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By Cristian Massacesi, Senior Vice President and Head of Late Stage Development, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

My dear friend and colleague José Baselga, a true pioneer in oncology, once shared words of wisdom that continue to inspire me. He said that we can be “cancer’s fiercest opponent” if we continue to follow several guiding principles:

  • Relentlessly push the boundaries of science;
  • Courageously design innovative clinical trials;
  • Fearlessly collaborate with others;
  • Frequently challenge our assumptions;
  • And always learn from the data.

Within the biopharma industry, we must carry these words with us as we resolutely continue with the mission to revolutionize cancer care.

“Driving a revolutionary impact in oncology is no easy task. It requires commitment, passion, and fearlessness in disrupting the norm. Innovating for the benefit of patients, especially in a field where stakes are so high, demands courage. Thankfully, we have come a long way already, and are now at a tipping point to transforming the lives of patients living with breast cancer.”

Cristian Massacesi, Senior Vice President and Head of Late Stage Development, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

Clinical trials once referred to as “innovative” in design and ambitions are now commonplace. Current trials incorporate cutting-edge digital solutions like real-time analytics, “at-home” options for patients, platform trial designs that test multiple treatments throughout a study, and the analysis of big data. Researchers can now ease the trial participation burden for patients and enhance the study process by interpreting results in real-time, identifying and adapting to the unique needs of patient populations, conducting trials remotely, and more. Soon, researchers may be more open to discussing the potential for increasing cure rates as we develop novel therapies, explore combinations, and identify opportunities to intervene in early stages of disease for certain cancers.

Providing better solutions for patients today

My colleagues and I at AstraZeneca are exploring novel medicines, combinations, and trial designs in multiple disease settings that support our bold ambition to redefine survival, enhance outcomes, and help improve patients’ quality of life by diagnosing and treating cancer earlier.

We are pushing scientific boundaries to do this. We’re thinking differently by considering underlying genetic causes of cancer while defining new biomarkers and therapeutic targets that span multiple tumor types. We are transforming the way people with cancer are diagnosed and treated by deploying new detection strategies, and focusing on the properties of a tumor, not just its type.

One such example is in breast cancer, where at AstraZeneca we have created one of the most diverse pipelines in the industry. Our innovative breast cancer portfolio features more than 15 late-stage breast cancer trials across five foundational medicines that have the potential to be first- or best-in-class and could possibly change the treatment paradigm to improve outcomes. We’re exploring new approaches to identify and treat patients at risk of relapse in the early setting, while boldly challenging expectations for patients with advanced disease.

Across the past three annual meetings of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), AstraZeneca has presented or co-presented practice-changing results from three clinical trials across multiple tumor types — representing a big step forward for patients living with cancer. Emerging results from across our oncology pipeline are showing promise in hard-to-treat populations, with the possibility to move into earlier lines of therapy where potential for cure is higher. These therapeutic advancements reflect years of tireless clinical research, working to deliver promising data sets that translate into potentially transformative care.

Trials in progress: The tipping point for innovation in oncology

As we know, clinical trials take years, involving complex work across multiple disciplines, considerable time commitments, and substantial financial investment. Transforming trials to benefit patients also takes close collaboration across the scientific community. However, these trials remain the foundation for bringing forward new medicines to patients and exploring truly innovative therapies.

We’ve become familiar with ‘Trial in Progress’ presentations at medical congresses whereby researchers share important updates on ongoing clinical trials. These insights give other researchers an early view of what trials are seeking to achieve and provide an indication of progress toward developing new medicines or therapeutic combinations. Trials in Progress typically focus on a novel area – a new medicine, trial design, or way to look at an existing medicine (for example, in an earlier cancer setting, or in combination with other treatments).

Across all of AstraZeneca’s therapy areas, we conduct on average more than 240 clinical trials globally, involving more than 123,000 patients in approximately 60 countries.1 Despite the pandemic, in 2020 we managed to keep more than 80 percent of clinical studies running and trial patients on their treatments, thanks to the dedication of our staff and trial sites, and by embracing more digital solutions to deliver some elements of trials remotely. In breast cancer alone, AstraZeneca has trials that demonstrate how we are challenging the current expectations of what it means to live with the disease and working to bring hope for new approaches. In 2021 we are sharing updates from a range of innovative trials, where we are pushing the boundaries of science to potentially change the prognosis for patients with high-risk early disease, including promising data in HER2-positive and hormone receptor positive advanced breast cancer. We are also sharing numerous Trials in Progress, which provide a welcome opportunity to help institutions and companies follow the science and keep learning.

Following the science for patients’ benefits

All of this is for the benefit of patients around the world. We are working tirelessly to identify and expedite the development of potentially life-changing new treatments. We won’t be satisfied until critical areas of unmet need are addressed, and better options are available for patients. The breadth of clinical trials at AstraZeneca, and the rich pipeline of novel molecules speaks strongly to our commitment to lead a revolution in oncology, and to our determination to prove that we are cancer’s fiercest opponent.

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