Author Archives: Laura Woodin

AstraZeneca joins NIH on drug repositioning pilot

Today, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a pilot program that matches academic researchers with a selection of compounds from the pipelines of AstraZeneca and two other pharmaceutical companies.

The program, called the Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules initiative, is meant to speed the pace at which basic discoveries are turned into treatments for patients by repositioning or repurposing compounds that have already been studied by pharmaceutical companies.

“Americans are eagerly awaiting the next generation of cures and treatments to help them live longer and healthier lives. To accelerate our nation’s therapeutic development process, it is essential that we forge strong, innovative, and strategic partnerships among government, academia, and industry,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

“Clearly, we need to speed the pace at which we are turning discoveries into health outcomes,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “NIH looks forward to working with our partners in industry and academia to tackle an urgent need that is beyond the scope of any one organization or sector.”

In this video, Clive Morris, Vice President of the New Opportunities Innovative Medicines Unit, explains AstraZeneca’s drug repositioning efforts.

Don Frail, AstraZeneca’s Vice President of Science within the New Opportunities Innovative Medicines Unit, explains the rationale behind the program:

“The pharmaceutical industry invests heavily in researching potential new medicines, a process that is extremely difficult and results in failure more often than not.” Frail said. “But just because the initial research program on a compound does not pan out as expected does not mean that the effort is wasted. In fact, many successful medicines were considered ‘failures’ in one disease area, only to be effective in a completely different disease area. The benefit of this collaboration is that it enables selected industry compounds to be crowd-sourced to scientists all across the U.S. The program provides the opportunity to match a great scientific idea with the right industry compound, and in the end the patient benefits.”

AstraZeneca strives to realize the full potential of its portfolio and leave no stone unturned in our search for new and effective medicines that can benefit patients. Our New Opportunities Innovative Medicines Unit (iMed) ensures we maximize opportunities outside our current disease area focus through in-licensing or by repositioning or repurposing internal compounds that may not have been successful in one disease area, for new disease areas, often in collaboration with external investigators:

  • The New Opportunities iMed has evaluated hundreds of AstraZeneca compounds nominated for development to identify those most appropriate for internal repositioning and potential external collaborations.
  • In December 2011 AstraZeneca, led by the New Opportunities iMed, and the UK Medical Research Council announced a landmark agreement to make a wide range of AstraZeneca compounds available to UK medical researchers.

The New Opportunities iMed is on the lookout for additional opportunities to access external scientific talent and resources to drive innovation with AstraZeneca assets.

Keeping patients at the forefront of cancer research

A global team of AstraZeneca employees will spend this week in Texas for the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

This meeting is a chance for scientists from biopharma and academia to interact with health care professionals and other researchers to exchange information that helps us better understand and develop treatment options for breast cancer.

For more than 30 years, AstraZeneca has researched, discovered, and developed medicines to fight cancer. One of the areas the AstraZeneca team is focused on is metastatic breast cancer. As we explained in this post, metastatic breast cancer—a form of advanced breast cancer also referred to as stage IV breast cancer—is diagnosed when a breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Patients are at the forefront of our efforts to understand and develop treatment options for metastatic breast cancer.

“We all have loved ones that we hope never get breast cancer in the first place. For those who are unfortunately affected by breast cancer, we want to provide innovative medicines as well as information so that they and their doctors can make the best possible treatment decisions,” said Joe Cordaro, Executive Director of Development at AstraZeneca.

“One of the best ways to keep patients front and center is to hear from them directly about what it is like to face a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, and to get their thoughts on how we can support them during a journey with cancer,” according to Eric Vogel, who leads the AstraZeneca oncology sales and marketing teams.

So as we head to San Antonio, we wanted to once again share these insights from women who are living with metastatic breast cancer.

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Seniors and the donut hole

American seniors have increased access to medicines via the Medicare prescription drug program.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit for seniors and the disabled is saving them money while helping them get the medicines they need, even if they’ve reached the coverage gap, the Associated Press found:

“WASHINGTON (AP) – Medicare’s prescription coverage gap is getting noticeably smaller and easier to manage this year for millions of older and disabled people with high drug costs.

“The “doughnut hole,” an anxiety-inducing catch in an otherwise popular benefit, will shrink about 40 percent for those unlucky enough to land in it, according to new Medicare figures provided in response to a request from The Associated Press.

“The average beneficiary who falls into the coverage gap would have spent $1,504 this year on prescriptions. But thanks to discounts and other provisions in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, that cost fell to $901, according to Medicare’s Office of the Actuary, which handles economic estimates.

“A 50 percent discount that the law secured from pharmaceutical companies on brand name drugs yielded an average savings of $581. Medicare also picked up more of the cost of generic drugs, saving an additional $22. The estimates are averages, so some Medicare recipients may do worse and others better.”

