WEBCAST | Discovery & Translation

Glimcher calls for funding basic research, hospitals are ‘struggling’

On the latest BioCentury Show, Dana-Farber chief also outlines wish list priorities for next NCI director

May 5, 2022 12:03 PM UTC

Academic medical centers are “in distress,” reliant on philanthropy to make ends meet, and still battling to have their value recognized financially by industry, Laurie Glimcher told The BioCentury Show. At the same time, there’s an imperative to decrease costs and increase access to new and experimental therapies to underserved minorities, a need Dana-Farber is aiming to address, with some distance still to go.

The oncology leader also listed some priorities she would like to see the next NCI director embrace, and extrapolated from the successes in the field to the ambitions it should strive for.

Glimcher, president and CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, outlined several topics that could expand the success of drugs and their reach throughout the patient community.

Early detection of cancer is critical, she said, in particular to identify patients in stage 1 cancer, where the tumor has not yet spread. “If you come into a hospital with stage 1 cancer you can be cured almost all the time. That’s only 25% of our patients. 75% of patients come in after the tumor has spread.” The goal is to prevent cancer in those who are high risk, and “we know what high risk is.” 

Another priority is to extend the reach of immunotherapy from 25% of patients to 100% of patients via new treatments, which relies on basic science.

Glimcher also looked to future areas of discovery. “We need to move into the next generation of genomics, and that is epigenetics,” she said. Controlling the expression of oncogenic proteins, at the DNA level or at a level that controls gene expression, can fuel the next innovations.

The final area she underscored is inclusion, diversity and equity. “If we’re not treating all patients, no matter what zip code they come from, then we’re not doing our job.”

Glimcher made a strong call for more funding of basic research, saying that although industry is reliant on the innovation coming out of academic medical centers to feed its pipeline, it still under-compensates those assets, and under-invests in the basic research needed to spawn the discoveries. 

Citing Deerfield Management as on outlier among VCs — “they are more generous in sharing any financial output from those discoveries than any other firms” — she talked of partnering deals that can serve as a model. Deerfield has two deals with Dana-Farber, and has committed over $1 billion across at least 14 umbrella research agreements with universities and academic medical centers to accelerate newco creation from discoveries.

Glimcher, who sits on the board of GlaxoSmithKline plc (LSE:GSK; NYSE:GSK) and previously was on the board of Bristol Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY), also said it’s “extremely important” for physician scientists to serve on the boards of pharmaceutical companies, and advise them of the most important needs of their patients, in her case patients with cancer or immune diseases. She pushed back on the idea of a conflict, saying being “completely transparent” is essential, which means declaring “any possible conflict that one could have.”

Glimcher outlined some of the initiatives that Dana-Farber has to increase access to care for minority and under-served communities, including an agreement with Boston Medical Center HealthNet Plan to give in-network access to its roughly 325,000 members, an alliance with the VA Boston Healthcare System to include patients in clinical trials, a $50 million philanthropic investment to advance equity and inclusion in both access for patients and careers for researchers, and the creation of a chief clinical access and equity officer role, with the first appointment last year to Christopher Latham, to combat structural racism and improve access.

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute