Despite its adverse impacts on cancer diagnosis and patient care, the pandemic has spurred changes that will positively affect oncology long after Covid-19 is brought under control.
Here are four key changes:
Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on underserved populations highlighted disparities in cancer treatment. It is clear a one-size-fits-all approach to patient engagement is not enough.
A magnitude of underlying challenges contribute to the racial and generational barriers and disparities particularly in oncology treatment within the US — including social and economic barriers to access, lack of trust in the health care system, race-related bias within the health ecosystem and others.
“We are being very deliberate in how we tailor communications to reach diverse audiences and different generations with information on treatment,” says Michael Petroutsas, senior vice president, US Oncology Business Unit at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). “We are making concerted efforts to ensure our campaigns are inclusive and our educational programs are reaching the diverse audiences that need them.”
Urgent action on transformative treatments
The pandemic brought a sense of urgency to researching and developing game-changing therapies that go beyond small incremental benefits to more fully address unmet needs.
“At the height of the pandemic, we launched two important treatments for patient populations that didn’t have any options previously,” Petroutsas says. “Delaying launches because of Covid-19 was never an option for us. Patients needed these treatments, and we delivered them.”
Working at a pace with efficiency, the company continued to deliver innovative medicines and programs, expand its pipeline of products with the promise for the future, and augment capabilities from lab to market.
Some pharmaceutical executives are discovering that streamlining their organizations to function like smaller, more nimble biotech organizations enables them to respond better to rapid change.
GSK’s US Oncology Business Unit has found that operating with a smaller company mindset within a large organization can help with real-time responses and decision-making to support customer needs. GSK quickly adjusted its approach and support for all customers — from patients and health care professionals to hospital accounts and payers — in an effort to deliver tailored information when and how its customers wanted to receive it.
The company found ways to strengthen digital capabilities and harnessed analytics to deliver insights that helped it better anticipate and respond to customer needs during the pandemic.
The early weeks of the pandemic saw significant declines in doctor visits and thus in the rates of diagnosis, initiation of chemotherapy, and debulking surgery. Fortunately, those rates are recovering.
Yet, pandemic-related delays in screening and early diagnosis — as well as their potential impact on patient outcomes in coming years — have highlighted the need for greater support in these areas. Early diagnosis is extremely important in cancer, especially for cancers such as ovarian cancer, where diagnosis already comes too late.
For GSK in the US, this has meant ramping up efforts aimed at educating patients about scientific advances and empowering them to take control of their health in partnership with their healthcare providers, both now and after the pandemic ends.
Just as treatments are becoming more tailored to individual populations, communications regarding disease symptoms and early diagnosis must similarly evolve.
Learn more about GSK’s approach to oncology here.