Cancer Survivorship Requires Innovation in Research and Policy

Today’s guest blog comes from Andrew Oxtoby, International Oncology Business Unit Leader.

When does somebody qualify as a cancer survivor? Patricia Garcia Prieto lived and inspired people for over three years after she was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma. Was she a survivor? This “impatient patient” as she described herself is no longer with us. But her legacy is: her fight to help shape innovative EU policies that enable patients to benefit from research in all parts of Europe, her “strategy for survival” as she used to say “is research”. And these thoughts were very much reflected in the discussions at the recent policy conference of the European Joint Action on Cancer (CanCon), where survivorship was the main topic.

This year’s conference brought a number of EU cancer initiatives on survivorship to the fore. These helped to define what many cancer patients today experience and need. For example, France’s national care institute (INCA) highlighted a model for truly including survivorship in the new French cancer plan. This new model, putting the patient at the center, proposes ways to rethink the cancer care continuum some of which are considerable changes and some present incremental steps.  

This is similar to what we see in cancer research. Sometimes we see -rare yet important- breakthroughs. But most often we see science advancing in a stepwise, or continuous, manner with one discovery building on another. Each new cancer medicine whether it extends life by weeks, months or years or whether it provides fewer side effects and a better quality of life, gives us new information to more comprehensively treat cancer and enable patients to lead longer and healthier lives. At Lilly, we believe that treating, and ultimately curing, cancer requires continuous innovation. To take an example, today more than 90% of men diagnosed with testicular cancer can be cured. Looking at the cumulative research, you will find it has taken several decades and 25 “steps” to achieve this progress against testicular cancer. All of these steps yielded valuable insights that led researchers to a cure.

But this is not enough. Innovation in cancer care requires also innovative policymaking. New and improved policies are needed to support and speed up research into innovative treatments, and help patients gain access to clinical trials and new medicines. Appropriate policies should also be developed to improve and maintain the sustainability of cancer care. New medicines have a role to play in this debate. They can not only help better manage and treat the disease, but also prevent the need for other—often expensive—healthcare services, such as hospitalisations.

As Mr. Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) who hosted the CanCon policy conference, stated, “Health care innovation rises from the everyday needs of the citizens”. This is a useful guiding principle to rethinking how cancer care is currently set up. Ultimately, innovation requires more than discovery - it relies on collaboration from many people, from patients working closely with researchers to develop better treatments, to advocates and legislators collaborating to modernise policies that can speed the development of effective new medicines. By working together, we have seen that small steps make a big difference.