Heard on the pipeline: Technology in oncology

It’s not every day that experts from across the oncology field gather in one place to discuss the past, present, and future of cancer treatment. So, when pharmaphorum editor-in-chief Jonah Comstock hit the floor at ASCO earlier this month, it was the perfect opportunity to find out what some of the brightest minds in healthcare think of one of the biggest trends in healthcare.

How do you see digital and AI technologies shaping the oncology space in the next three to four years?

Arun Krishna

AstraZeneca head of lung cancer commercial

Gregory Lubiniecki

VP clinical oncology at Merck (MSD)

Corina Dutcus

SVP advanced clinical development, oncology, Eisai US

Edmond Chan

Senior director, EMEA therapeutic area lead, haemato-oncology, Janssen

Martin Vogel

EMEA therapeutic area lead, oncology, Janssen

Jaydev Thakkar

Chief operating officer, Biofourmis

From being able to detect a certain adverse event or disease, we can see AI tools capable of predicting before something happens. And as that window of prediction continues to increase – I’ll give you an example: CRS. Cytokine release syndrome is one of the critical negative effects of some of the very powerful drugs, CAR-T. These drugs are very helpful to the patient. At the same time, the risk of CRS is so high that many patients are either stuck in the hospital or just simply drop out. We already see now that we can predict with reasonable accuracy the risk of a grade three or higher CRS.

What this means is the physician can take action of saying, “Look, this patient’s risk is relatively so low, I’m not going to burden this patient by making them stay in the hospital. Let them go home, and as long as they’re within this two-to-three-hour range, I can bring the patient back if they do end up getting the grade 3 CRS”.

Imagine this technology becomes even more predictive, and you can pinpoint which patients are likely to get it even before they’re infused with the drug. And all the rest of the patients now have the freedom to be in a hotel nearby. So, I think as the predictive abilities improve, our ability to personalise treatment and personalise approaches is going to continue to grow.

Jennifer Elliott

Head of solid tumours, global medical affairs oncology, Takeda

Mark Reisenauer

President, Astellas Pharma US

I would say from a technology point of view, you’ve got AI, you’ve got digital, etc., but what that is resulting in is faster development in areas we already know are very promising. And I’ll give you an example. If I had to list the three hottest areas in oncology right now that are benefitting from some of this technology, they are: the progress with antibody-drug conjugates, immuno-oncology, and targeted protein degradation. I think that’s great for patients. I think you’re seeing those advances move very quickly, and at Astellas, those are all areas we’re participating in and are making significant investments in.

Warner Biddle

SVP and global head of commercial, Kite, a Gilead Company

Santosh Mohan

Vice president of digital, Moffitt Cancer Center

So many ways. I don’t know where to even start. It starts with prevention and screening, right? There’s a lot of behaviour change that is associated with that space, whether it’s tobacco cessation or whether it is managing insomnia or stress. There are a lot of multifactorial conditions associated with cancer that we treat, and digital has a huge role to play in managing those conditions, but more importantly, to drive behaviour change.

We know behaviour change is also very hard. And this is where you also have to reduce not just the incidence, but also the mortality. And so, digital plays a role in early detection. It plays a role in precision medicine. You think about digital radiology, digital pathology, digital biomarkers, and next-gen sequencing; These are all very much digital enablers for treatment. So, it plays a role in prevention and screening. It plays a role in early detection. It plays a role in accurate diagnosis, treatment, symptom management, and survivorship. You tell me where it doesn’t play a role.

Smit Patel

Associate programme director, Digital Medicine Society

If you think about data interoperability, you think about infrastructure building. For example, a patient that has to go through multiple phlebotomists, radiologists, care navigators, care centres, infusion clinics, clinicians, diagnostic labs, and pharmacists.

There are so many intervening conveners and individuals that are collecting this data. What are we going to do with all this information that is out there? How can we streamline that? There’s so much efficiency that AI and, essentially, digital tools can bring that can streamline care to reduce the point solutions and to reduce the gaps that still exist in the whole supply chain of healthcare.

About the author

Jonah Comstock 

Jonah Comstock is a veteran health tech and digital health reporter. In addition to covering the industry for nearly a decade through articles and podcasts, he is also an oft-seen face at digital health events and on digital health Twitter.


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