The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed roughly five million lives worldwide, upending the world as we once knew it. Now imagine if another disease came along that would dwarf the pandemic's death toll. How frightening would that be? Well, it's already here. It's heart disease and it's responsible for nearly 18 million deaths a year.
Bringing the same energy to bear on heart disease and other chronic conditions that we've brought to the pandemic was the topic of a panel discussion featuring Amgen CEO Bob Bradway and other healthcare industry leaders at this year's Piper Heartland Summit, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bradway's fellow panelists were Cleveland Clinic CEO Tomislav Mihaljevic, United Health Group CEO Andrew Witty, and Medtronic CEO Geoff Martha.
Bradway characterized the rapid development of COVID vaccines as "an extraordinary scientific triumph," and noted that the previous record for developing a new vaccine – the preventive shot for measles – was four years. He expressed hope that the unprecedented degree of cooperation among healthcare companies, regulators, and policy-makers during the COVID era will persist even after we have turned the corner on the pandemic.
"If we brought the same energy to cardiovascular disease that we brought to the pandemic," Bradway observed, "we would put a huge dent" in a disease that claims some 660,000 lives and imposes more than $360 billion in costs each year in the United States alone. What's more, he said, we can predict those patients who are most vulnerable to heart disease and we have the tools to help reduce their risk of experiencing major life-changing events, such as heart attacks or strokes.
Bradway expressed excitement about the industry's growing ability to develop therapies targeting genetic mutations that have long been considered undruggable. Emerging technologies "make us wonder whether the whole genome is now finally druggable," he said, meaning that we are "potentially headed for a period of productivity that none of us is really talking about now."
Asked if he believes the biopharmaceutical industry has received sufficient credit for its innovation during the pandemic, Bradway responded that COVID has reinforced not only the confidence of people who were already inclined to believe in the power of innovation, but also the skepticism of those who view patent rights as barriers to access. He pointed out that "society benefits from the years of data exclusivity and intellectual property protection that we are granted for doing the work that we do," adding that anti-inflammatory medicines available in generic form "have contributed to the success we've enjoyed so far in wrestling this pandemic to ground."
Asked how COVID has affected Amgen, Bradway commented that it prompted us and companies throughout the industry to improve the speed and efficiency of clinical development. "We figured out new ways to enroll patients, to monitor them remotely, to use providers in the healthcare system differently than we had in the past, and that is definitely here to stay." He noted that while some recent improvements in clinical development would have occurred even in the absence of COVID, "they were clearly accelerated by the pandemic. That's good news for patients, innovators, and the whole healthcare system."