Equal Access for All: The challenge of treating cancer patients equitably across the globe

February 4 is the 20th anniversary of World Cancer Day, the global event led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to raise worldwide awareness of cancer trends and treatment, and to catalyze action to provide lifesaving cancer treatment for all. The theme of this year’s event is “I am and I will”, celebrating the stories of physicians, researchers, care givers and patients who have contributed to the advances of a cancer-free world. 

This theme has caused me think about my own story, and my journey from physician to clinical researcher overseeing groundbreaking oncology research with some of the most innovative companies in the world.

Cancer screening in Russia

Early in my career I worked as an oncologist in a small hospital in a remote town near Saint-Peterburg, Russia. During that time I treated many patients who were diagnosed in the late stages of their cancer, which meant there was little we could do to help them. It was a frustrating experience. The hospital had little access to new oncology treatment options, and no preventive care or education programs to help patients recognize early signs of cancer.

I couldn’t solve the first problem, but I could address the second. So my team and I launched a free breast cancer screening and education program. In the first year, our rate of breast cancer diagnosis went through the roof, which alarmed some members of our hospital administration. But by year two, the number of tumors we discovered plummeted, and the ones we did find were predominantly early stage cancers that were far more easily treated.

It was an incredible experience for me as a young physician, because it demonstrated the profound impact that preventive healthcare and screening programs can have on a community. But it wasn’t enough. I knew that until innovative cancer treatments were equally accessible and affordable for all patients in all communities, the oncology care paradigm would never be just.

That realization inspired my decision ten years ago to transition from patient care to clinical research. As the Therapeutic Lead for Oncology at Advanced Clinical, I now support the development of new oncology treatments, and seek ways to help our clients improve the cost and access of these treatments for all patients in need.

Advances and obstacles

In the past decade, the oncology research community has delivered incredible innovations that are changing the way we treat cancer patients. Our better understanding of cancer immunology that led to the development of new immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors, cancer vaccines and advances in cell and gene therapies and combined treatments has transformed the oncology landscape and saved millions of lives.

However, our continued inability to ensure all patients have access to these innovative treatments is a detriment to all of this progress. New cancer treatments come with skyrocketing price tags that are unsustainable for most public healthcare programs, private payers, and patients themselves.

This is not an easy problem to solve. These treatments require millions of dollars to develop and bring to market, and they often target very small patient populations making the economic model difficult to justify. But there are steps that can be taken to make these treatments less cost-prohibitive.

At Advanced Clinical, we work with emerging mid-market companies, supporting their efforts from early stage research through approval. We help them validate their hypotheses with solid data, define optimal protocols, and accelerate recruiting and research, all of which can help bring these drugs to market faster at a more reasonable price point and increase access for patients in developing countries.

Fifteen years ago I couldn’t have imagined the advances we are now achieving in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, or the ability to leverage our own immune system to fight such a variety of solid tumors and hematological malignancies. It is the culmination of global efforts by thousands of experts who together are working to create a cancer-free society. If I can contribute to that goal by helping to improve access to innovative cancer treatments for all patients, I will consider it the greatest success of my career.CONTACT US