Cancer care: Innovation and exploration

According to research from a U.K.-based cancer organization, people are twice as likely to live at least 10 years after a cancer diagnosis than they were 40 years ago.

Thanks to earlier detection, improved screening and innovative treatments, certain types of cancer are becoming more manageable than before. While the paradigm is shifting, cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

Medical professionals are now reviewing their approach to cancer care — which includes diagnostics and treatment innovation. A new approach ultimately needs to put the patient at the heart of care.

Astellas Pharma Inc., in partnership with CNBC Catalyst, hosted a special panel event at TEDMED 2017 in Palm Springs, California, to discuss and share insights into these important topics. The event explored the latest tools, techniques and technology innovations that can be applied today, tomorrow and in the future to improve care and outcomes for people living with cancer.

This panel event was a collaboration between Astellas and CNBC Catalyst. Astellas had no influence over the panel discussion at this event, nor were Astellas products discussed.

Cancer care: Focus on patients

As a patient-centric organization, Astellas believes that combining treatment and non-treatment approaches can lead to the best possible patient outcome.

Mark Reisenauer, senior vice president of the oncology business unit, Astellas Pharma US, says, "It's our obligation and our responsibility to try to treat the patient holistically, and not just with our medicines… We know there are other serious issues they deal with in their cancer journey." Reisenauer explained that to be successful in bringing any new solution to market, you need to work with the broader cancer community.

Consequently, in 2016, Astellas launched a unique contest, the Astellas Oncology C3 Prize Competition, aimed at generating innovative ideas for non-treatment, non-medicine-based approaches for improving cancer care. Now in its second year, the C3 Prize has already generated a significant number of highly creative innovation-led ideas from patients, caregivers and physicians.

These types of initiatives are designed to contribute towards a brighter future for the overall cancer care experience.

Cancer diagnostics: Early detection

Diagnostics span the entire spectrum of cancer, including prevention, detection, treatment and management.

Gabriel Otte, the founder of Freenome, which conducts research into non-invasive screening, says a large percentage of cancers are detected at late stage and detecting these diseases early on may drastically increase the rate of survival. He claims, "it's really marriage of early detection and advanced diagnostics with the best therapy that's going to cure cancer." However accuracy, patient adherence and making sure we get checked at the right time are all missing pieces in cancer screening today.

Otte suggests that by using a combination of advances in life sciences and technology, health care professionals may now be able to address these concerns. Techniques such as machine learning modules deepen the understanding of the human body. The application of artificial intelligence may help to develop diagnostics that assess how patients may or may not respond to therapies.

In parallel, blood tests are being developed as a replacement or a companion to existing screening paradigms. Certain fragments of DNA shed by tumors into the bloodstream, along with other biomarker signals such as proteins, can potentially be used to non-invasively screen for early-stage cancers, monitor responses to treatment, and help explain why some cancers are resistant to therapies. Otte believes the technology and science to improve screening is evolving fast, but that other aspects such as patient and physician education will be equally important moving forward.

Cancer care: Future of innovation

It's been nearly 70 years since the first chemotherapies were administrated to cancer patients. While this form of therapy is still a major form of treatment, it does not work for everyone. Innovators now seek to integrate deeper knowledge of the immune system to potentially evolve cancer treatment.

Dr. Leonard Sender, director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program in the Children's Hospital at Orange County, CA, reveals that as result of work done in the field of transplantation medicine in the last 10 to 15 years, scientists began to understand the role of the immune system in fighting cancer. This development, known as immuno-therapy or immuno-oncology, activates elements of the immune system to detect and attack foreign cancerous cells. However, Sender acknowledges the complexity of the immune system, and that the future of cancer medicine potentially lies in a new approach of bringing together knowledge of both the immune system and chemotherapy.

For those who do respond to immunotherapy, there can be remarkable changes, but a potentially limiting factor of immuno-therapy today is identifying which patients may respond to this type of treatment. "When we put patients on (these) drugs we don't know upfront … who's going to respond and who's not going to respond" says Sender. He therefore stresses the need for more patients to participate in clinical trials and partner with physicians to help unlock the potential promise immuno-therapy may offer.

Empowering the patient

With new advances in technology, putting patients at the heart of health care is increasingly critical so that patients can clearly understand their options and have a direct dialogue with their health care professionals.

Heidi Allen, a professor of social work at Columbia University, has a personal connection to cancer care having lost her own sister to the disease two years ago. Her sister was diagnosed with stage four cancer and died just three weeks later. Allen stresses a more patient-centric view on cancer care. She talks of a need for, "better communication and a system that is more compassionate."

Patient empowerment is about being an active partner in your care, whether you are a patient or a caregiver. This allows for a true partnership between patients, caregivers and their health care teams. Allen says that, "you cannot have patient empowerment if you don't have resources" and that, "you can't make good choices without information." Information is to key to patient empowerment. One of the biggest challenges in cancer care today is the communication gap between patients and health care professionals. Cancer patients need to understand the options available in order to make more informed choices of treatment. The basis for this involves physicians openly discussing these options with patients.

To close this communication gap there has been a step change in the level of patient-directed information, advice and support. Information is developed to create an alignment between physicians and patients, and is delivered in multiple forms, in the clinic, through literature or online.

Patients can now access dedicated online, evidence-based services and social media networks without geographical boundaries. This feeling of community and comradery can help boost collective mental and physical well-being.

While patient empowerment is progressing, it remains important to be mindful of complexities surrounding cancer. For many, the end of cancer treatment is not the end of their cancer journey. As Allen points out, "cancer survivors' lives are altered forever. They need help to adjust and integrate back into what has become the new normal." This involves providing better care and support for cancer survivors.

Improving the quality of care for cancer patients throughout their journey is a top priority. The future of cancer care is no longer about medicines alone, but will encompass support solutions needed to help patients in all stages of their care.

Improvements in diagnostics and novel therapeutic approaches are essential, but patient empowerment is vital to ensure that patients are put at the center of their care journey. Such progress will be achieved by the whole cancer community working together to share knowledge and insights.

Watch the full "cancer care" panel event

CNBC Catalyst is a commercial advertising department of CNBC International. For more information about CNBC Catalyst please click here.


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This page was paid for by Astellas Pharma INC. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.