Transforming can­cer care in MENA re­gion

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE - By Ab­del­latif Sharaa

A gath­er­ing of lead­ing med­i­cal ex­perts to dis­cuss so­lu­tions for transforming can­cer care in the Mid­dle East and North Africa was held in Am­man re­cently, or­ga­nized by the Swiss phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal gi­ant No­var­tis. Kuwait Times spoke to No­var­tis On­col­ogy CEO Bruno St­rig­ini on the progress in can­cer re­search and af­ford­abil­ity, and what is be­ing done with re­searchers, gov­ern­ments and var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions to make treat­ment ac­ces­si­ble to a ma­jor­ity of pa­tients. “There hasn’t been more re­search in can­cer treat­ment, but there is a lot of in­no­va­tion in tar­geted ther­a­pies. We are in the be­gin­ning of a new era and we be­lieve that it will bring a lot more treat­ment op­tions. We will con­tinue to progress in our fight against this ter­ri­ble disease,” St­rig­ini said.

“Ac­cess varies from coun­try to coun­try, but by large if we look at the re­gion here, we are in­volved in three types of ac­tiv­i­ties. We have set funds for those who can­not af­ford it. It also de­pends on the coun­try where you are, as the de­gree of af­ford­abil­ity may vary. We have pro­grams with some gov­ern­ments, where we are get­ting into part­ner­ships to ac­cess the pa­tients. We make ef­fort and they make ef­fort and we reach a way to work to­gether,” he said.

St­rig­ini said that there are pro­grams in those coun­tries where pa­tients pay out of pocket, “where we are go­ing to help through some pro­grams, and there are some coun­tries where we have ex­ten­sive pro­grams”. “We are do­ing a lot for those who can­not af­ford treat­ment. For ex­am­ple, ef­forts are be­ing made with refugees. We started in Le­banon, and are look­ing to ex­tend it into other coun­tries as well and see whom we can as­sist, and help peo­ple who do not have any means,” he told Kuwait Times

Asked when he ex­pects can­cer to be like any other cur­able disease, he said this is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer. “What is clear is that there has been a lot of progress over the last 15 to 20 years. It started with the ad­vent of tar­geted ther­apy, and this rev­o­lu­tion­ized the field of on­col­ogy. Fif­teen years ago, when some­one was di­ag­nosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), it was a death sen­tence. But I have per­son­ally met some peo­ple who have been on the pill for 15 years and lead a nor­mal life. We are mak­ing progress and con­tinue to make progress,” St­rig­ini said.

The in­vi­ta­tion-only me­dia event was ti­tled “In­no­vat­ing for Pa­tients: Transforming Can­cer Care in the Mid­dle East & North Africa”. The agenda fo­cused on the ris­ing in­ci­dence of can­cer in the Mid­dle East, un­der­scor­ing the fu­ture of can­cer care along with No­var­tis’ ef­forts to ad­dress un­ful­filled pa­tient needs through in­tro­duc­tion of clin­i­cal tri­als, cost mod­els and treat­ments to the re­gions.

While can­cer mor­tal­ity rates are de­creas­ing in West­ern coun­tries, they are con­tin­u­ing to rise in de­vel­op­ing ar­eas of the world’. Specif­i­cally in the Mid­dle East and North African (MENA) re­gion, the in­ci­dence of can­cer is ex­pected to in­crease more than in any other part of the world, dou­bling in the next ten years. Con­tribut­ing to this rise are fac­tors in­clud­ing the adop­tion of West­ern di­ets and life­styles, in­creased preva­lence of obe­sity and young smok­ers, high preva­lence of hepati­tis C in­fec­tion, and pol­lu­tion.

Cru­cial dur­ing the event was a panel dis­cus­sion on the ex­ist­ing bar­ri­ers to de­liv­er­ing in­no­va­tive medicines to peo­ple with can­cer in the Mid­dle East, in­clud­ing strate­gies from No­var­tis to im­prove ac­cess in the re­gion. With the re­cent emer­gence of drugs for more spe­cific pa­tient pop­u­la­tions, the panel’s di­a­logue fo­cused on op­por­tu­ni­ties to widen treat­ment avail­abil­ity in the MENA re­gion, whether through bet­ter com­mu­ni­cat­ing pa­tient needs or im­prov­ing the cur­rent reg­u­la­tory frame­work. With pa­tient as­sis­tance pro­grams bring­ing treat­ments glob­ally to those in need, No­var­tis is de­ter­mined to of­fer re­sources to these parts of the world and sup­port can­cer ad­vances for the fu­ture.

“Can­cer is a ma­jor cause of mor­bid­ity and mor­tal­ity in the com­ing decades in ev­ery re­gion of the world, with the num­ber of pa­tients climb­ing the most dra­mat­i­cally in the Mid­dle East,” said St­rig­ini. This event, the first of its kind in Jor­dan and the re­gion as a whole, is a re­flec­tion of the No­var­tis mis­sion to dis­cover new ways to im­prove and ex­tend peo­ple’s lives and our com­mit­ment to ad­dress­ing un­met med­i­cal needs in can­cer to ad­vance the care of pa­tients”

Med­i­cal ex­perts also shared the lat­est data re­gard­ing care and treat­ments for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), breast can­cer, and tha­lassemia, all highly preva­lent in the MENA re­gion. Breast can­cer, for ex­am­ple, has the high­est in­ci­dence among can­cers in the area. Sim­i­larly tha­lassemia, a di­verse fam­ily of ge­netic dis­or­ders char­ac­ter­ized by an un­der­pro­duc­tion of the oxy­gen-car­ry­ing pro­tein in red blood cells, is most preva­lent in peo­ple of Mediter­ranean and Mid­dle Eastern de­scent. As ev­i­dent from data pre­sented at the Tha­lassemia In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion-spon­sored con­fer­ence, also held in Am­man, there is a crit­i­cal need for health­care pro­fes­sion­als in these coun­tries to un­der­stand tha­lassemia and fre­quent co­mor­bidi­ties such as iron over­load. These and other ar­eas of fo­cus for No­var­tis are help­ing to ad­dress ar­eas of un­met need in MENA.

Global and re­gional lead­er­ship from No­var­tis On­col­ogy also, pre­sented an overview of tar­geted ther­apy and im­muno-on­col­ogy - both widely deemed to be the fu­ture of can­cer care. No­var­tis cur­rently has the broad­est pipe­line of im­muno-on­col­ogy agents glob­ally and its tar­geted ther­apy of­fer­ings con­tinue to grow, driv­ing the com­pany to­ward de­vel­op­ment of com­bi­na­tion reg­i­mens that may fur­ther ex­tend sur­vival and re­mis­sion rates in the fu­ture. In a sep­a­rate panel cen­tered on clin­i­cal re­search, a pa­tient and lo­cal health­care ex­perts shared ex­pe­ri­ences tak­ing part in clin­i­cal tri­als and their re­sult­ing per­spec­tives on the hope brought to the can­cer com­mu­nity through these ini­tia­tives.

AM­MAN: Fa­tima Al-Smadi speak­ing about her ex­pe­ri­ence with can­cer and her road to re­cov­ery.

AM­MAN: A panel dis­cussing ad­vances in can­cer treat­ment.

AM­MAN: Bruno St­rig­ini, CEO, No­var­tis On­col­ogy.

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