Two Pieces to the Puzzle: Innovation and Access
Innovation is one of the most exciting, energizing areas of the cancer landscape. I started my career in health care more than 20 years ago, and am frequently amazed at the incredible advances we have witnessed in the field. How we understand and approach targeted cancer therapies is something that was only in the labs two decades ago. It’s what every cancer-fighting advocate hopes for: new discoveries that create personalized pathways to help patients fight and survive this disease. However, innovation represents just one piece of the puzzle. The development of groundbreaking treatments only gets us so far; these discoveries are of no use to patients without pairing them with policy solutions that ensure they have easy access to these potentially lifesaving therapies.
This incredibly important issue was discussed extensively yesterday during our 9th annual National Forum on the Future of Health Care. Experts representing numerous health care sectors convened to share multiple solutions that could address the existing barriers between patients and targeted therapies. The wide variety of perspectives was critically important, because so many of us in the health care ecosystem – patient advocates, researchers, private industry, government, providers and payers – must actively engage with one another if we are going to realize the incredible promise of these treatments and get them to the patients who will benefit.
Access to innovation needs to be considered from the genesis of targeted therapies. It’s well-documented that patients are missing key opportunities for biomarker testing, which looks for specific mutations of a cancer to determine the most effective therapy for their particular cancer. As we have learned through ACS CAN’s Survivor Views cohort, a group of more than 3,000 cancer survivors that we’ve regularly surveyed over the past year on policies and issues relevant to the cancer fight, only 39% of respondents reported having their tumor tested. Of those that did receive testing, 15% paid $500 or more out-of-pocket for the test. These data are unacceptable. We must find ways to collectively ensure the most effective treatment is reaching every patient.
It’s equally important to consider patient access to targeted therapies. Assuming a patient has had appropriate biomarker testing, patient access to the therapies indicated by this testing is another potential barrier. Our health care system has to find ways to better incorporate these rapidly evolving and expanding oncology advancements. This includes lowing barriers for clinicians to incorporate these innovative therapies into a patient’s treatment plan and ensuring reimbursement models are modernized to reflect these new treatment pathways. As many of our experts discussed yesterday, all stakeholders need to be engaged in solving the problem of affordability. It is incumbent for all of us in the oncology space to take responsibility for ensuring these advances don’t make the current realities of cancer disparities even more pronounced. Equitable access to personalized medicine must be in the forefront of our efforts.
Targeted therapies hold amazing promise in the realm of cancer care. It’s an area of my work that I consistently turn to when thinking about the future of cancer. The surge in the development of treatments and diagnostics is inspiring and exciting, but we know that gaps exist in bringing that promise to patients. And it’s our job to complete the puzzle.