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The future is here: MA chair

Posted 13 August 2019

The medicines sector needs to prepare for a future in which therapies are different and the business model used by pharma companies today is potentially redundant, the association's chair has warned.

In the second part of an exclusive interview with Pharma in Focus to mark one year as MA's first independent chair, Anna Lavelle said the sector was experiencing a "step change" and needed to adequately prepare for the future.

"We are looking at a new mix of products. What are the therapies that will be available 10 years from now?" she asked.

The MA chair added the association needed to "set up some policy changes that future-proof MA and the sector going forward".

A trained molecular geneticist, Lavelle makes no apology for her strong focus on the cell and gene therapies already arriving in Australia - nor her insistence that the sector adequately prepare.

She points out that early in her career, she predicted gene therapies would one day change the way some conditions are treated and is thrilled to see that day has arrived.

Describing herself as "comfortable being uncomfortable", the diminutive Lavelle does not back away from a fight and is looking to push, pull or coerce the traditionally conservative medicines sector into what she sees as a new age.

A "new world order is coming", she warns, with hospitals and specialist treatment centres increasingly involved in administering therapies and a shift in focus to technology and connectivity.

"We have already seen medicines move from solid state pills to injections then infusions and now to something completely different. The dynamic is going to shift," she says.

Cell and gene therapy committee

Lavelle, who has developed a strong relationship with Health Minister Greg Hunt in the past year, says they share a keen interest in the change in medicines.

"The minister's office would be very comfortable setting up an independently driven committee to discuss new classes of therapies and their implications," she said.

The world of medicines is also shifting towards more real world evidence and patient testimony, and within a few years patient and sector expectations are likely to change, she says.

"Who will be the MA members of the future?

"Some new therapies are owned by larger biotechs; some are directed to smaller populations and can be distributed directly to patients. They won't need to partner with pharma as the marketing and distribution will be different."

While Lavelle understands the reluctance of MA member companies with no cell or gene therapies in their pipeline to invest in this area, she urges them to embrace the change.

"It may not help you today but other companies will benefit in the future," she says.

"This is something we cannot ignore if MA and the sector are to be seen as stewards of the future."

Megan Brodie

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