Like a family recipe that has been refined and perfected over countless generations, Austria has developed a reputation as the quintessential clinical trials destination; a perfect combination of world-class academia, willing volunteers and educated medical personnel balanced against a backdrop of economic stability.
“Austria should be proud of the abundance and quality of clinical trials being undertaken here”
This recipe has attracted global blue-chip pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Pfizer and AstraZeneca to undertake clinical trials within Austria and “is incredibly important as attracting trials from headquarters is extremely competitive” explains Ard van de Meij, country manager of Novartis Group Austria, which conducts 84 clinical trials in the country. “In general, as a collective healthcare market, Austria should be proud of the abundance and quality of clinical trials being undertaken here.” In 2016 this number encompassed around 500 running and non-invasive clinical trials and 6000 patients along various phases of product development.
Funding of these trials is a 70/30 split between industry and academia, a significant difference to the EU average of 60/40. According to world-renowned oncology expert, Dr. Christoph Zielinski, head of the organizational unit of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Vienna, this could be due to the fact that “Many members of the official science sector lack a long-term vision and do not see the need to invest in research or truly support universities in clinical studies.” Despite this strong view, Dr. Zielinski equally understands the implications of industry collaboration for academia, as the companies “purpose in the end is to, understandably, generate revenues. We must therefore find a balance and tread the fine line between conflict of interest and participation in important advances.”
Excellence in Oncology
Across the pharmaceutical ecosystem there is a global push to balance portfolios through a diverse oncology range, as recently seen in Gilead’s 11.9 billion USD acquisition of innovative oncology based company, Kite Pharma. This drive will only further please Austrian R&D advocates as approximately one-third of Austrian clinical trials are based in the field of oncology.
“This has resulted in Austria being a top five-nation in terms of five-year cancer survival rates and in the three most common types of cancer – lung cancer, prostate cancer, and renal cell carcinoma – Austria is the best in Europe,” highlights Jan Oliver Huber, secretary general of the Association of the Austrian Pharmaceutical Industry (PHARMIG). “This clinical trial model used for oncology is a process we can replicate in other therapeutic areas,” adds Huber.
Furthermore, undertaking clinical trials within Austria is “an advantage when it comes to obtaining market access. The government is more likely to approve our drugs in a timely manner as results are based on hundreds of Austrian patients that have already utilized the drug,” explains Mario Huber, country manager of exciting Spanish oncology company, Pharmamar. This is of growing importance for highly expensive oncology treatments that attempt to gain market access within the strained healthcare budgets of developed nations.
This oncology push has attracted huge investments, including Pfizer’s 340 million EUR (405 million USD), 4600 patient PALLAS breast cancer trial, and is “a great example of Austria’s abundance of opportunities and world-class academia and many internationally recognized key opinion leaders” according to Dr. Robin Rumler, country manager of Pfizer Austria.
“This is a chief reason that Pfizer decided to place such an important clinical trial within a mid-size country,” Rumler continues. Other innovative players, such as AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Servier have equally joined the Austrian oncology-based clinical trial party, while Boehringer Ingelheim not only conducts trials, but has positioned its global cancer research center of excellence in the heart of Vienna.
Austria now has the potential to become the European hub of oncology as the nation is “situated in the heart of Europe and we are undertaking excellent interdisciplinary activity,” explains the world-renowned Dr. Zielinksi, “In Austria, we have two internationally highly visible groups, the Austrian Breast and Colorectal Study Group (ABCSG) and the Central European Cooperative Oncology Group (CECOG). The latter brings together 23 countries and over 150 academics from central and south-eastern Europe. This allows us to be considered the hub for this designated region’s clinical trials.”
Writer: Matthew Fsadni