How EQRx is addressing financial toxicityMelanie Nallicheri Chief Executive Officer About the Author
Over the past several weeks, EQRx has announced positive results from two Phase 3 studies for our late-stage therapies—our EGFR inhibitor, aumolertinib, and our anti-PD-L1 antibody, sugemalimab—in patients with advanced lung cancer. These results show clinically and statistically significant results for both medicines. We’re thrilled to share these results as the first data-based proof points of the kinds of high-quality, innovative medicines we are pursuing and the types of therapy options that we hope to bring to people with this devastating disease.
The detailed data on aumolertinib, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2021 in partnership with Hansoh Pharma, showed a clinically significant improvement in progression-free survival (PFS) as compared to gefitinib in first-line treatment in patients with Stage IIIB or IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with the most common types of EGFR mutations. We are also encouraged by the safety profile, confirming what had been previously seen in the second-line APOLLO trial: lower instances of rash and diarrhea, two side effects that can have a major impact on the lives of patients.
The top-line results shared with our partner, CStone Pharmaceuticals, on sugemalimab showed that the Phase 3 study met its primary endpoint in an interim analysis of data from the Phase 3 trial of sugemalimab in patients with locally advanced/unresectable Stage 3 NSCLC for patients without disease progression after concurrent or sequential chemoradiotherapy. These interim data reinforce positive data previously reported from a separate Phase 3 study in Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) shared at ESMO Asia.[i] Together, these two Phase 3 studies support that sugemalimab, if approved, could be the first monoclonal antibody targeting the PD-L1/PD-1 pathway for the treatment of both Stage III and Stage IV NSCLC patients regardless of pathologic subtype or PD-L1 expression.
With these three positive Phase 3 studies in hand, we plan to engage in discussions with global regulatory authorities alongside our respective partners.
Together, these results also advance EQRx toward the goals we set out at our launch just a year and a half ago: to launch our first medicine within five years, with an aim to have 10 in 10 years and a dozen more in development.
But we know it isn’t enough just to develop these exciting new medicines and take them through the regulatory process to bring them to market.
Innovation in healthcare has to include new ways of making those life-changing therapies accessible to every patient who needs them. As an industry, we have to find an antidote to the financial toxicity that keeps many patients from affording the best treatments for their diseases. If we don’t address the pricing challenge head-on, then we’re failing at our ultimate purpose: to help patients.
That is the conundrum EQRx was founded to resolve. Our development efforts with aumolertinib and sugemalimab are at the forefront of a new model for healthcare—a model that we hope will transform access and affordability for patients around the world.
Defining innovation needs to include financial toxicity
Today, when we think about innovation, we narrowly define it around new products; but it should also include a model of getting new products to those who need them. The cost of innovation is typically cited as the reason current drug prices are so high and continue to climb. Those prices include the cost of failed programs, but advances in technology and biology have increased success rates. In addition, efficiencies across all facets of the development process, particularly in disease areas with well-established science, now enable lower cost of development. All of this should translate into lower prices; but so far, it hasn’t.
Innovation is important and critical to the success of our industry. But in most other industries, innovation typically leads to lower costs and easier consumer access— so why not in healthcare? For example, a cancer therapy that improved incrementally on the standard of care in the 1990s cost patients about $20,000 per year; today, that same incremental improvement costs $200,000 or more.
We started building our portfolio in oncology because cancer medicines, especially those for lung cancer, are among the most financially toxic for patients and their families. A medicine may be safe and well-tolerated in the body, but medicines don’t work for patients who can’t afford to get them. High out-of-pocket costs can also decrease patients’ adherence to their medicines, often with detrimental results, and, for lung cancer drugs, those high costs correlate with high mortality. Financial toxicity is actually proving to be a clinical issue—the difference between life and death.
Rebuilding from the inside
EQRx was founded on the premise of equity, equality, and equal access to medicines for everyone who needs them. We are a company of expert industry insiders, “rebel rebuilders,” who know how the system works and aspire to change it for the better, from the inside, by creating a new business model for the industry. We are building strategic partnerships among unlikely, even typically opposing stakeholders, from across the healthcare ecosystem to make equitable access and more affordable prices a reality.
Aumolertinib and sugemalimab are excellent examples of the types of medicines that EQRx is pursuing. We’re optimizing the development process from the ground up and are building a broad portfolio of therapeutic options that we intend to offer at radically lower costs than what’s currently available. That large-scale vision is essential to our ability to have an outsized impact on healthcare systems and bring needed medicines to hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, on a global scale.
And we’re just getting started.
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This blog post was also published on Medium.
[i] Zhou, C. 2020. GEMSTONE-302: A Phase III study of platinum-based chemotherapy (chemo) with placebo or CS1001, an anti-PDL1 antibody, for first-line (1L) advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). ESMO Asia, Nov. 20-22, 2020, Virtual.