is key for any drug development company focused on precision medicine.

“It doesn’t help if we approve a lot of drugs and we have the means to pay for them, and yet, we have patients that have no idea if they have the right genetic [make-up] to be eligible for these things,” Low said. “That’s a portion where, I think, empowering consumers with the help of their doctors closes the loop.”

Featured Photo: cagkansayin, Getty Images