At the Precipice of ChangeAlexis Borisy & Melanie Nallicheri
If you’re reading this latest installment of Perspectives, then you’ve likely read the news that EQRx in-licensed new drug assets. To be clear, these drugs are not our first in-licensed assets. We’re pleased to add them to our growing pipeline of innovative therapies, and we couldn’t be more excited about their important roles in treating people suffering from breast and lung cancers, and potentially other cancers as well.
Before talking more specifically about why we selected these drugs, there is important context that must be shared.
First, we’re not oblivious to the global and national challenges we face. A sea change is happening in our country. We are indeed in unchartered waters, rallying against the largest healthcare challenge of our time, battling widespread unemployment while facing a global economy in transformation. Yet, despite this uncertainty, people around the world are diagnosed every day with cancer, a horrific disease. And while we may not agree on how we can tackle many of our macro challenges, one area where consensus does exist is that the price of prescription drugs is too high for too many people.
While many support using aggressive new government regulations to quash drug prices, we started EQRx to create a different, more sustainable path forward: to use free market competition to bring down drug prices and make world-class medicines available and affordable to people who need them. We describe our approach as “fast follow” medicine because our therapies emulate the biological function of existing drugs but have unique enough molecular structures to garner their own patent protections. This concept is not new — companies have been doing this for years, with Lipitor and Humira as examples — but no company until now has used it as a means of competing on price.
For most Americans, the high cost of medicine has created an unmet and growing need in the marketplace.
Currently, the financial impact of care can be devastating, and even fatal. Numerous studies have shown a statistically significant correlation between high patient out-of-pocket costs and mortality, as people abandon therapy due to cost. In fact, when out-of-pocket costs directly to the patient reach $250 or more, nearly 70 percent of patients discontinue treatment. Seventy percent. For most Americans, the high cost of medicine has created an unmet and growing need in the marketplace.
When we launched EQRx in January, we said that one of our major therapeutic focus areas would be oncology. Our reasoning was twofold: First, because cancer is among the leading causes of death in nearly every economy on earth. Second, because the steadily rising cost of oncology treatments too often prevent patients from getting the help they need. The latest data shows that 2018 marked the fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth in the price of oncology treatments. Numerous analyses point to the indisputable fact that the inflation-adjusted price of oncology drugs is up ten times in one generation. In addition to the price of drugs, the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system add cost at almost every step along the distribution journey from manufacturer to patient, and this cost is often borne by patients.
In many cases, the price of these drugs has overshadowed the remarkable, life-saving potential of a new generation of biomarker-directed precision medicine. For patients and healthcare systems who can afford them, these therapies often transform the management and prognosis of even late-stage disease. Indeed, the promise of targeted and precision treatments is boundless.
In our promise to remake healthcare, our goal is to innovate new drugs and identify equally as good or better agents that have not fully been appreciated. We also intend to reinvent the way people access these medicines. This week, we took action on our broad development pipeline under consideration, in-licensing two significant molecules that show great promise.
The first molecule is lerociclib, a CDK4/6 inhibitor, being developed for use in combination with other targeted therapies in certain types of breast cancer. This disease is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. We believe there is significant opportunity to help those impacted by this horrific disease by bringing a high quality, lower-priced drug to market.
The second molecule is almonertinib, which targets the EGFR mutation in non-small-cell lung carcinomas. Every 15 seconds, a person across the world is diagnosed with lung cancer, and every 18 seconds, a person dies of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society—making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Here, too, is a chance to bring medicines that are equal to or better than currently marketed products at dramatically lower costs to save lives.
At EQRx, that’s not just our mission, it’s our social contract: to leverage speed, efficiency, knowledge, and know-how to make life-saving medicines affordable for every person who needs them.
Now begins the hard work of innovation for the sake of humanity, to bring down the price of prescription drugs through competition, not regulation. How healthcare works systemically is a big and pressing issue. Amidst the backdrop of a national healthcare crisis, our industry has demonstrated the speed and tenacity that underscores how efficient we can all be if we simply put our collective minds to solving a problem.
At EQRx, that’s not just our mission, it’s our social contract: to leverage speed, efficiency, knowledge, and know-how to make life-saving medicines affordable for every person who needs them. That’s why we are committed to the important and necessary work of remaking medicine – now, more than ever.