Jean-Philippe Arie, manager of the BioHealth Cluster at Luxinnovation, the state-backed promotion agency:
“The hope offered by new medical treatments is enormous.”
Jean-Philippe Arié, new manager of the Biohealth Cluster at Luxinnovation, talks to Delano about how technology is revolutionising healthcare. He also warns, however, that some costs are too high, and that regulation needs to catch up with innovation.
Previously he was senior project manager and business developer at Genopole, a biotech and biotherapy cluster based in Paris. He was also COO for the Global Care initiative consortium, which specialises in research in oncology, ophthalmology, infectious disease and neurology.
In a broad-ranging interview with Delano, Arié discussed recent developments in healthcare and looked forward to further revolutionary improvements to medical treatments.
“Since 1900, global average life expectancy has risen from 30 to 75 years. In Luxembourg, it is even higher at 82 years, according to OECD figures,” he began. “Clearly medical progress has been strong, and I expect that, over the next 20 years, it will be nothing short of spectacular.”
“The hope offered by new medical treatments is enormous,” Arié continued. “Over the past 5 years, previously unused treatments for diseases such as cancer, as well as some autoimmune and infectious diseases have received authorisation for human use thanks to their efficiency and limited side effects.”
As examples, Arié cited the checkpoint inhibitors authorised in 2014, which he described as “a complete revolution in the treatment of certain cancers”, and the so-called CART-T cells (re-educated cells), which are now authorised for the treatment of certain lymphomas. He also mentioned the 2017 commercialisation of a gene therapy that modifies the immune system and can be used in the treatment of a certain leukaemia.
“However,” he added, “these new therapies are very expensive. In 2014, a hepatitis C treatment triggered fierce debate as the initial price demanded by the producer [Gilead] exceeded €100,000. After intensive negotiation, the price was later reduced to €20,000.”
According to Arié, there are even more extreme examples. A gene therapy for a rare disease was sold for almost $1m in 2012 and another for a hereditary immunodepression was sold for €650,000 per dose in 2016.
“The industrialisation of the production of these new biological products needs to be adapted to reduce prices, which would also lead to the development of new specific professions, as well as new types of factories.”
Looking forward, Arié sees several “hot” topics that he believes stand to massively improve healthcare. He mentioned two in particular:
“The microbiote [microbial flora] refers to the totality of microorganisms that are present in the human body. Our increased understanding of this flora has made it possible to correlate it, in certain cases, to health--good or bad. The most surprising aspect is the link between bacteria in the intestine and the functioning of the brain. Other links, for instance with the immune system, have already been identified. Modifications of the microbiote have been demonstrated to change the response of cancer patients to chemotherapy. They could also help patients suffering from Crohn’s disease and decrease the cognitive deficiencies in Alzheimer patients.”
“Towards personalised medicine? The expression ‘personalised medicine’ includes a number of techniques that make it possible to adapt medical treatment to individuals or, at least, to a sub-group of individuals. These treatments include an individualised diagnostic, the choice of an adapted solution and possibly also an individualised follow up. This medical concept is not really new--your GP already adapts his or her diagnostics and treatment to his or her patients--but it could be extended to include, for example, the production of individualised medications adapted to each patient.”
Arié is positive about the future of healthcare thanks to innovative research and technology, but also calls for patience:
“The length of the regulatory phases in medical research needs to be taken into account. 10 to 15 years is needed for a classical medication to arrive on the market, and the time for more innovative medication could be even longer. Also, regulations on a national and European level need to evolve as they do not always anticipate innovation, such as the interface between digital algorithms and biology.”