What I learned at ASCO 2017: cancer research focuses on getting faster and better results, why shouldn’t policy do the same?

Last weekend several of us at Lilly were among the 30,000 people attending the Annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO 2017). Oncologists, nurses, researchers, patient advocates, policymakers, payers and industry representatives attended sessions and exchanged knowledge over the 5-day conference. Two key themes emerged from the congress; first, we are looking at a faster than ever pace in discovery, and second, the quest for meaningful patient benefit places further emphasis on outcomes. But what do these two themes mean in practice for decision-makers in Europe?

On the first theme, this was a recurring point among the scientific sessions, underlining that medical innovation in oncology is moving faster today than ever before. A new breakthrough is coming every couple of years, and new pathways, methods and combinations are being tested every day. The need for speed is justified: cancer incidence in Europe increased by 31% between 1995 and 2012[1]. Researchers and manufacturers are relentlessly working on speeding up discoveries. Dr Levi Garraway, Senior Vice President responsible for Global Development & Medical Affairs for Lilly Oncology spent some time during the ASCO congress explaining how this could be done and what the Lilly Oncology future R&D  pipeline could look like to deliver better treatments faster.

Moreover, the discussion at ASCO focused on the second theme I mentioned, that is, how to concentrate research and medical efforts on sizeable benefits that are meaningful for patients, their families and society. It is undeniable that we have seen great improvements over the last few years, with new biologic medicines, antibodies, and different modes of administration that have transformed lives. For European patients diagnosed with cancer in 2012, over 66,000 more will live for at least five years after diagnosis compared to a diagnosis of a decade earlier.[2] And there is more to be done – Lilly’s Sue Mahony, Senior Vice President and President of Lilly Oncology, discussed how Lilly is making sure our pipeline focuses on delivering meaningful difference for cancer patients.   

My key take-away from this conference is that the oncology environment is changing rapidly. Patients and physicians are asking for better treatments faster and the innovative pharmaceutical industry are delivering to that request. With that, comes a larger number of treatments. This, in turn, is challenging the traditionally accepted notion of a standard-of-care that has existed for decades.

Healthcare systems and reimbursement processes need to adapt to the new reality. Change, based on real-life, real-time data on patient outcomes as well as flexible approaches to access, is needed. It is necessary for all stakeholders, including policy makers and payers, to gather forces and collaborate in order to address the challenges faced by patients and health care systems when it comes to the most difficult-to-treat cancers. Now is the time for all of us to work together and run at the same speed. Patients need us to go as fast as possible.

[1] Bengt Jönsson et al., Comparator Report on Patient Access to Cancer Medicines in Europe Revisited, 2016- page 4; Ferlay J, et al. Cancer incidence and mortality patterns in Europe: estimates for 40 countries in 2012. Eur J Cancer. 2013;49(6):1374-403

[2] Calculations based on incidence figures quoted in Bengt Jönsson et al., Comparator Report on Patient Access to Cancer Medicines in Europe Revisited, 2016 - page 16