Right patient, right drug, right time

Thursday, 11 March 2010

In an ideal world every medicine would be effective for every patient, everyone could take the same dose and no one would experience side effects. The reality is quite different. Medicines work differently in different people, depending on individual physiology. A medicine that is very effective for one patient may not necessarily work as well – or at all - for someone else.

Personalised healthcare (PHC) is the matching of medicines to patient characteristics, often using diagnostic testing. This is good for the patient, good for the doctor and good for the people who pay for healthcare because it allows them to focus on those patients most likely to benefit and may also bring associated cost benefits. This is not a new concept. Treatments have been linked to diagnostic tests for many years. For example, statins, which first appeared in 1987, are prescribed for patients identified to be at risk of heart disease by means of, among other things, the now familiar cholesterol test.

The first drug approval that was formally linked to diagnostic testing was a breast cancer treatment called HerceptinTM launched in 1998, developed by Genetech/Roche. The use of HerceptinTM is inextricably linked to its companion diagnostic test which predicts whether a patient will benefit from the treatment. We are currently investing in finding new ways to differentiate patients who are most likely to benefit from our drugs. Iressa, our first PHC drug, was launched in Europe in 2009 for patients who have activating mutations of the endothelial growth factor receptor, which can be identified using diagnostic tests.

Combining forces

In December 2009, we entered into a collaboration with Dako, a world leader in cancer diagnostics. We will be working with Dako to develop new medicines linked to diagnostic tests that predict which patients are most likely to respond to potential treatments. Lars Holmkvist, CEO of Dako Denmark says “We believe it is important for pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies to combine their expertise in a strong collaborative approach to enable the development of diagnostic tests for use with drug therapies. Targeted treatment with personalised medicine is the future, and the outcome of this collaboration will be beneficial not only for cancer patients, but also as a significant contributive factor in cutting health care cost.”

Ruth March, who leads the cross-functional team shaping our PHC initiative, says “we’re at an exciting point in PHC. The idea of using biomarkers and diagnostic tests to help predict which patients will benefit from treatment has been around for years, but it’s really accelerated recently. AstraZeneca is building our capacity in PHC to help meet the needs of all our customers, including payers, by getting the right medicines to the right patients at the right time.”