The AP’s findings are important in light of a study that found patients who enter the “donut hole” or coverage gap are twice as likely to discontinue their medications as they are to switch to more affordable or generic medications.

Need further evidence that the Medicare prescription drug benefit is working well?

–Five years into the Medicare prescription drug program, an overwhelming majority – 88 percent – of America’s seniors and disabled are satisfied with their prescription drug coverage

–Medicare Part D beneficiaries’ premiums did not increase from 2011 to 2012

–American seniors’ increased access to medicines via the Medicare prescription drug program led to reduced spending on post-acute care such as hospitals and nursing homes

Today, more than 29 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in a Part D plan, and 90 percent of all beneficiaries have comprehensive drug coverage. AstraZeneca believes the Medicare Part D program is a model for how the private sector and public sector can work together to provide critical access to medicines that improve our nation’s health.

AstraZeneca announces leadership appointments in Americas

AstraZeneca announced today the appointment of Rich Fante as Regional Vice President, Americas, and Marion McCourt as Chief Operating Officer of the company’s U.S. business.

Already responsible for leading the company’s commercial operations in North America, Fante will now also lead Central America and South America in his new role while retaining his responsibilities as President of the U.S. business.

McCourt – currently the President and CEO, AstraZeneca Canada – will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the U.S. business in the company’s largest market and heading the U.S. Leadership Team.

The full press release can be found here.

FDA receives critical funding for 2012

AstraZeneca and the Alliance for a Stronger FDA applaud members of the House and Senate for providing FDA with $2.5 billion in funding for 2012—an increase of $50 million.

AstraZeneca advocates for a strong, well-funded FDA so that it can protect Americans’ health.

Alliance President Nancy Bradish Myers summarizes why a well-funded FDA is so important:

“FDA must continue to be a national priority so that we can advance medical progress, improve patients’ lives, and assure Americans have a safe food supply.”

According to the Alliance, a strong FDA supports the economy, as FDA oversees nearly 25 percent of all consumer spending.

“Multiple times every day, Americans use products for which FDA has oversight responsibilities. There is no back-up if the agency isn’t there,” said Diane Dorman, an Alliance board member.

“FDA’s job is much like national defense—essential to our nation’s well-being—and providing protection that is too often taken for granted until a crisis occurs,” added Richard Buckley, an Alliance Board Member and Vice President, Federal Government Affairs, AstraZeneca. “A strong FDA is welcomed by the industries it oversees and spurs innovation that drives our economy.”

For more information on what makes a strong FDA, click here.

AstraZeneca hosts R&D and VC Days in Boston

AstraZeneca uses these 5 R’s to pursue competitive opportunities.

AstraZeneca leaders traveled to the company’s research facility in Boston this week to meet with representatives of venture capital firms and academic institutions who are interested in learning more about the company’s partnering goals.

Our business model is driven by investment in innovative, prescription-based biopharmaceutical R&D. But the pace of scientific and technological advance means that companies like ours can no longer always go it alone.

More than ever before, we are looking beyond our own laboratories to find partners with complementary skills and common goals. In fact, we are aiming for as much as              40 percent of our pipeline to be sourced from partnerships by 2014.

Shaun Grady, VP Strategic Planning and Business Development, AstraZeneca describes:

“The R&D and VC Days have both been a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate our credentials as a partner of choice in our drive to widen our portfolio through external R&D partnerships or acquisitions. It has been incredibly valuable to discuss face to face our mutual areas of interest with some of our key target audiences in order to gain a better understanding of our common goals and cement future relationships.”

AstraZeneca has nine innovative medicine units responsible for sourcing innovation from both inside and outside our own labs. Members of these teams are constantly scouting for new partnerships and collaborations that could benefit both parties, and ultimately the patients who rely on medical research and our industry for new medicines.

“We are looking for scientific excellence and  early and late-stage products, and have established  an evaluation framework known as the ‘5 R’s’  to ensure that we are pursuing the most competitive opportunities,” said Mene Pangalos, Executive VP, Innovative Medicines, AstraZeneca.

More detail on these evaluation criteria can be found here.

AstraZeneca has more than 1,200 alliances with academia and industry partners. AstraZeneca is also actively investing in emerging and innovative biotech companies through MedImmune Ventures, our corporate venture capital fund, helping them translate valuable scientific discoveries into exciting and marketable new medicines.

Visit our partnering website for more information or to take an interactive journey through our world of collaborations.

US Senate takes on the Superbugs

Congress should do everything it can to pass S.1734

Today the Senate introduced S.1734 – “A bill to provide incentives for the development of qualified infectious disease products,” which would provide balanced incentives for antibiotic research and development.

