The future of cancer care: transformative innovation for all
By Samit Hirawat, M.D., Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, Global Drug Development
Cancer remains one of the greatest global health challenges. In 2020, there were an estimated 10 million deaths from cancer worldwide1, including over 150,000 deaths in the UK.2,3 Over the last decade, however, we have seen unprecedented breakthroughs in cancer research, and more people are living longer with the disease than ever before.
As a trained oncologist who has spent the past two decades in drug development, it has been a privilege to contribute to the tremendous progress seen in the cancer treatment landscape. I am fortunate to lead incredibly talented teams at Bristol Myers Squibb, where we are driven to understand human biology and the complexities of the disease to advance cancer research. We are utilising multiple approaches across platforms and modalities to fulfil our vision of transforming patients’ lives through science and overcoming the challenges presented by cancer’s ability to mutate, adapt and resist therapy.
We have a proud history of spearheading breakthroughs that have helped change the cancer treatment landscape, including pioneering immunotherapy, which has had a significant impact on the treatment of many advanced forms of solid tumours. Immunotherapy is now moving into earlier lines of treatment where it has already impacted the course of several diseases and has the potential to impact a larger number of cancers.
Our industry-leading protein degradation and cell therapy research has also helped transform the treatment of certain aggressive blood cancers, unlocking new potential in how we approach treatment of haematological malignancies.
We’ve seen the power of collaboration in healthcare during the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines and antibodies, and that success is a shining example of what is possible when we work together to quickly address and potentially overcome the most complex challenges. With ongoing momentum in cancer research and continued collaboration, with both internal and external stakeholders, including clinical trial sites, investigators, regulators and the wider scientific community, we are sharpening our focus on how we will advance the next wave of innovation.
Our data-rich approach to exploring new frontiers in the future of personalised medicine
Applying our deep understanding of disease biology and the immune system, we are pursuing new approaches to help determine the most appropriate treatment for each specific patient, type of disease and line of therapy. As we develop new medicines, we leverage clinical, real-world and translational data, along with an understanding of what is most important to patients, to advance our pipeline, guide treatment strategies, and improve the patient experience. This data-rich approach fuels the next wave of patient-centric, personalised drug discovery, opening the doors to nearly limitless innovation.
Changing the course of disease through earlier detection, diagnosis and treatment
Improvements in screening and technology over the last decade to detect certain cancers have contributed to patients living longer. Early detection and diagnosis have been shown to be critical in certain cancers, where we have dedicated initiatives and partnerships to support screening services for people across the country.
In addition, research into innovative treatments being used in earlier lines of therapy, when cancer may be more responsive to treatment, is a significant part of our research focus to transform long-term outcomes for patients. We are exploring new treatment combinations with other available therapies, in the neoadjuvant and adjuvant settings, to present patients with the earliest opportunity to treat cancer, potentially target cancer cells that have begun to spread throughout the body without detection and prevent the disease from returning by enabling a stronger immune response.
Empowering all people with cancer with integrated and accessible cancer care
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and further exacerbated healthcare inequities for underserved communities nationwide. Putting health equity at the centre of our work for patients is a critical imperative that will allow us to improve the health outcomes of patients from all populations, ages and communities. We must all play our part to help ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to achieve optimal health outcomes, including through efforts such as improving diversity in clinical trials, increasing education in underserved communities, and improving access to therapies.
These efforts include supporting Genes & Health’s mission to improve the diversity of genetic data used for health research. Along with a group of life science companies, BMS, GSK, Maze Therapeutics, MSD, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer and Takeda have collectively committed £25 million of new investment to the generation of genetic data and analyses of samples donated by 50,000 volunteers. The data will be used by health researchers around the world, seeking to address the lack of diversity seen in today’s healthcare research.4
To help ensure access for patients who may find it difficult to get the care they need, BMS recently provided funding to support charity, Hope for Tomorrow, which provides quality and accessible treatment to people diagnosed with cancer in the UK, in the form of mobile cancer care units to those who may find it difficult to access the care they need.5
Where a cancer prognosis was once measured in months, now, long-term survival is a possibility for more patients. I am optimistic and excited about the future of cancer care and the potential for turning the innovations of today into the breakthroughs of tomorrow.
1. World Health Organisation. Cancer Available here: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer Last accessed: July 2022
2. Office For National Statistics. Total cancer deaths in the UK in 2019 and 2020. Available at: ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/totalcancerdeathsintheukin2019and2020 Last accessed: July 2022
3. The Global Cancer Observatory. Ireland cancer statistics. Available at: https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/372-ireland-fact-sheets.pdf Last accessed: July 2022
4. Queen Mary University of London. British South Asian genetic study reaches record volunteer numbers. Available here: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2022/smd/british-south-asian-genetic-study-reaches-record-volunteer-numbers.html Last accessed: July 2022
5. Hope for Tomorrow. Available here: https://hopefortomorrow.org.uk/bristol-myers-squibb-donate-750000-to-support-hope-for-tomorrow-on-their-cancer-care-mission/ Last accessed: July 2022