The future of cancer care: transformative innovation for all

November 10, 2021
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 alone, there were an estimated 10 million deaths from cancer worldwide. But over the last decade, we have seen unprecedented breakthroughs in cancer research, and more people are living longer with the disease than ever before.

Through my background as an oncologist and my passion for clinical research and drug development over the last 20 years, it has been a great privilege to contribute to the tremendous progress that we have 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 utilizing multiple approaches across platforms and modalities to fulfill our vision of transforming patients’ lives through science and overcoming the challenges presented by cancer’s ability to mutate, adapt and resist therapy. 

Samit Hirawat, M.D., Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, Global Drug Development, Bristol Myers Squibb

Samit Hirawat, M.D., Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, Global Drug Development, Bristol Myers Squibb

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 tumors and is now moving into earlier lines of therapy 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 hematological malignancies.

As we come together for important discussions about science and patient care at the Galien Foundation’s Galien Forum 2021 and The Atlantic’s People v. Cancer Summit, I am reminded how, as a community, we see the most powerful progress when we collaborate and integrate the patient’s perspective early in our development processes.

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 personalized medicine

Applying our deep understanding of disease biology and the immune system, we are aggressively 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, personalized 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, such as lung cancer, where we have dedicated initiatives and partnerships to support screening services for people across the country. 

These initiatives include launching the first mobile lung computed tomography (CT) unit in the United States, in partnership with Levine Cancer Institute, to address lung cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival disparities for rural populations, and the Kentucky LEADS (Lung Cancer Education, Awareness, Detection and Survivorship) program to expand the limited scope of community-based resources and support early detection of lung cancer. 

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 advancing immunotherapy-based treatments, including combination regimens with or without chemotherapy, 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 center 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 our Standing in the Gaap program which over the last five years has worked to close gaps in diagnosis, care and survival rates among African Americans with multiple myeloma through education and partnerships to help accelerate progress for these patients. Significant events that unfolded in 2020 were also a catalyst for us to deepen and accelerate our health equity and diversity and inclusion efforts. In August 2020, Bristol Myers Squibb announced that it will invest $150 million to address health disparities, clinical trial diversity, supplier diversity, employee giving, and workforce representation.

Events such as the Galien Forum 2021 and The Atlantic’s People v. Cancer bring the community together and provide important insights into and reminders on how far we have come, how far we still have to go, and how much we can achieve together. 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.