This is important because infection-causing bacteria, or Superbugs, are fighting back against the antibiotic therapies that are currently available to doctors and their patients.

At a time when nearly 2 million people get infections while in U.S. hospitals each year and almost 100,000 of them die as a result, the pipeline for new treatments is bleak.

As we explain here, the current regulatory environment is ridden with obstacles for biopharma companies to develop new antibiotics to beat these Superbugs.

The Senate bill mirrors legislation that was introduced in the House earlier this year and addresses regulatory challenges by proposing:

  • an extended term of exclusivity for infectious disease products, combined with priority review and fast track provisions
  • additional extended exclusivity provided for companion diagnostic tests
  • requirements of FDA to provide much-needed guidance on the conduct of clinical trials for antibiotic drugs generally as well as, upon request, specific advice on nonclinical and clinical investigations for individual qualifying pathogens

Congress should do everything it can to pass S.1734. It’s time for the fight against the Superbugs to move beyond our labs and into the hands of doctors who are on the front lines of patient care.

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Seniors satisfied with Medicare prescription drug program

The Medicare prescription drug benefit is working well for America’s seniors.

A new survey of seniors by the Medicare Today coalition provides additional evidence that the Medicare prescription drug benefit offers seniors affordable, effective access to the medicines they need.

Five years into the Medicare prescription drug program, an overwhelming majority – 88 percent – of America’s seniors and disabled are satisfied with their prescription drug coverage.

Today, more than 29 million Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in a prescription drug benefit plan, and 90 percent of all beneficiaries have comprehensive drug coverage.

Of these beneficiaries, the survey found that:

–Nearly 80 percent of seniors say they have lowered their drug spending, an increase of eight percentage points from when the program started.

–Compared to other subgroups, low income beneficiaries and dual eligibles (beneficiaries eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare) show the highest satisfaction rate with their drug coverage – 90 percent of dual eligibles are satisfied with their coverage and for those beneficiaries earning $15,000 or less in income, 96 percent are satisfied.

–Large majorities of respondents say that the program is delivering good value, and they would recommend it to their peers. Further, 95 percent of respondents say their plan is working well.

And, as we explain here, there is growing evidence that seniors’ access to prescription medicines through the Medicare program is improving health outcomes and lowering costs.

Visit the Medicare Today website to view the entire survey.

Katherine’s story: Living with metastatic breast cancer

As we explained here, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month we are focusing on people who are living with metastatic breast cancer.

Katherine O’Brien is a business-to-business editor from Chicago and a volunteer with the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN) who contributed the following blog post about her experience with metastatic breast cancer:

By Katherine O’Brien

At a 2009 breast cancer seminar, I met two MBCN volunteers: Joani Gudeman and Shirley Mertz. I had never met another person with metastatic breast cancer. Joani and Shirley made me feel less alone. Their activism inspired me.

In 2008, Shirley and her fellow volunteer Susan Davis launched MBCN’s drive to formally establish October 13 as National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. In October 2009, they succeeded: The Senate and House each unanimously passed a resolution to support that designation.

“It is critical to the thousands suffering from Stage 4 illness and to the general public that the voices of metastatic breast cancer patients be heard,” wrote Joani.

I would like to add my voice to that chorus.

I will never forget the day in 2009 when I found out I was of one of 155,000 US people living with metastatic breast cancer.

The oncologist said my breast cancer had spread to my lumbar vertebrae:  “Hopefully the disease will remain under control for a long time although an ultimate cure is probably unattainable.”

You know how when you are going up in an elevator and sometimes it feels like the floor is dropping out from beneath your feet? That feeling lingered with me for weeks.

My cancer center’s library had two shelves of breast cancer pamphlets, mostly for women with early stage disease. One had chapters such as “Why You Should Get Prompt Attention,” and “Not All Lumps Are Cancer.”

Not very helpful to my particular situation.

I kept hunting through the shelves, the oncologic equivalent of Goldilocks sampling each bear’s porridge. Finally, I found a brochure that was just right: “Diagnosis: Metastatic Breast Cancer…What Does It Mean For You?”

This slim MBCN brochure promised “up-to-date facts — demonstrating that today, more women and men with metastatic breast cancer are living longer, productive lives.”

The brochure featured 15 questions and answers about metastatic breast cancer. Question No. 1 was: “Am I going to die?”

That cold and unspoken fear had permeated every cranny of my being for weeks.

“Though you may be concerned by statistics you have heard, keep in mind that every individual is unique,” advised the MBCN brochure. “Because statistics are based on the general population, they do not reflect the experience of any one individual. Each person brings to the table a unique set of characteristics that influence her or his experience with breast cancer. In addition, no really accurate statistics predicting survival for metastatic breast cancer patients are available today.”

