Cancer Patients Want Warp Speed Given to Oncology Research Next
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and in the spring of 2020, SARS-CoV-2 became the loudest wheel of our time. The government poured $18 billion of funds into coronavirus-related R&D, and the industry churned out tests, treatments and a vaccine in record time.
While the speed of science is both lauded and mistrusted by near-equal parts of the population, the over 22 million Americans with cancer have been watching and are now saying, “Wait, what about us?”
In a recent survey released by oncology data leader COTA, half of the respondents pointed to “Operation Warp Speed” as the seed of their belief that cancer treatments can and should be moving forward faster. The survey included 1,110 Americans who had cancer or had someone in their immediate family with cancer.
“As an oncologist, I have seen firsthand how devastating a cancer diagnosis is for a patient and their family,” said CK Wang, chief medical officer at COTA, Inc. “It is hard to not look back and question whether some of my patients would have survived had innovations specific to cancer care and treatment been accelerated through highly focused funding, research, technology, and innovative collaborations like those prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
In 2020, there were approximately 375,000 deaths caused by COVID-19 in the U.S. The impact was far-reaching beyond our physical health to our economies, educations and mental health. Yet COVID-19 was only the third leading cause of death by a long stretch. Over 600,000 deaths were credited to cancer in the same year.
Sixty percent of cancer patients say that COVID-19 demonstrated cancer treatments should be developed faster, while 44% of patient family members have new expectations for the speed of cancer research.
COTA believes our best chance at developing cures for cancer lies in data. 89% of respondents believe that cancer patients sharing their health data anonymously will help advance R&D. Yet less than half reported their oncologists discussing it with them.
Wang told BioSpace, "Patients clearly see the value of real-world clinical data, and as the survey indicates, believe it materially increases access to life-saving therapeutics. Still, there is more work to be done in terms of using data to drive innovation.”
When asked what COTA is doing right now to drive these changes, Wang said, “We are already working to address many of the findings in this study - from partnering with leading pharma companies to accelerate availability of innovative cancer drugs and treatments and also collaborating with providers like Medstar Health and the UChicago Medicine to drive new approaches to support increased diversity in cancer-specific clinical trials."
A bottleneck for any research and development efforts has always been clinical trials. The process is lengthy and cumbersome for researchers and families. According to the survey, 71% of patients and families regularly research new clinical trial options on their own. And while most (80%) of respondents believed that clinical trials were adequately diverse, COTA has found that to be woefully incorrect.
While Black Americans represent 13% of the population, they only comprise 5% of clinical trial participants. The statistics are even worse for the Hispanic community – 18% of the population but only 1% of clinical trial participants. Lack of diversity in trial data leads to questionable efficacy as race and gender differences do change disease and therefore, treatment mechanisms.
COTA would like to see health data sharing encouraged across all areas of cancer care while maintaining privacy standards. The company dreams of a world where barriers are removed to promote greater clinical trial representation for minority populations. COVID-19 has created a world of R&D collaborations that can now be applied to other disease areas like cancer for faster, more innovative treatment developments.
On his campaign trail, Biden promised "we're gonna cure cancer” if elected. While that pledge is far-fetched - cancer is a many-headed beast with more than 100 types - if even part of the resources and innovative push of Operation Warp Speed were committed to cancer research, the path to faster drug discovery would become a reality. And then, maybe one day, we can cure cancer.