June 16, 2022

3 Key Takeaways from 6:45 AM at ASCO

While many ASCO attendees were still in bed, or just firing up their in-room coffee maker, something significant was going on at 6:45 AM on Sunday, June 5. Representatives from more than two dozen leading patient advocacy organizations and Exact Sciences came together to discuss ways to improve cancer care, access and equity for all patients.

Entitled “The Exact Science Behind Conquering Cancer,” the discussion with leading cancer patient advocacy organizations aimed to ensure the patient experience is embedded in every aspect of our work.

Exact Sciences aims to eradicate cancer and the suffering it causes through tests that help prevent cancer, detect it earlier, and guide treatment. Or, as Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and Exact Sciences’ chief medical officer Dr. Paul Limburg put it: “We want to make cancer more interesting to historians than to clinicians in the future.”

This can only be accomplished if we keep cancer patients front and center. Here are three key takeaways from the advocates and health care professionals gathered at the session.

#1 - Collaboration is critical to achieving cancer moonshot

The Biden Administration’s Cancer Moonshot has the goal of cutting deaths from cancer in half over the next 25 years. It’s ambitious, yet achievable – but only if commonly siloed groups from government, health care and academia can unite. Innovation occurs when great minds work together. Industry conferences will not improve patient care unless we make a concerted effort to put our sales brochures away, put our thinking caps on, and remember what truly brings us all together: patients.

#2 - Equity and access must be tenets, not talking points

In the United States, the number of uninsured Americans decreased by more than 18 million between 2010 and 2020. This is a huge step forward in getting people access to the care they need and deserve. That said, coverage in and of itself is not enough. Even among those with health benefits, many are not up-to-date with routine cancer screenings, and when it comes to treatment, many worry they cannot afford required insurance deductibles or co-pays. There is much work to do. The feedback from advocacy organizations was clear: don’t treat equity and access like a fad. They must be embedded in the core of how our industry thinks about, develops and delivers new cancer tests, treatment guidance and therapies. It starts at the bench with committing to diverse clinical trials and culminates in care delivery that meets all patients where they are.

#3 - Earlier cancer detection changes everything

ASCO brings with it the excitement of new medicines that extend peoples’ lives so they can attend a wedding, a college graduation and celebrate another birthday. Improved “progression free survival and overall survival” data points are worthy of celebration and buzz. There is a groundswell of new optimism about the power of earlier cancer detection that could change everything. Exact Sciences is committed to developing a blood based multi-cancer earlier detection test intended to detect many of the 70% of incident cancers today for which no routine screening options are available. Relatedly, Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) testing offers the possibility of detecting micrometastases and cancer recurrences earlier than imaging and techniques currently allow. Imagine how these kinds tests could advance the potential efficacy of these new medicines in patients with earlier stage disease. Or imagine a world where many more cancers could be treated with surgery alone. Patient advocacy is at the heart of this issue and is clearing the path so that our imaginations become a reality.

Reflecting on the morning’s events, Jody Hoyos, president and chief operating officer of Prevent Cancer Foundation said: “It was positively energizing to start the day with a room full of people collectively dedicated to achieving the Cancer Moonshot goal of decreasing cancer deaths by 50%. With innovations underway and the thoughtfulness around a patient centered approach, it’s clear that together we can get there.”