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New report explores setbacks that bring future cancer success stories

Giovanni Caforio, M.D.
Giovanni Caforio, M.D. July 16, 2020

New report explores setbacks that bring future cancer success stories.

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giovanni-caforio-bod-1Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing the biopharmaceutical industry and the health care system are critical to addressing the important work we do for patients. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view. Today, we are pleased to welcome a guest post from Giovanni Caforio, M.D., Bristol Myers Squibb Chairman of the Board and CEO and PhRMA Chairman of the Board.

I get to witness hope in action every day. For the past two decades, I have seen our team of scientists and researchers at Bristol Myers Squibb find new ways to fight cancer, helping provide options and hope that previously didn’t exist for patients.

Since peaking in 1991, cancer death rates in the U.S. have declined by 29%, which translates into more than 2.9 million avoided cancer deaths. According to the most recent data, between 2016 and 2017 alone, death rates declined by 2.2%, the largest single-year drop ever recorded.

Today, we are seeing great progress for patients with cancer and many new treatment options are contributing to important medical advances. These successes depend on collaboration across the scientific community, including those critical contributions made by patients participating in clinical trials. Two areas are showing great promise and progress: CAR T cell therapy and combination therapies.

  • CAR T cell therapy — was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 as a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. In CAR T cell therapy, cells are collected from a patient’s blood and then reprogrammed to produce special structures on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). These receptors turn patients’ T cells into cancer-killing cells that are then infused back into patients to recognize and eliminate disease.  While only two CAR Ts have been approved by the FDA, many more are in late stage trials, including two from our company, signaling hope for patients suffering from a variety of cancers.

  • Combination therapies — we are making increasing progress with regimens that employ multiple cancer drugs simultaneously—and have the potential to be more effective than any single treatment by itself. Cancer medicines often work best in combination with other treatments, but it is challenging to test all potential combinations in clinical studies, which has made the development of effective combination regimens extremely difficult. Today, advances in our knowledge of the biology of cancer combined with improved ability to profile the molecular characteristics on individual patients’ cancers is improving our ability to select the right combination for each patient. Our company has a long history in pursuing research focused on combination treatments for patients with solid tumor and blood cancers, and we are now able to vastly expand our efforts.

Many of us know someone who has suffered from cancer. We have witnessed the significant advances in research and treatment options geared toward prevention, earlier diagnosis and better outcomes for many cancers. But en route to every breakthrough, there can be setbacks along the way. A new report from PhRMA, Researching Cancer Medicines: Setbacks and Stepping Stones examines recent progress in research and treatment for nine different cancers — and it grapples with the many unsuccessful investigational medicines that paved the way for treatments that ultimately became available to treat patients through FDA approval. 

Although setbacks can be an inevitable part of the drug development process, they are also invaluable. Medicines that have been approved to treat some cancers may not meet endpoints in clinical trials for other cancers, despite the best efforts of researchers. However, researchers learn from those experiences to further the fight against cancer.

Over the past 20 years, there have been a total of 1,366 unsuccessful investigational drugs and only 115 FDA-approved medicines across the cancers, featured in PhRMA’s report. But there is reason to be optimistic, as there are more than 1,100 medicines and vaccines in development today to treat or prevent cancer.

The fight against cancer also includes making sure patients can access their treatments. Given the rapid scientific progress we are witnessing today, this is more important than ever. And it does require great collaboration across all stakeholders — including lawmakers and payers — to re-align incentives and ensure patient access while supporting the sustainability of health care systems. Specifically, we must work to ensure coverage and reimbursement policies keep pace with the incredible rate of innovation, and that patient out-of-pocket costs are kept low. Creative options like negotiating value-based contracts and alternative financing arrangements like pay-over-time and subscription models are one approach.

Despite the setbacks and hurdles, there is a lot to be excited about in cancer research, treatment and prevention. At Bristol Myers Squibb, we’re also focusing on how cancer impacts survivors over time, and the role medicines play as patients heal.

Our work for patients is not complete until we find a cure for cancer. We will continue to work every day with the goal of preventing years of pain and suffering and providing hope for patients and families everywhere.

To read the report, click here

Topics: Research and Development, PhRMA Member Company, Cancer, New Era of Medicine