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The odds of beating cancer used to be considered insurmountable. And yet, every year that passes seems to redefine what’s possible when treating cancer. At meetings like the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, it is exciting to see these significant advancements come to the forefront and discuss how we can make them a reality for patients.

I’m in awe of the continued progress towards beating cancer I see within Takeda, among our partners and from our peers in industry and academia. But we still have much to accomplish before we can declare victory.

There are three key areas that I believe will enable even more progress in improving patients’ lives in the near-term: uncovering new approaches to treating cancer, applying real-world evidence to drug development and treatment and addressing disparities in healthcare.

New approaches to medicines

Cancer is clever, but through unrelenting research and development, researchers are uncovering new ways to attack its vulnerabilities. While all of these new approaches rely on some level of therapeutic intervention, I’m most excited by the methods being explored that are enhancing the natural ability of our immune systems to outsmart cancer.

Many of the immuno-oncology treatments currently in use leverage the adaptive immune system. These medicines have resulted in extraordinary outcomes for certain patients, but there’s more work to be done to broaden the impact of immunotherapies. At Takeda, many of our investigational immuno-oncology programs are focused on harnessing the power of the adaptive immune system’s counterpart, the innate immune system. We believe this historically underexplored pathway may help us to overcome cancer’s ability to evade immune recognition. We look forward to sharing research from some of these programs this month at ASCO and the Congress of the European Hematology Association.

The power of real-world evidence

As we seek to advance approaches to medicine, we also need to evolve how we measure outcomes in our clinical trials, so they account for the needs of a broader cross-section of society. While the randomized clinical trial has historically been the gold standard for evaluating safety and efficacy, real-world evidence highlights important aspects of patient care that may be difficult to address and are not commonly captured within the confines of randomized clinical trials.

Clinical trials often have strict inclusion criteria, which may lead to the exclusion of people with certain demographics. For example, as many as 75% of the people living with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, are ineligible for randomized clinical trials because they are too old, too frail or have other health or access issues. To help close this gap, we need to strengthen the use of real-world evidence to supplement the data received from randomized clinical trials and ultimately gain a better understanding of a therapy and how it works both inside and outside of the clinical trial setting.

Increasingly, we are seeing more real-world evidence being presented at medical meetings and accepted by regulatory bodies as supportive evidence in the product approval process. This is an important shift that holds the promise of helping deliver even more transformative treatments to patients living with cancer — no matter who or where they are.

Creating tangible ways to address disparities in healthcare

The growing application and acceptance of real-world evidence represents a step forward in addressing the larger issue of health disparities — something I have always believed that we must approach with the same urgency that we discover and develop new treatments. This year, I am pleased to see that ASCO is spotlighting this need via their chosen theme, “advancing equitable cancer care through innovation.”

Cancers like multiple myeloma, cervical cancer and prostate cancer affect people of color and other historically marginalized groups at higher rates than the general population. Yet people in these communities have been traditionally underrepresented in clinical trials designed to develop treatments for these cancers, both as patients and investigators.

Studies show that the underrepresentation is largely a result of the historic mistreatment of people of color within the medical and scientific research communities. To further health equity and get closer to meeting what patients truly need, we must build trust within these communities.

One path to doing so is using the data and technology we have available to us to make clinical trials more accessible. At-home clinical trials are just one example of the progress we’ve made to be more inclusive, but we can and need to do more.

Translating research into results

Year after year, marquee scientific congresses serve as a platform for sharing groundbreaking data, technology and research, but they can only take us so far. It is on us, the oncology community, to transform these scientific insights into tangible solutions for patients as quickly as possible. The greatest, most exciting scientific discovery in medicine does little good if patients do not benefit.

That’s why we need progress like more equitable clinical trials, better use of real-world evidence and new ways to use the body’s immune system. We have to keep this work going as we continue to explore every option to dramatically improve cancer care for all patients.

To learn more about how we are translating the latest progress into our research and advancements at Takeda, visit our website.