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After an unpredictable year, ASH will help show what the future holds in hematology

After an unpredictable year, ASH will help show what the future holds in hematology

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on December 4 2020.

2020 has not been a good year for predictions.

Following the American Society of Hematology (ASH) congress last December, my colleague Patrick wrote a piece asking whether 2020 might herald the start of a blood cancer revolution, following some of the exciting precision medicines and cell therapies we saw presented, which have the potential to transform treatment of the disease.

That, of course, was pre-COVID-19 and all disruption that it would cause for individuals, communities, businesses and healthcare systems worldwide.

Now, the sands keep shifting under our feet, and it is hard to know exactly what the future holds across the health landscape – even with the exciting news of emerging vaccines, who can confidently predict now when the worst will be over?

But one thing that we could predict was the impact that COVID-19 would have on cancer patients, and the need to redouble our efforts to tackle the challenges that people affected by this disease face.

Earlier in the year, I talked about how we much ensure COVID-19 does not derail our efforts to keep improving the lives of people affected by cancer all over the world. Issues such as hospital visits and time spent receiving treatment have been given a new resonance by the pandemic, but they will endure beyond it, continuing to affect patient care in the future unless we can collectively find solutions.

According to Public Health England data, newly diagnosed cancer patients face up to 20 days annually in hospital while one in five people with the disease make 25 or more trips to hospital a year. Looking specifically at my own area of haematology, the picture becomes even more difficult. Blood cancer patients spend an average of six days more in hospital every year than those experiencing other cancers.

And more widely, there continue to be many areas of high unmet need across haematology – from life-threatening conditions that currently have no approved therapies, such as amyloidosis, to diseases like multiple myeloma that continue to steal time from patients’ lives as they endure lengthy, often debilitating treatment programmes.

It is not an easy situation. Yet every day I see signs of extraordinary progress when it comes to addressing these challenges, and that’s why I’m confident in predicting that the 2020 ASH congress, which kicks off this weekend, will be an inspiring showcase of how we are collectively working to make advances in vital areas of haematology like CAR-T, genome editing and immunotherapies.

We at Janssen are of course in attendance, presenting the latest data from our own work in haematology – more than 30 abstracts in all, across disease areas such as chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma (RRMM).

We’re sharing innovations that range from novel treatment formulations that could reduce treatment times, to the initial findings from a trial of a new bi-specific antibody treatment designed to specifically target two important biomarkers in people with RRMM. And I am very excited for us to provide more details on a new treatment that has the potential to become a standard-of-care for a currently incurable blood condition.

ASH 2020 provides us with an important moment to take stock of the huge strides we’ve made in haematology over the last year, and to use this to strengthen the resolve of all of us in the oncology community to go further, faster, in future. This is how we will help improve outcomes for patients and keep the blood cancer revolution going.

This is not just a prediction. For myself and for Janssen, it is a commitment. I hope to see many of you at ASH, and I look forward to hearing your commitments as well.