This entry is reposted with permission from PhRMA’s blog, The Catalyst.
ASCO’s Annual Meeting this week highlighted some of the exciting advances that are emerging in the fight against cancer. PhRMA has joined with many other organizations in supporting a conference next week, “Turning the Tide Against Cancer Through Sustained Medical Innovation,” which is focused on the critical issue of how we sustain this progress in an era of increasing cost-cutting pressure. Conference participants will examine how we measure the value of new treatments and how we can promote high quality, patient-centered care.
The conference is being convened by the American Association of Cancer Research, the Personalized Medicine Coalition, and Feinstein Kean Healthcare. We sat down with each of the conference co-hosts about the event and progress in cancer care.
Conversation with Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), CEO, American Association for Cancer Research
Q: In looking at where we want to go in progress against cancer, we sometimes lose sight of where we’ve come. Set the stage for us – how has scientific progress changed the outlook for patients against cancer in recent years?
Marge Foti: We have made tremendous progress against cancer. There are more than 12 million cancer survivors in America today and cancer mortality rates continue to decline. This progress is thanks to scientific discoveries that have revealed the underlying biology of a cancer cell and how the survive and grow in our bodies—knowledge that has given us a new understanding that cancer is not, in fact, a single disease but more than 200 diseases, each with unique causes and characteristics that require different treatments. New advanced technologies have improved our ability to turn this knowledge of how cancer works against cancer. We now are better able to prevent, detect and treat cancer.
Q: AACR put out a great report last year, the Cancer Progress Report, which describes many of the exciting advances being made in cancer research. What big trends do you expect we will hear about at the upcoming conference? What big challenges?
Marge Foti: Personalized medicine is more than just a buzz word; it is offering great promise to transform the outlook for many forms of cancer. We are truly entering an era when every patient’s tumor can be characterized at the molecular level, which is helping us redefine how we prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. While this unprecedented progress is the direct result of fundamental discoveries from the past 40 years, further exploiting this knowledge to improve the outlook for cancer patients is going to require that our national policies keep pace with the continual advances that take place in science. For example, the recent approval of two new cancer medicines along with companion diagnostics is marking a new day of progress, but also is one that poses new challenges to researchers, companies, and regulators.
In addition, cancer’s complexity is astounding and exists at all levels–from populations, to individuals, to specific cancers, to the genes that underlie cancers. A major hurdle in the treatment of cancer is that that there is a high degree of variability in gene mutations—even within a single tumor in a single patient—and the variability increases with later stage disease.
Cancer research takes time and progress builds over time as new treatments are added on to one another in a step-wise fashion. Our growing scientific knowledge has the potential to change the face of drug development, to combine therapies in a rational way based on the mutations within an individual patient’s tumor. This is an enormous scientific and regulatory challenge, but the science is telling us this is the path forward.
Q: Why is it important to connect the science to policy?
Marge Foti: Continued progress is not a given. Advancing care for patients is an incredibly long, complex and expensive process. We need to provide continued support for basic research, and we need to preserve strong incentives for private sector investments in this process. Without a good understanding of the science, we risk taking policy approaches that will hamper the progress we so desperately need to make for current and future cancer patients.