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Landmark public-private agreement for precision cancer medicine

While more than 30 000 Norwegians are diagnosed with cancer every year and the incidence is still increasing, more precise treatments can save lives. CONNECT is a new initiative aiming to ensure that precision medicine reaches the patients.

“A serious cancer disease is an existential challenge for the individual. Cancer research gives hope. The pharmaceutical industry and the public health sector, clinicians and executive authorities, have to collaborate to offer new treatments, balancing the latest research with hospital operations,” says Åsmund Flobak, Oncologist at St Olav’s Hospital, Trondheim University Hospital.

The new initiative, called CONNECT (Norwegian Precision Cancer Medicine Implementation Consortium), is a direct response to Health Minister Bent Høie’s political guidance to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine for Norwegian patients. It also responds to the Health Minister’s ambition to increase research and collaboration between public and private actors, including hospitals, other public stakeholders, the Norwegian Cancer Society, and the pharmaceutical industry.

CONNECT is one of four interconnected initiatives that will ensure infrastructure and collaboration on diagnostics, clinical trials, implementation of advanced precision medicine and use of health data e.g. for health economics analysis. This could eventually affect how Nye Metoder (The National System for Managed Introduction of New Health Technologies within the Specialist Health Service in Norway) is adapted for personalized medicine and treatments for small patient groups in cancer.

Precision medicine for the future

Precision medicine, or personalised medicine, is a type of treatment tailored to the individual patient based on individual diagnostic and clinical information. In simple words, it is about giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

“The research front is continuously moving forward. With modern technology, today’s clinicians can analyse specific changes in the cancer of each patient. There are individual changes in a patient’s tumour that can be treated with targeted therapies tailored to every individual patient,” says Bjørn Tore Gjertsen, Director of Research at Haukeland University Hospital, Helse Bergen Health Trust.

“Precision medicine changes healthcare. The implementation of precision medicine requires new types of interactions and partnerships among patients, clinicians, companies, regulators, and payors. CONNECT is a new public-private partnership allowing all stakeholders to jointly address key obstacles and piloting novel solutions,“ says Jutta Heix, Project Manager for CONNECT and Head of International Affairs at Oslo Cancer Cluster.

A nationwide effort towards a common goal

CONNECT is a unique national partnership where the central players join forces to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine.

All six university hospitals in Norway are partners in CONNECT. More than ten leading pharmaceutical companies have joined the initiative so far. As representative for patients, the Norwegian Cancer Society will play a central role.

“We are also having a good dialogue with the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency about participating in CONNECT and contributing with their competency. The Institute of Public Health joins as an observer from the start and the Directorate of Health has expressed an intention to join as an observer as well,” says Kjetil Tasken, Head and Director of the Institute for Cancer Research at Oslo University Hospital.

Karen Marie Ulshagen, Area Director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, says in a comment that the Medicines Agency supports the project and intends to engage.

“A culture for public-private collaboration is not created through strategic plans, political ambitions or celebratory speeches, but through actions and behaviours that set a new standard. CONNECT is not about money or donating pharmaceuticals. It is the combined expertise of the different players and agencies that will increase the competency essential to ensure the implementation of precision medicine. Novartis is happy to participate, and I think that is true for the other industry players too,” says Lars Petter Strand, Head of Medical, Novartis Oncology Norway. He has worked closely together with representatives from Roche, BMS and Merck in the working group for CONNECT.

CONNECT and the associated public initiatives work towards common goals: giving patients access to medicines they otherwise wouldn’t receive, increasing the precision medicine experience of clinicians and researchers nationwide, generating data and insights important for analysing the outcomes and adopting health technology assessments for these new treatment concepts. Via CONNECT a structured dialogue, information sharing and planning for national precision medicine and diagnostics will be established, with Oslo Cancer Cluster having the coordinating role.

Unique public-private partnership

CONNECT will be an arena for all partners and stakeholders to address important issues and will ensure a balanced, broad, and informed approach and debate.

“This is a concrete and important milestone for public-private collaborations in the health sector and builds on the ambitions from, among other things, HelseOmsorg21. This is a completely new way to work in Norway and I hope it paves the way for more collaborative projects and pilots between private and public players in healthcare,” says Karita Bekkemellem, CEO of Legemiddelindustrien (LMI).

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