In conversation with Martin Vogel and Edmond Chan, the EMEA Oncology and Haematology Therapeutic Area Medical Leads
Edmond and Martin's experience speaks for itself. Both have been with Janssen for over a decade and have had years of a related experience in healthcare before that. With the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and European Hematology Association (EHA) congresses having just taken place, we caught up with them to hear more about what they think is changing the face of cancer care and what still excites them about medical congresses, particularly after two years in a virtual setting, more than two decades into their careers.
Both haematology and oncology have seen exciting advances in recent years. What, for you, have been some of the most pivotal moments?
For me, in haematology it's three-fold. First, identifying minimal residual disease, or the re-emergence of very low levels of cancer cells for patients in remission, as a novel endpoint. Improvements in technology have allowed us to make waves in this area, as it means we can more closely monitor for relapse, better understand the likelihood of disease progression, and ultimately treat to minimise the residual disease – to the point where patients are in prolonged remission and can live as though disease-free. In other words, whether we are close to achieving our goal of functional cure.
Second, our increasing ability to deliver treatments that are specific to cancer types and tailored for each individual patient. Chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy is one example: CAR T-cells harness the power of a patient's immune system and reprogramme them to attack an individual’s cancer by targeting a protein highly expressed in the cancerous cells.1,2 This could redefine treatment for the thousands of patients who have had a number of previous therapies and relapsed following their multiple myeloma diagnosis.3
And third, it's how we're delivering treatments. More and more, we're seeing treatments that clinicians can give orally or through a simple injection under the skin.4 Providing treatment in this way has a massively positive impact on patients' quality of life – for example, by reducing time spent in healthcare settings as they don’t require long infusion times, giving them more time to spend doing the things they enjoy. Something that is important to everyone, but particularly people living with blood cancers who can spend up to six more days a year in hospital in comparison to other cancer patients. For these people, every bit of time is invaluable.5
I'd have to agree with all of Edmond's points. Targeted treatments really do have the potential to revolutionise cancer care, in solid tumour cancers as well as haematology. Pioneering treatments which can account for variations in genes, environment and lifestyle means we can deliver therapies to individual patients based on any combination of these factors. We can use this science to tell us the likely prognosis and how someone may respond to a treatment. This approach helps ensure we can give the right treatment to the right patient, at the right time.
I'd also add the development of tumour agnostic science. This breakthrough allowed us to identify potentially targetable molecular alterations in different tumour types, leading to tumour agnostic treatments.6 This means it doesn't matter how the cancer cell looks under the microscope or where the tumour is in the body; the treatment will work on any tumour with that specific molecular alteration.
Finally, another disruptive innovation in oncology is cancer interception. For a long time, the mainstay to prevent cancer has focused on minimising known risk factors, by doing things like quitting smoking or wearing sun cream. And they are, of course, important ways to prevent cancer from forming.
But increasingly, we are focusing on additional prevention measures, aiming at screening for underlying changes that are known to occur prior to cells turning into cancer. Developing technologies to detect this early pre-cancer stage will help us intercept and stop cancer from developing.
What was your number one takeaway from American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and European Haematological Association (EHA)’s annual meetings?
We often say at Janssen that change can only come through collaboration, and both congresses highlighted the importance of this. The haematology community coming together at meetings like EHA, sharing the latest knowledge, raising awareness around the challenges for people living with blood cancer, and working towards a common goal has all been critical over the years for advancing treatment options. Seeing everyone together in one place was a reminder that we can only overcome cancer if we work collectively. I also found myself reflecting on the incredible progress that continued to be made despite a global pandemic. It left me feeling quite optimistic for the future!
For me, there have been so many advances in cancer care over the last few years, and moments like ASCO and EHA are so exciting because they not only remind us of how those have formed foundations that we are now building on, but also show us that the pace of further progress is actually accelerating in many ways.
For example, there was some fascinating new research into targeted therapies that could improve outcomes in the solid tumour space, where we all know there is still significant unmet need for disease such as lung cancer. So ASCO and EHA remind us that, though we may work for different organisations all across the world, we are all ultimately motivated by the same mission: to eliminate cancer and make it a manageable condition until that happens.
What are you both looking forward to as we head into summer?
A big one for all of us who work in haematology is Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September. It's a chance to put the spotlight on a disease area that still has high levels of unmet need, and amplify the voices of those who are living with diseases such as multiple myeloma and those who are working tirelessly to treat them. I’m looking forward to being part of that conversation, and seeing what more can be done – because more has to be done. And I’m sure I’ll be reaching out to people in Janssen to add their reflections on the voices that we’re hearing too.
You’re right to keep looking forward! I think European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO)’s annual meeting, starting on the 9th September is always a highlight. Like ASCO and EHA, it provides a fantastic platform to share the most innovative research for cancer, particularly those with the greatest needs.
But beyond that, these congresses offer crucial opportunities for the industry to find new ways to engage with healthcare professionals and the patient community directly. This, in turn, guides the way for therapeutic options that better meet the cancer community's needs – which is something Janssen already strives to embed throughout everything we do.
- Hay AE, Cheung MC. CAR-T cells: costs, comparisons, and commentary. J Med Econ. 2019;22: 613-615.
- Iyer, RK, Bowles, PA, et al. Industrializing Autologous Adoptive Immunotherapies: Manufacturing Advances and Challenges. Front Med. 2018;5:150.
- GLOBOCAN 2020. Population factsheet Europe. Available at: https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/908-europe-fact-sh.... Last accessed: May 2022.
- Cancer.net Multiple myeloma: Types of Treatment. Available at: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/multiple-myeloma/types-treatment. Last accessed May 2022.
- Oxford University. Healthcare costs for blood cancers are double average cancer costs. Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-08-04-healthcare-costs-blood-cancers-are-double-average-cancer-costs. Last accessed: May 2022
- Lung Cancer Coalition. Personalised Medicine Factsheet 2018. Available at: https://lcam.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/IASLC-PPC_Precision-Medicine_8.5x11.pdf Last accessed: May 2022.