Reimagining the Drug Value Chain: How EQRx is Improving Access to Life-Saving Medicines
The significant increase in drug prices over the past several decades has become a major challenge facing patients in the U.S. In 1990, prescription drug expenditure in the U.S. totaled $40 billion. This expenditure has since increased to over $350 billion in 2020, an almost 9-fold increase, or a 7.5% year-on-year increase over the past 30 years.  As a result, nearly 1 in 4 Americans taking prescription drugs have difficulty affording their medicines and about 3 in 10 do not adhere to their prescriptions because of the high costs.  At the current pace, this expenditure will balloon to over $500 billion in the coming decades, becoming a threat not only to patients, but to the entire healthcare system in the U.S. and globally.
To help curb the dramatic rise in drug pricing, the last few U.S. administrations have pushed for a top-down approach by using Executive Orders and Congressional legislation, including ramping up biosimilar development, and allowing drug importation. However, the immediate effect on drug pricing or access to life-saving therapies for patients remains unchanged. I’ve witnessed first-hand the burden patients endure when it comes to how they will access and afford insulin for their diabetes, or the stress caused not only by a cancer diagnosis but the realization that treatments are often unaffordable. This must change.
EQRx, an emerging biopharmaceutical company focused on reducing drug pricing, is set to radically change drug distribution using a disruptive business model that addresses the bottlenecks in drug access. EQRx’s mission is to help patients avoid “financial toxicity” and was founded on the premise of equity, equality, and equal access to medicines for everyone who needs them. This commitment to revolutionizing healthcare access through innovative and sustainable strategies is exactly why we supported EQRx early on. Since backing its Series B financing round in early 2021, EQRx has demonstrated its ability to build a robust therapeutics pipeline and to drive commercial partnerships with an emerging set of payers and providers.
A few months since our initial investment in the company, EQRx announced its intent to merge with CM Life Sciences III, a life science-focused special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. This is a testament to the quality of the team and the progress they have made to address an ongoing problem. It is projected that EQRx will go public during the fourth quarter of this year. As part of the proposed merger, EQRx will raise $1.8 billion, in which Mubadala participated. Upon completion of the PIPE funding and merger, EQRx will be well-capitalized to deliver on its mission to drastically reduce the prices of specialty medicines.
With a mission focused on bending the cost curve for specialty medicines and creating a long-lasting impact that benefits patients and health care systems, EQRx adopted an approach that revisited the end-to-end biopharmaceutical value chain; from how drugs are discovered and developed, to how they are reimbursed by payers, to eventual adoption by providers. EQRx’s model is focused on addressing the two key drivers that drive an increase in the cost of specialty medicines:
The first is the ever-increasing drug discovery and development costs involved in successfully bringing a therapy to patients. The current approach taken by the industry to discover and develop drugs often involves higher risk, brute-force efforts, which has led to a significant increase in the costs and timelines associated with the preclinical and clinical efforts to discover and test drugs.
The second is the high commercialization costs associated with approved specialty therapeutics, where biopharmaceutical companies incur significant costs to market their drugs to payers and providers to secure adoption for their drugs. Most importantly, complex reimbursement structures connecting drug developers, payers, and providers have resulted in deficient alignment on developing life-saving therapies while ensuring that they are affordable and accessible to patients.
EQRx has developed a playbook and business model that will allow it to develop high quality medicines that are significantly more affordable.
Here is how:
- EQRx is working with drug developers to in-license validated medicines that are approved in other countries or have been relatively de-risked in preclinical or clinical stages. At the cornerstone of EQRx’s pipeline are two partnered lung cancer assets, aumolertinib and sugemalimab, which have demonstrated equally good or better efficacy and safety relative to comparators. Additionally, EQRx is working with biotech companies that have built state-of-the-art platforms that improve upon the high costs associated with the conventional drug discovery and development process. Using this strategy, EQRx has established a collaboration with Exscientia, one of Mubadala’s portfolio companies focused on accelerating drug discovery through its artificial intelligence technology. By assembling a pipeline of de-risked programs that can be developed with a higher probability of success, EQRx benefits from a more efficient pipeline strategy which will allow it to pass significant savings on to payers, providers, and most importantly patients.
- Secondly, EQRx has created a “Global Buyers Club,” where the Company partners with payers and providers committed to buying EQRx therapies in return for unprecedented cost savings. Moreover, EQRx works with the Global Buyers Club to support the roll-out of clinical trials for their drugs as well as enhancing clinical adoptions which further reduces the cost burden for all stakeholders in the value chain.
What has been most impressive about EQRx is its pace of development over last 12 months. Compared to when we first invested, the Company now boasts 10+ programs within its portfolio, multiple collaborations with leading payers and providers, and a team of over 200 employees. With this latest funding, EQRx is set to modernize the healthcare value chain expanding its pipeline to 20 programs covering over $200B in global specialty spend enabling it to generate significant savings to its payer and health system partners. Mubadala is also working closely with EQRx to bring these innovative treatments to the United Arab Emirates and other regions of the EMEA.
As life-cycle investors, our mission is to support innovators within the entire spectrum of the drug value chain. Mubadala’s portfolio includes companies developing innovative drug discovery and development technologies that can bring fundamental change to the healthcare industry, and drive significant societal and economic impact. Our work with EQRx is focused on addressing the ballooning prices for specialty medicines, which is hampering patients’ access to life-saving and chronic therapies. At Mubadala, we remain committed to supporting companies that are pioneering innovative technologies and models to lower the disease burden on patients, providers, and payers. We are proud to be a part of EQRx in this next phase of their growth.
 U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
 Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll — February 2019: Prescription Drugs