Those few sentences gave me a lot of hope.

It’s been two years since my diagnosis. My treatment has been mild and I am very fortunate to be stable. But it’s a strange existence. The late Susan Davis, a tireless volunteer with the MBCN, said it best. Susan lived with mets for almost a dozen years. Although she endured progressively more grueling treatments, she said ultimately even the harshest side effects weren’t as difficult as the mental fight.

“I live in a constant state of hopeful dread,” she wrote. “I am hopeful I will be stable. I dread that my next test will show I am not.”

My mother died from inflammatory breast cancer a few weeks after I graduated from high school. Mom had no support group and practically no resources to cope with this rare disease. I have learned so much from other patients. I am grateful to have instant access to them via the Internet. Volunteering with the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network and other advocacy groups is very important to me. I want to help other patients and their families. I want the general public to be better informed about this disease. I want to make a difference.

The best thing you can do for someone with metastatic breast cancer is to be there for them—not just when they are first diagnosed, but for the long haul.

“I hate when people feel sorry for me and give me that look,” says one of my friends who has metastatic breast cancer. “We don’t have to talk about cancer all the time. Normalcy is great! I am still here—with hair or even bald. I’m here. Some days are harder than others, but I try to live as much as possible.”

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A message from the Cancer Support Community

As we explained here, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month we want to share resources for people who are living with metastatic breast cancer.

What better way than to invite some of the organizations that are on the front lines of patient care to contribute to our blog?

Today’s post is from Kim Thiboldeaux, President and CEO of the Cancer Support Community:

Throughout the month of October, it seems that everywhere you go there are symbols of breast cancer awareness and support – from pink apparel and household items, to special edition bejeweled cell phones. Here at the Cancer Support Community, we have resources for all people affected by breast cancer – patients, survivors, family members and friends – available at no cost throughout the year.

The mission of the Cancer Support Community (CSC) is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.  We offer a menu of personalized services and education for all people affected by cancer – regardless of the type of cancer or stage of the disease. These support services are available through an international network of more than 50 professionally led community-based centers, over 100 satellite locations at hospitals and community oncology practices, and online, so that no one has to face cancer alone.

Here’s an overview of some new and ongoing programs CSC provides during breast cancer awareness month and beyond:

–NEW ONLINE: Due to advances in treatment, women are living longer, fuller lives with breast cancer. CSC is partnering with the Young Survival Coalition to produce a webinar addressing the needs of young women with advanced breast cancer. Through this webinar, young women dealing with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can learn how to manage side effects, stay healthy before and after treatment and connect with other young women going through a similar experience. The webinar will feature Sage Bolte, MSW, LSCSW; a metastatic breast cancer counselor from Life with Cancer. The event takes place Thursday, October 13th at 7pm, so be sure to register for the webinar by following the instructions here.

–NEW IN PRINT: On October 3rd, CSC released the third edition of its acclaimed Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Advanced Breast Cancer education series. The program arms women facing metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones with information, allowing them to participate as an active part of their health care team. The program includes a printed booklet, interactive CD-ROM, online educational information, and face-to-face patient workshops, available throughout the country at many CSC affiliates. Click here to find a CSC affiliate near you.

–NEW RESEARCH: Are you a breast cancer survivor? Make your voice heard! CSC’s Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects the Physical) Project examines the experience of breast cancer survivors from diagnosis through survivorship. By answering a series of questions about your experience, you will join a movement of thousands of women helping to inform researchers about the needs of survivors and the types of resources needed to improve the experience of women facing a diagnosis. CSC recently announced findings collected from more than 1,000 women who joined the M.A.P. Project last year. Click here to join today and make sure your experience is counted towards the findings of next year’s study!

–NEW WORKSHOPS: Interested in learning more about your breast reconstruction options at any stage of a breast cancer diagnosis? CSC’s educational program, Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Spotlight on Breast Reconstruction includes a print book, online content, and a medically led workshop addressing the decision-making process related to breast reconstruction following a cancer diagnosis. Click here to learn more!

–NEW FOR CAREGIVERS: At CSC, we know that cancer doesn’t only affect the person who is diagnosed, but their loved ones as well. That’s why we’ve developed a line of educational publications through our Frankly Speaking About Cancer series to address the needs of family members and friends of someone facing breast cancer. Some titles include:

When A Woman You Care About Has Breast Cancer

Caring From a Distance

10 Tips for the Cancer Caregiver

Cuidador a Cuidador (En Espanol)

If you or someone you know is affected by breast cancer, or any kind of cancer, be sure to check out Cancer Support Community’s many resources for patients, survivors, and their families and friends – no matter where they are in their cancer journey.

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