By Liz Barrett, UroGen Pharma, President and Chief Executive Officer
We live in an exciting era in the field of oncology. Innovative efforts are accelerating cancer research and enabling a new generation of therapeutic and diagnostic technologies to help us improve the care we provide to patients. Yet in this age of oncology breakthroughs, there are some cancers — and patients — being left behind.
While treatments continue to advance for cancers such as breast, lung, and prostate, patients living with urologic cancers benefit from fewer and less advanced options. As someone who has worked in this field for more than a quarter of a century, I am truly hopeful that this community can rally around the areas of unmet need that exist in the field of uro-oncology. It is time that the innovation that has come to define the field of oncology reaches those patients who truly need better options.
I recently heard Henry’s story, which brought this issue home for me. Henry was diagnosed with low-grade upper tract urothelial carcinoma (commonly known as UTUC), a rare urothelial malignancy impacting more than 15,000 patients in the U.S.1
After being told there are currently no FDA-approved medical treatments available to treat UTUC, and that he would have to have his kidney removed, Henry overcame his own fear, did his own research, and sought opinion after opinion. Finally, he found a clinical trial being conducted that offered an alternative approach. Henry was fortunate; until 2015, there were no clinical trials being conducted in the U.S. to explore potential medical treatments for UTUC.2
This results in the removal of patients’ kidney as being the standard of care for more than 70 percent of patients with this disease.3,4 And undergoing surgery can be risky, as well as physically taxing, especially for the more than 70 percent of UTUC patients who are over 70.3,4
I’m inspired by Henry’s resolve to find better options, but determining the right treatment path for these patients is further hindered by challenges in diagnosis. Given the physiology of the upper tract of the urinary system, it’s difficult to visualize and access the tumor we are trying to treat. This can impact the accuracy of staging and grading of tumors. These diagnostic issues hinder physicians’ ability to accurately assess tumors and determine treatment plans to halt the spread of disease and potentially spare patients’ kidneys.
We all believe patients deserve better, but how do we accomplish this? I believe it takes collaboration across the urology community with the common goal of connecting innovation directly to the benefit of the patient. This requires progress not just in developing new treatments, but also in finding new approaches that enable us to better diagnose and assess tumors.
In my role at UroGen, I am able to focus our research efforts to ensure we are only pursuing treatments that improve the standard of care. But the challenges we face are bigger than one company. I look forward to collaborating with our partners across the uro-oncology community to tackle these ‘overlooked’ areas.
Where there is unmet need, there is opportunity. Our opportunity is to do better than the current standard of care in uro-oncology. In fact, there is opportunity to completely transform the treatment paradigm, and in turn change the lives of patients, like Henry.
I invite all in this community to reach out if you’re interested in rethinking the way we approach these challenges in uro-oncology. I truly believe that collaboration is a highly effective way to advance any treatment paradigm.
For more information about UroGen, visit www.urogen.com.
1UroGen Investor Day Presentation
2Martin S, Lerner S. Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinomas (UTUCs) Part III: Clinical Trials and Emerging Therapies for UTUC . Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinomas (UTUCs). https://www.bcan.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/UTUC-Part-3.pdf. Published November 14, 2017. Accessed November 11, 2019.
3Kaag MG, O’Malley RL, O’Malley P, et al. Changes in renal function following nephroureterectomy may affect the use of perioperative chemotherapy. Eur Urol. 2010;58(4):581–587. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2010.06.029
4Mohapatra A, Vemana G, Bhayani S, Baty J, Vetter J, Strope SA. Trends in the utilization of imaging for upper tract urothelial carcinoma. Urol Oncol. 2016;34(5):236.e23–236.e2.36E28. doi:10.1016/j.urolonc.2015.12.002