NCBiotech Center President and CEO Norris Tolson kicked off the CED Life Science Conference on Wednesday with a review of the recently published Battelle study data, released a couple of weeks ago to General Assembly members.

Pointing out the many new opportunities coming from the state’s vibrant life-science sector, Tolson set the economic tone of the conference by noting, “We all know the challenges of getting these products to market. Funding is one of your major problems.” Then he invited everyone to the April 4 Southeast Venture Philanthropy Conference organized by NCBiotech. It will include representatives of biopharma companies and of some 25 charitable organizations.

Tolson then introduced Bradley Wilson, president and CEO of BCBSNC. Wilson told the 500-plus in the audience that they’re facing an”unprecedented opportunity to work together.”

“There was a time when each healthcare entity set its own agenda, had its own design,” he said. But now pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies etc. need to collaborate to meet the challenges of health care and make sure all efforts yield quality outcomes for all of us.

Wilson then introduced Sam Nussbaum, M.D., executive vice president of clinical health policy & CEO of Wellpoint, a BCBS partner.

Nussbaum said these are “the best of times and the worst of times” in U.S. healthcare because we’ve made great headway in treating some problems, such as reducing heart disease with statins. But huge disparities remain, he noted, citing statistics such as 1 percent of Wellpoint patient drive 28 percent of its treatment costs, in chronic illnesses that need to be better managed.

He said America routinely accepts “coin-toss medicine,” in which people go to a doctor and the likelihood their care will be science based will be like a coin toss.

“At Wellpoint everything we do starts with evidence-based medicine,” he said. “We look at comparative effectiveness in outcomes research.”

America was using bone marrow transplants for treating breast cancer 30 years ago, he noted. Then, billions of dollars and untold human suffering later, we found it didn’t work. “Can it happen today? Brachytherapy is used in 13 percent of Medicare breast cancer patients, but it doesn’t work.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute are helping, he said. But with behavioral drugs, only one-third are taken as prescribed. That’s a problem in many drugs and treatments, he said. And costs of prostate treatments can vary from about $18,000 to $80,000.

“If a treatment is truly superior, let’s embrace it,” he said, adding that Wellpoint now collaborates with several major universities, including Duke, to determine safety and effectiveness of drugs and vaccines once they’re released. The company is also testing IBM’s Watson supercomputer for diagnosis data.

He said healthcare is facing a changing landscape” in which insurance companies are becoming providers, and delivery systems are getting into the insurance business.

That provided a natural segue to the presentation by Jacques Mulder, principal & chief strategy officer of Deloitte. Citing the huge proliferation of data, Mulder said that in 2011 humans created 1.8 zettabytes, which can fill 57.7 billion 32-gigabyte computers. From 2000 to 2008, data storage became 100 times cheaper. Processing power increased 256X from 2000 to now. Global connectivity, better tools all contribute.

But “rows and columns don’t scale for big data, said Mulder. “Humans are wired for visuals. Interactivity enables exploration. Deloitte works to turn big data into useful information. For instance, we looked at a risk profile in asthma and found a correlation between heart valve disease and asthma. So we decided we needed to look into that.”

Health care reform will have a wide impact on biopharma, said Mulder. Being first to market a new drug has always been expensive, less so for the next, similar drug. But soon we’ll see follow-ons disappear, he predicted.

Future new-therapeutics approvals will require new and better medicines with proven outcomes. Innovation’s emerging definition requires breaking tradeoffs and expanding the possible. It now means making treatments work better, be more tolerable, and expanding the range of outcomes while maintaining safety and tolerability.

“We’re seeing some of that in anti-diabetes drugs. So soon payers will pay based on what they see, versus what the clinical trials promised. We can expect to see more standardized treatment. More proof that treatments actually impact the disease and outcomes.”

Other points he made from the Deloitte report:

  • Accountable care organizations will flex their muscles in the next few years. They’ll find why patients don’t comply with treatments, and find ways to fix that.
  • Venture capital is moving away from risk, away from oncology, CNS, cardiology toward areas such as dermatology. So we’ll probably see less venture funding of innovation.

Editor’s note: NC Bioteeh Center Director of Public Relations Jim Shamp writes and edits news and other web copy, brochures and other internal and external Biotechnology Center materials, and supports the Corporate Communications unit’s marketing and media relations activities.

(C) NC Biotech Center