Many medications on the market have the potential to benefit more patients by using them in combination with other medications, or expanding the list of conditions they can treat. It’s perfectly legal, and even common, to prescribe medications off-label for conditions they have not yet been proven to treat safely and effectively. In many cases, this accelerates life-changing uses.
But with this comes a chilling effect for further clinical trials to definitely prove their use for a second or third indication once a drug has been approved, says Jackie Bosch, occupational therapist at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI).
There’s always a risk that a certain medication will only be safe and effective under a narrow set of conditions. And that can be a detriment to the companies that own the drugs.
That’s why it’s rare to find collaborations like the one between PHRI and Bayer Inc.
“For many decades, we put a number of pharmaceutical companies on individual projects, and usually they were testing the value of various treatments or preventative strategies,” says Salim Yusuf, cardiologist and Executive Director at PHRI.
“We did the same thing in a number of projects with Bayer, but we found we had much more in common, and so we struck a partnership.”
For Bayer, it’s all about filling gaps in patient care.
“As a company, we look at diseases where either there is no treatment, or there are treatment options that are not very good or have too many side effects, and we’re trying to address that unmet need,” explains Shurjeel Choudhri, Senior VP — Medical & Scientific Affairs at Bayer.
Having that kind of open cooperation between academia and industry is good for patients, and it’s good for Canada’s role in bringing advanced solutions to the global stage.
“Collaboration with industry has allowed Canada to become a powerhouse in clinical trials research. It enabled us to be able to do the studies that we thought were really important,” says Bosch.
“Working with physicians in Canada to bring forward some of their research projects, and collaborate with them with Bayer, that’s when it really creates value for Canadians,” adds Chrisoula Giannaris, Head of Medical Affairs — Hematology, Oncology & Radiology at Bayer.
At PHRI, a core goal is to make a human impact, says Yusuf. Taking basic discoveries and translating them into clinical practice is essential to improving patient outcomes.
“We’re really looking to better understand the mechanism of disease, and this will hopefully help in the future, whether it’s in academia or in industry through biotechnology companies or through pharmaceutical companies like Bayer,” says Antonio Ciaccia, Head of Medical Affairs — Cardiology, Nephrology & Respirology at Bayer.
It certainly helps when academia and industry agree to play on the same team, bringing all their strengths together to get the biggest impact from clinical trials.
“We have a common goal, and on the academia side, they have the strength of the knowledge and the research. On the pharmaceutical side, we tend to dig a little bit deeper into the therapeutic areas. And when we come together, we’re able to reach that common goal,” says Laurie Wingett, Head of Medical Affairs — Primary Care & Medical Operations at Bayer.
As our understanding of human diseases gets more sophisticated, our strategies for treating them also become more complex. More and more, researchers need to work together to develop new treatments.
“Science is moving very quickly, and no one company or organization can really do it all,” adds Choudhri. “And that’s really what the future will look like. It will be very much a collaborative effort.”