November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time to reflect upon the disease’s enormous human cost. This month, some 18,600 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer and approximately 13,000 Americans will be killed by it. It is, by a wide margin, the most common cause of cancer death in the United States.
It is also a time to applaud the progress we’ve made in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, and push to keep this momentum going. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer has increased by 54% since 1975. A recent PhRMA report lists 98 novel lung cancer treatments currently in clinical trials, seven of which have received the FDA’s Breakthrough Therapy designation for drugs that show early evidence of improvement over existing treatments. This month, the Lung-MAP (Lung Cancer Master Protocol) trial for squamous cell lung cancer has expanded to over 400 locations, offering patients across the country access to promising therapies for a historically undertreated form of lung cancer.
This week, leaders and experts from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, medical device and diagnostics developers, regulatory agencies, government and academic research centers, and patient advocacy will converge at the seventh-annual Friends of Cancer Research – Brookings Institution Conference on Clinical Cancer Research. Participants from disparate, sometimes directly competitive organizations work together to address the most pressing issues in cancer care. Cooperatively, they can solve problems that any one institution would find intractable. The Breakthrough Therapy designation, which was first proposed and outlined at the 2011 Conference on Clinical Cancer Research, required the input and cooperation of the FDA, congressional leadership, drug developers, and patients and their advocates. The designation has now expedited the full approval of 14 promising drugs and is speeding the development of dozens of others.
Lung-MAP is an even more dramatic example of an incredible public-private partnership. Proposed at the 2012 Conference on Clinical Cancer Research and developed over a series of forums and working groups, the trial is an active collaboration among five pharmaceutical companies, a diagnostics developer, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), an NCI research cooperative group, and Friends of Cancer Research, operating across hundreds of medical centers and designed with input from a wide range of academic, government, and advocacy voices. The trial puts patients at the center of the equation, http://www.lung-map.org/and aims to correct long-recognized problems with clinical trial design and operation: By testing five experimental drugs simultaneously and screening patients for the biomarkers associated with each, Lung-MAP makes it easier for researchers to find compatible patients and easier for patients to gain access to the drugs most likely to treat their disease. By using a central “master protocol” that can be amended as drugs complete their studies and new drugs enter the trial, Lung-MAP allows researchers and developers to preserve valuable clinical trial infrastructure and patient outreach efforts.
The study has only just begun, but Lung-MAP has already successfully demonstrated that when leaders from all sectors collaborate to solve problems in cancer research and care, real change can happen. It also reflects an increasing acknowledgement that the many challenges of cancer care will not be overcome by any single institution. Public-private partnerships, government interagency collaboration, pre-competitive data-sharing, and diverse forums and conferences all present opportunities for the tens of thousands of Americans working on behalf of cancer patients to better organize their efforts.
As Lung Cancer Awareness month comes to an end, we’re thrilled to join extraordinary efforts from advocacy organizations across the country which, like Lung-MAP, are proving that open collaboration is often the best route to innovation and improved outcomes for patients.
Ryan Hohman, JD is the Managing Director of Policy & Public Affairs at Friends of Cancer Research.
Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others to share their perspectives and point of view. Like in our Conversations series, views represented here may not be those of PhRMA, though they are no less key to a healthy dialogue on issues in health care today.
Guest Contributor The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view on issues facing our industry and the health care system.