The study was carried out by the All-Island eHealth Hub for Cancer, of which Professor Aedin Culhane, Professor of Cancer Genomics at UL is a co-lead
Monday, 9 October 2023

A landmark study involving researchers at University of Limerick has shown how precision medicine can be a cheaper and more efficient way to treat cancer.

The study, led by Queen’s University Belfast, is the world’s first and most comprehensive study of the initial wave of precision oncology medicines in the marketplace.

It was carried out by the All-Island eHealth Hub for Cancer, of which Professor Aedin Culhane, Professor of Cancer Genomics at UL is a co-lead and was conducted in collaboration with a team of precision healthcare economists and researchers from Salutem Insights Ltd, Diaceutics PLC and King’s College London.

The study examined the economic impact of precision oncology medicines compared to traditional oncology medicines. It found that it costs over $1 billion less in research and development (R&D) spend to develop an oncology medicine that is guided through clinical trials in a precision oncology approach, compared to a “one size fits all” approach to treatment.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice.

Precision oncology aims to develop medical treatments that target particular characteristics of an individual's tumour. Studies have shown that tumour shrinkage rates and progression-free survival are greatly improved with precision oncology medicines. However, medicines development is a major contributor to health costs – with the average cost of getting a new oncology medicine into the market estimated at US $4.4 billion.

The study showed that by using the “CDx-guided approach”, which uses a companion diagnostic to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from a particular medicine, increases the likelihood of a treatment being successful while also cutting costs.

Professor Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast, Co-Lead of Higher Education Authority Funded North South Research Programme’s eHealth Hub for Cancer, Co-lead of the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI) and senior author on the paper is presenting this work at the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI) Showcase Event which is taking place at the Herbert Park Hotel on Wednesday 27th September 2023.

The event will be opened by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Mr Simon Harris TD. Commenting on the research, Minister Harris said: “This is exactly the type of work that we wish to encourage and support. It shows how an all-island approach can drive a research and innovation agenda that delivers both for patients and for society, emphasising both the health and innovation dividend of research.”

Professor Mark Lawler explained: “This landmark study highlights how precision medicine can deliver affordable care for cancer patients. Moving towards a precision oncology guided approach can deliver health benefits at a potentially affordable cost, including in the development phase, lowering expensive clinical trial attrition rates and sparing patients from those treatments that are ineffective and may have significant side effects. If we don’t deploy a CDx-guided approach we are missing a huge opportunity to deliver the best, most affordable care to our patients.”

Professor Aedin Culhane, Professor of Cancer Genomics and Director of the Limerick Digital Cancer Centre at University of Limerick, and Co-Lead of the eHealth Hub for Cancer said: “This work highlights how we can deploy quality data to highlight the benefits and potential cost saving of a precision oncology approach. Treating patients based on their genomic make-up is the direction of travel that we should be pursuing, this study highlights how it can be achieved in an efficient and cost-effective way.”

Dr Raymond Henderson, Senior Health Technology Assessment Manager at Salutem Insights Ltd and lead author on the paper, said: “This study emphasises how a precise health economic approach can provide the evidence base to underpin the delivery of precision oncology for patients.”

Peter Keeling, CEO of Diaceutics and co-author of the study, highlights the importance of these findings for the pharma industry: “Utilising this landmark financial analysis, we can for the first-time postulate what might be the actual lifecycle advantage of recovering patients lost to the diagnostic pathway with an investment in better testing.”

This study hypothesises that a $50 million timely investment in better testing would potentially gain significant lifecycle revenues per therapy; for every $1 million invested in better testing, an additional $100 million+ in additional lifecycle revenues for that therapy could be realised.

Professor Lawler added: “However, despite the mounting evidence that precision oncology approaches appear to offer better value to the key stakeholders; payers, patients and the pharmaceutical industry, there are still barriers to be overcome that require a new operating model which enables these cost-effective innovative treatments to reach all of our patients.”

Prof. William Gallagher (Professor of Cancer Biology at University College Dublin and Co-Lead, AICRI) said “I am delighted to see this critical work clearly showing the benefit of cancer precision medicine presented at the AICRI Showcase event. Such studies are key to the mission of AICRI which is to create an overarching framework for cancer research across the island of Ireland, so as to better enable fast-tracking of new diagnostics and therapies into care.”