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Strengthening our commitment to combating cancer – learnings from COVID-19

By: Chatrick Paul, Head of US Oncology at AstraZenca – May 13, 2020

This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the power of community in cancer care

COVID-19 affects all of us, from students and teachers to parents, restaurant workers and delivery service providers. We’ve seen tremendous support for healthcare professionals who are treating patients, putting themselves at risk to mitigate the impact of this virus on the rest of us. Their courage and heroism, despite the enormous strains and burdens being placed upon them by this pandemic, continue to give us renewed hope and inspiration.

COVID-19 affects cancer patients more profoundly.[1] This year alone, more than 1.8 million Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis, and sadly, more than 600,000 will die from the disease.[2] Many of them have already gone through difficult chemotherapy regimens, bone marrow transplants, surgeries and more, and may have weakened immune systems in their fight for survival. These patients still require more frequent healthcare visits for continued treatment, a difficult choice given their susceptibility to the virus and its complications.[1],[3]

Our vision at AstraZeneca Oncology is to one day eliminate cancer as a cause of death and to ensure that no patient is left behind in getting the right treatment at the right time. We have a rich heritage in scientific innovation that has contributed to the growth and development of novel diagnostics and targeted medicines for patients. Most recently we had an opportunity to celebrate and recognize some of the tremendous scientific progress during the virtual American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting.

We know we can do more in service of our vision and believe in supporting the community to encourage meaningful action, together. Making sure cancer patients have access to COVID-19 resources for their specific cancer type has taken on greater importance. As the pandemic continues to unfold, we continue to follow the science and prominently spotlight community work so that patients, hand-in-hand with their caregivers and advocates, can easily access needed resources and continue along their treatment journey.

But we can still do more as a community to come together and address gaps in care more holistically and collaboratively. With this in mind, we’ve identified four areas to learn from and focus on to move closer to our vision of eliminating cancer as a cause of death.

 

Treat early stage disease through prevention and early intervention

To realize meaningful change in cancer outcomes, we must come together to identify and diagnose patients in earlier stages of disease. We can learn from actions in treating COVID-19 to further encourage the awareness and broad adoption of testing and diagnostics and ensure pathology capabilities are available and appropriately resourced. For example, learning from our successes in treating breast and ovarian cancers, we can take a similar approach to treating difficult-to-treat cancer types such as pancreatic or liver cancers before the disease metastasizes.

 

Utilize precision medicine to treat prevalent and deadly tumors

No two cancer patients are the same. While patients may have the same diagnosis, the way cancer is discovered or develops is very unique. This requires a unique diagnostic approach that helps us to better understand how each patient’s cancer is different and how those differences can help inform the right treatment decision. To do this, we must continue partnering across disciplines to refine precision-medicine-directed approaches, such as biomarker tests and screens, so that patients receive the right treatments at the right time.

 

Eliminate barriers to care for underserved patients

Improving access to diagnostics and treatments for all patients, particularly those living in underserved urban and rural communities, continues to be a significant and complex challenge. In response to COVID-19, we’ve seen a dramatic shift with the rapid expansion of telemedicine.[4] As a community, we should look for ways to universalize these tools and simplify how patients connect with their health teams by supporting the many health systems and advocacy groups working to improve access to care.

 

Tackle resistance for patients who may progress on existing treatments

Cancer cells often evolve and grow uncontrollably.[5] This means that patients who may have been treated for a cancer diagnosis once, could still see their cancer return or change over the course of treatment. It also means some patients who initially respond to treatments may become less respondent to them over time.[6] As a community, we must continue to support the evaluation of novel therapies that overcome these mutations and resistance mechanisms and target multiple biological pathways to combat cancer as it evolves at every stage.

At AstraZeneca, we believe by focusing on these learnings and always following the science to deliver life-changing medicines, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of cancer patients. We know that we are just one voice in this ambition for change and that we cannot do this alone. We must come together as a community to identify barriers and solutions for quality cancer care and collectively drive change for all affected by cancer.

To support this charge, our YOUR Cancer program spotlights community change-makers through amplifying the voices and work of those at the forefront of cancer care, convening leaders in discussions to remove barriers to cancer treatment, and celebrating the achievements of those who are already making meaningful impacts locally, regionally and nationally.

Now more than ever, we are ready and eager to work alongside the entire cancer community to seek broad alignment on these issues and ones like them – all to bring us closer to eliminating cancer as a cause of death. Learn more by visiting YourCancer.org.

[1] American Cancer Society. Infections in People with Cancer. Accessed May 2020.

[2] American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2020. Accessed May 2020.

[3] Bastedo et al., 2017. A population-based assessment of primary care visits during adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer. Accessed May 2020.

[4] Calton M, Abedini N, & Fratkin M. 2020. Telemedicine in the Time of Coronavirus. Accessed May 2020.

[5] Nature. Cell Division and Cancer. Accessed May 2020.

[6] Wang et al., 2019. Drug resistance and combating drug resistance in cancer. Accessed May 2020.