On Nov. 13, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted a panel discussion on collaborations between the pharmaceutical and healthcare provider sectors and how those collaborations can drive change in healthcare. With Dee Anna Smith, CEO of Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare, as moderator, nearly 200 Council members heard from a panel of experts on topics including barriers for drug development and the current opioid epidemic.
Opening the session, Smith asked the panelists for reaction of the breaking news that Alex Azar, former head of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly's United States division, has been nominated to be the next secretary of the Health and Humans Services Department.
"Given his tenure in the industry, he has an interesting perspective on collaborations," said Christian Clymer, vice president of public affairs and communications for PhRMA. "He has worked in HHS before under President George W. Bush, so we look with interest in his nomination to see how it plays out."
The conversation then turned to how collaborations between the pharmaceutical and provider sectors might help to address issues such as chronic disease, which currently accounts for 80 percent of healthcare costs. It is estimated that by 2030, the state of Tennessee alone will spend $1 trillion on caring for chronic disease.
"There has been this misperception of 'us vs. them' when it comes to the pharmaceutical and provider sectors," said David Spigel, MD, chief scientific officer and director of the lung cancer research program at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute. "We have to work together to find new therapies; we can't do it alone."
There are other barriers that are standing in the way of drug development, mainly when it comes to recruiting patients for clinical trials. The rate of enrollment in clinical trials for oncology today is only 3 percent. The panelists agreed that innovation is not going to happen if people are not willing to be part of a clinical trial and that more efforts need to be made to educate patients about the availability of clinical trials.
"One of the successes we've had in getting patients recruited and enrolled is reaching out to patients not just during clinic visits but also using an online matching system giving them an opportunity to be informed when a new trial becomes available and that meets criteria they have pre-identified as being pertinent to them," said Josh Peterson, MD, associate professor of medicine and bioinformatics at Vanderbilt University Medical School.
When it comes to the role of the payer, there is opportunity for additional collaboration in order to do what is in the best interest of the patient.
"We need to all get behind the idea that we are all working together to figure out how to use the information we have to get the right therapy, to the right patient, at the right time," said Spigel.
Finally, the conversation turned to the opioid crisis, which was recently declared a public health emergency by the Trump Administration.
"As a profession, we seriously underestimated the risks of chronic opioid treatment for nonmalignant pain when they were coming onto the market," said Peterson. "Pain is not an easy thing to address, but we need to move much faster at coming up with alternative treatments."
In 2015 alone, 12.5 million Americans misused prescription opioids, costing the economy more than $78 billion.
"We've seen this epidemic affect so many people," said Clymer. "The pharmaceutical industry is working every day to find new ways to treat pain and to provide education around opioids. It is through innovation and collaboration that we'll be able to address this issue so these conversations are in the past."
"The conversations we heard yesterday are not always easy, but we are happy to provide a space for the pharmaceutical, research and provider sectors to come together for an honest discussion," said Hayley Hovious, president of the Nashville Health Care Council. "It is through such discussions and fostering collaboration that we'll truly drive change within health care."