Cancer treatments have made remarkable progress in recent years. For many types of cancer, the pharmaceutical industry is on a continuum between chronification and cure. Nevertheless, there is still a huge medical need that must be addressed
Cancer is one of the biggest medical challenges worldwide. When we look at the mortality and number of cases, the global significance becomes even clearer. In 2020, there were almost 10 million cancer deaths and more than 19 million new cases. Globally, one in six deaths is caused by cancer,1 and the burden of cancer increases in ageing societies. In Europe, the number of lives lost to cancer is expected to rise by more than 24% between 2020 and 2035, making cancer the leading disease-related cause of death.2 In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown restrictions and the overall disruption to daily life resulted in the cancellation of medical examinations and early detection screenings. As a result, more patients are diagnosed at an advanced disease stage, which often means a reduced chance for curative treatment.3
This is particularly noticeable in breast cancer, the world’s most prevalent cancer type, with more than two million new cases diagnosed worldwide yearly and more than 500,000 in Europe alone.4 It is estimated that one in seven women in the EU will develop breast cancer before the age of 74.5
Early detection of breast cancer can increase the chances of successful treatment and survival. It also means that treatments may be less aggressive and have fewer side effects.6 European data in pre-Covid Europe show that early detection programmes prevent more than 20,000 breast cancer deaths every year.7
In recent years, we have seen remarkable medical progress. This includes highly effective new treatments for advanced disease stages that can provide long-term disease control. Progress in surgery, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapies and genetic testing enables physicians to target and treat breast cancer more precisely, thus significantly improving patient outcomes and quality of life.
Advancing medical progress is a major challenge. Another is access; the latter is key to ensuring that medical advances improve the lives of as many women with cancer as possible. It is up to all of us – pharma companies, regulators, medical authorities and healthcare professionals – to create a framework that provides timely access to innovation and optimal support for people living with cancer.
Due to a lack of medical infrastructure and universal health coverage in some parts of the world, cancer patients do not receive the best possible care, and global survival rates reflect these differences. Five-year post-diagnosis breast cancer survival rates range from more than 90% in high-income countries to 66% in India and 40% in South Africa.8
Prevention and collaboration
In this context, it is important to point out the significance of prevention and early detection. As the World Health Organization states, prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer.9 The German initiative Vision Zero emphasises prevention and aims to eliminate all preventable cancer-related deaths.10 The family medical history also plays a role since 5–10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.11 Understanding a family medical history can help with early detection by providing information to better assess an individual’s cancer risk.
Another powerful tool against cancer is collaboration and health literacy. Academia, life sciences companies, policymakers and patient groups need to pull together to provide the best possible cancer care. At Daiichi Sankyo, we believe that the standard of cancer care can be fundamentally improved by collaborating with like-minded organisations, care groups and individuals who share our passion and commitment to protecting lives and advancing cancer research. Despite significant progress in oncology research, there remain vast areas of unmet needs. We rely on exchanging ideas with other stakeholders, such as patient groups, to better understand how we can meet their needs and expectations. And we understand that dealing with cancer is an existential challenge for patients and their families. Cancer strongly impacted my life when my father died of colon cancer. I was a 21-year-old medical student at the time, and to this day, that experience remains a source of motivation for my oncology work.
Successful research is essential for continued medical progress. Another crucial element is speed. I believe that pharma companies, regulatory bodies and reimbursement institutions must work to keep pace with scientific innovations. A recent study by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations shows us that there is still room for improvement: in 2022, the average duration from approval to access for new oncology drugs in the EU was 526 days.12 For patients with cancer, particularly those in an advanced tumour stage, every day counts.
I have learned there are many ways to improve how we manage cancer. Above all, it takes determination. A clear focus is needed to ensure that cancer care is a top priority for societies. We might be far away from a world without cancer deaths, but I strongly believe that with ongoing research, new treatments and intensive collaboration, cancer can be a chronic or cured condition for many patients. Let’s work together to create a new reality where cancer is less of a burden for patients, their loved ones and society.
4 iarc.who.int/faq/latest-global-cancer-data-2020-qa; canceratlas.cancer.org/the-burden/europe
6 nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-facts; ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/projects/success-stories/all/improving-cancer-screening-across-europe