By Alessandro Riva, M.D., Global Head of Oncology Development and Medical Affairs, Novartis Oncology
The recent expansion of our oncology portfolio is providing us greater opportunities to win for patients in the battle against cancer. Now with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and European Hematology Association (EHA) annual meetings, we’re able to see how oncology research is evolving and how it will enhance our research approach at Novartis Oncology.
Through our acquisition of oncology products and related assets from GSK, we’ve further strengthened what we can achieve for patients, especially in the areas of melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and in malignant and benign hematological diseases. We have complemented our existing group of practice-changing medicines to create the largest portfolio of drugs in oncology and hematology targeting important biological disease pathways. New therapies could enable strong synergies to explore novel combination therapies with the potential to improve patient outcomes.
Through our research efforts, we have begun to understand how cancers develop on a genomic level, which ultimately enhances our ability to develop medicines that hone in on those specific targets associated with cancer growth. Not so long ago, that might not have seemed realistic, but now it’s a reality we’re looking forward to.
Today, we are taking a holistic approach to understanding the critical oncogenic pathways of cancers. We are looking at the human genetic blueprint and DNA sequencing. Irregular changes in a DNA sequence, known as a mutation, can lead to modifications of the protein and may lead to the development of cancer. New technology in genetic research allows for an entire genome to be sequenced in one day. In years past, that same process took more than ten years.
We’ve learned a great deal from connecting these DNA dots. We are also starting to quickly see the potential of harnessing the power of the immune system in addition to targeted therapies, and expect it will play an important role in the future innovation of cancer treatments. The strength of our broad portfolio and all that we’ve recently learned gives us a strong foundation to advance this new science.
The introduction of immunotherapies into cancer treatment has been an exciting advancement, allowing a patient’s own immune system to join the fight. However, so far only a small portion of patients have been able to derive benefit. We are rapidly learning more and evolving the research to benefit a broader population of patients and potentially overcome the resistance mechanisms with the development of a second generation of checkpoint inhibitors (immunotherapies). We are also exploring the potential to achieve even better treatment outcomes by exploring combinations of different immunotherapies as well as the combination of immunotherapy with targeted therapies.
Dramatic changes and advances have been made in hematology and oncology in the last two decades, and we know that there are more on the horizon with immunotherapy. There’s a lot one can learn by remembering how we got to where we are today, and how fast we are moving to improve cancer treatments.
At Novartis Oncology, we’ve had more than a decade of success in helping people living with cancer. We’ve learned the value of innovation in helping us transform the way people live with cancer and related diseases around the world. All of these advancements lead to one very important thing: better outcomes for patients—the motivation behind the work we do every day.