Future improvements in cancer care are most likely to stem from combinations therapies and data-driven prevention efforts, as well as breakthrough drugs.
That’s the message life sciences experts shared this week during a webcast on the topic of “oncology’s next decade” recorded for the BIO-Europe Spring partnering conference. The event is produced by EBD Group, which is owned by the same parent company as Xconomy, and was held virtually given coronavirus concerns.
“I think the conversion of the coming together of different therapies and different paradigm shifts that we have been through, be it targeted therapy, biologics, or going back earlier, even more than 100 years to radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and now immune-oncology, these are going to come together more and more,” Khatereh Ahmadi, who leads MSD’s oncology business development in Europe, said. “Some of the next paradigm shifts will be the right combination of different therapies that have come out of these paradigm shifts, together with breakthrough technologies. … There’s still much value in bringing the old and combining it with the new.”
Regina Hodits, managing partner at German life sciences investment firm Wellington Partners, said there has been a sea change in oncology with the shift from a focus on systemic treatments to more targeted treatments, which home in on specific biomarkers. Her first successful investment in the area when the sector was new was Danish biotech Genmab, whose drug daratumumab (Darzalez), was the first monoclonal antibody to received FDA-approval to treat multiple myeloma. (Last year it netted the company just shy of $3 billion.)
Even while drugs able to treat subsets of patients have become blockbusters—something that would have previously been unthinkable—there remain major challenges to overcome given the majority of patients don’t respond to such treatments, she said.
“If you go down and segment down to individual patients with individual therapies, our system is still not very well-suited to that,” Hodits said. “So personalized medicine goes insofar as we are probably segmenting patients better and identifying better at which stage in that journey patients are … And for everything else, the data collections that are going on right now are extremely important; that will kind of come and be the next wave.”
Ahmadi noted that computer science tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms may help scientists unlock information to help guide future treatments.
“I think that the use of AI is going to be very important, in combination with the vast kind of resources we have in terms of clinical data, to find more clinically relevant targets in the future,” she said.
Also, while noting that there isn’t much incentive to invest in prevention, Hodits added that increasing efforts on that front—expanding beyond beneficial practices such as colonoscopies and monitoring skin for signs of cancer, for example—will likely play a key role in future improvements to cancer care.
“There’s a lot that we can actually do on the prevention side, and, in my view, actually making the general prevention that we do right now more specific prevention is going to be probably the biggest thing that we can do over the next decade,” Hodits said.