Skip to Main Content

Leveraging its strength in oncology, AstraZeneca has established hematology as one of four oncology disease areas of focus. In recent years, AstraZeneca has advanced an exciting portfolio of FDA-approved and investigational therapies in varied stages of clinical development for hematological cancers. Here, the heads of AstraZeneca’s U.S. hematology medical affairs and commercial teams share their thoughts on the driving forces for the future of AstraZeneca in hematology, and how the company is making its mark in this dynamic and complex field of cancer care and medicine.

What trends do you expect to see in hematology science, treatment, and patient care in the next decade? 

Michelle Dawson, Franchise Head of Hematology and U.S. Medical Affairs: I believe the intersection of early target validation, combination therapies, and novel drug delivery technology is going to significantly change our approach to research and could change the way doctors and patients decide on an appropriate treatment course.

At AstraZeneca, we are advancing hematological treatment candidates using the power of all four of our company’s signature scientific platforms: immuno-oncology, tumor drivers and resistance, DNA damage response, and antibody-drug conjugates. We’re very optimistic about some of the mechanisms being tested in hematology.

Why is AstraZeneca expanding its oncology focus to include hematology?

Erik Schrader, U.S. Head of the Hematology Franchise, Sales and Marketing: AstraZeneca is guided by a dedication to scientific discovery and collaboration with a mission to one day help eliminate cancer as a cause of death. To deliver on this bold mission, it’s vital that we continue to not only apply our scientific expertise to solid tumors, but also to help address unmet medical need in blood cancer, which account for 10 percent of the estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S.[1] Blood cancer is a diverse and complex family of diseases, each with its own subtype. So our approach to tackling these diseases starts with understanding which of our novel investigational agents have selectivity for specific tumor types. As new targets are validated in the lab for further testing, we see a growing body of evidence around how several hematologic cancers could be approached differently than they were just a few years ago. In fact, for some forms of more aggressive hematologic cancers, the clinical community is working toward making those more chronic in nature than life-threatening. As our research teams explore the use of novel patient selection algorithms and clinical endpoints, such as minimal residual disease, we believe we’ll be able to redefine what kind of value our products can deliver to patients and to the health care system. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a part of the blood cancer community.

Can you elaborate on how AstraZeneca is addressing unmet patient needs in hematology?

Dawson: The key to our hematology approach is to look at disease areas where the greatest unmet need exists and to marry those with agents in our pipeline that have a promising mechanism of action. Our later-stage clinical development programs are looking at the potential of agents in our pipeline as monotherapy and combination therapies, with the goal to achieve better results for patients as they progress through their treatment journey.

Who are the patients who stand to benefit from AstraZeneca’s hematology pipeline?

Schrader: We’re focused on looking at population subsets of hematologic cancers where we believe the unmet clinical need is the greatest. We recognize that some molecules may stand to benefit broad patient populations, whereas others may provide significant value to niche groups or particular patient subsets. Big or small, if the science is there, we’re going to pursue all of these avenues. We are executing a robust clinical program to assess the potential of agents in our pipeline across a range of blood cancers, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, acute myeloid leukemia, and others.

What is unique about AstraZeneca’s approach to drug development in hematology specifically?

Schrader: I believe AstraZeneca has an exciting and strong hematology asset pool. We’re currently advancing a number of molecules for hematology, ranging from the preclinical, early clinical stages of development through Phase 3 studies. The breadth and depth of our pipeline across multiple mechanisms is unique, as well as complementary to evaluating different combination treatment approaches. This puts us in a position to research potential synergies between our own molecules — which we are actively exploring — recognizing that combination therapy continues to be a cornerstone for patient care in the future. We believe that our BTK inhibitor, in particular, may be able to serve as the backbone of several combination therapies in hematology. The science still needs to play out, but we are excited about the potential we’re seeing. 

How does hematology complement AstraZeneca’s overall oncology portfolio?

Dawson: All of our innovative research is guided first and foremost by science. What we are finding is that some of the agents we have validated in solid tumors have potential application for hematology as well. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re looking at the multimodality and multi-mechanistic potential of our entire drug portfolio — and we’re optimistic that hematologic cancers stand to benefit greatly from this approach.

While we are at the beginning of our ambitious journey in hematology, we are already making progress in our commitment to developing transformational therapies that will enhance and extend the lives of patients with hematological malignancies.

For more information on how AstraZeneca is advancing the science of oncology to deliver life-changing medicines to patients most in need, visit:

[1] Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Facts and Statistics. Accessed May 2019.