Too many people are still dying of cancer. Globally, it is responsible for an estimated 1 in 6 deaths, a fact that is always front of mind for those who dedicate their lives to the development of possible treatments.1 It is also why global scientific exchanges, such as this week’s annual meeting for the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Munich, are critical.
As the global cancer community meets to review groundbreaking science and exchange best practices in clinical care, I am particularly honored to be receiving the ESMO 2018 Award for my contributions in lung cancer research and the development of anti-cancer medicines. And while this award causes me to reflect on how far we’ve come in advancing critical innovations – particularly in immunotherapy (IO)-- I am even more cognizant of how much we still have to do.
So how do we advance the next generation of innovation in cancer R&D?
At MedImmune, we believe that future success in oncology will hinge on the ability to get the right therapy, to the right patient, at the right time, all with the goal of delivering a cure.
From a treatment perspective, my colleagues and I are continuing to work on ways to leverage both IO and Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADC) to:
• Strengthen the immune response when it is too weak to eliminate the cancer2
• Trigger a productive immune response when the immune system fails to mount a response against the cancer2
• Remove immunosuppressive barriers created by the tumor3
• Target powerful therapies directly to cancer cells4
MedImmune is at the forefront of these innovative areas, and new innovations are continuing to improve the long-term promise of these therapies. Just this month, colleagues were published in Nature Communications for their work with nanoparticles, which have the potential to serve as a future delivery vehicle for our ADC platform.
Both IO therapies and ADCs use the mechanisms of cancer against itself so the body can regain control, but long-term success in the fight against cancer requires more than just the right treatment, it requires the right patient and the right timing.5-7
By better understanding the biology of a patient’s cancer we are able to match him or her to medicines tailored specifically to treat certain tumor types. Biomarker testing is already enabling us to do this within lung cancer - the leading cause of cancer related death. Future advances in biomarker testing are likely, and developments are already emerging.8 However, testing is underused, and testing practices are inconsistent worldwide, an issue the cancer community must address.8-9
And while developing innovative treatments and tailoring them to patients provides a critical leg up, the fight against cancer continues to hinge on our ability to deliver treatment during the critical early stage window, when available therapies can have the greatest impact. For lung cancer patients, we know that the delayed onset of symptoms contributes to most people being diagnosed at advanced stages, where survival rates are low.10 However, recently presented results from the second largest lung cancer CT screening trial showed that increasing screening intervals on the characteristics of screen-detected lung cancers increased the number of patients diagnosed at early stage disease.11-12
It is undeniable that we have made significant advancement in the fight against cancer, but continued success will require a concerted effort from the entire oncology community to advance treatment options, improve personalization, and push for improved screening and earlier diagnosis.
It is an exciting time to be part of the oncology community but there is still a challenge before us. Let’s depart from ESMO with renewed energy for one day eliminating cancer as a cause of death.
1. World Health Organization Cancer Key Facts. Available at http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer. Accessed October 2018.
2. National Cancer Institute (NCI). NCI Dictionary of Terms – immunotherapy. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=45729. Accessed June 2018.
3. Lee CS et al. Novel antibodies targeting immune regulatory checkpoints for cancer therapy. The British Pharmacological Society 2013;76:233–247. DOI:10.1111/bcp.12164.
4. Peters, C. & Brown, S. Antibody–drug conjugates as novel anti-cancer chemotherapeutics. Biosci Rep. 2015 Aug; 35(4): e00225. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4613712/. Accessed June 2018.
5. Dimberu, P. M., & Leonhardt, R. M. (2011). Cancer Immunotherapy Takes a Multi-Faceted Approach to Kick the Immune System into Gear. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 84(4), 371–380. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3238317/. Accessed June 2018.
6. Peters et al. Antibody-drug conjugates as novel anti-cancer chemotherapeutics. Biosci. Rep (2015); 35, 1-20. DOI:10.1042/BSR20150089.
7. Cancer Research Institute (2015). What is cancer immunotherapy? Available at: https://www.cancerresearch.org/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy. Accessed June 2018.
8. NIH. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Blood-based tumor biomarkers in lung cancer for detection and treatment. Transl Lung Cancer Res. 2017 Dec; 6(6): 648–660. DOI: 10.21037/tlcr.2017.09.03. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5709129/. Accessed September 2018.
9. Alberg, A.J., Brock, M.V., Ford, J.G. (2013). NCBI. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Epidemiology of Lung Cancer. Chest. 2013 May; 143(5 Suppl): e1S–e29S. DOI: 10.1378/chest.12-2345. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4694610/. Accessed September 2018.
10. Ellis, P.M., Vandermeer, R. (2011). NCBI. Delays in the Diagnosis of Lung Cancer. J Thorac Dis. 2011 Sep; 3(3): 183–188. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256519/. Accessed September 2018.
11. IASLC. NELSON Study Shows CT Screening for Nodule Volume Management Reduces Lung Cancer Mortality by 26 Percent in Men. Available at: https://wclc2018.iaslc.org/media/2018%20WCLC%20Press%20Program%20Press%20Release%20De%20Koning%209.25%20FINAL%20.pdf. Accessed September 2018.
12. Horeweg N, et al. Characteristics of lung cancers detected by computer tomography screening in the randomized NELSON trial. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2013 Apr 15;187(8):848-54. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201209-1651OC.