Dr John Fleming
UK Country Medical Head Oncology, GSK
UK Oncology Business Unit Head, GSK
While COVID-19 has brought immense challenges to R&D and the delivery of cancer care, it has also shone a light on the value of innovation and how important it is we keep up the pace.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen the world unite in celebration as the first COVID-19 vaccines begin to show promise. Yet for those on the front lines of cancer innovation and delivering cancer care, it is likely to be months, perhaps years, before services fully recover. However, recovery efforts may be quicker than we imagine, and have the potential to shape a new standard of care in cancer.
Continuing to drive scientific innovation in the face of COVID-19
Our belief is that by leveraging the power of patient-driven science and technology, we can ensure the therapies we develop are providing potential solutions for unmet medical needs in cancer.
At GSK Oncology, we have been focused on progressing our work investigating small molecules, antibodies, antibody drug conjugates and cellular therapies – working towards delivering the next generation of medicines. We hope these will bring transformational improvements in patient outcomes as opposed to incremental benefits. Alongside keeping our essential workers safe in our labs and manufacturing sites, this has required a concerted effort to work more collaboratively and efficiently than ever before.
Dr John Fleming, UK Country Medical Head Oncology, GSK says: “We have been working hard to ensure that we don’t lose sight of our ambition to maximise survival and quality of life for people in the UK living with cancer. This year has brought unprecedented challenges to all teams working to achieve this, yet, at every hurdle, solutions have been found.”
Progress that can help people with cancer must not stop
The R&D approach we are taking is also increasingly becoming disease-agnostic – not looking at particular cancers, but rather how we can harness the power of immunology, genetics and advanced technologies. By understanding the potential commonality across tumour types, we can glimpse how to translate benefit across several cancers and apply this logic to innovate across a range of tumours.
In addition to conventional methods such as blocking a cancer cell’s ability to grow and spread, we are exploring alternative approaches. We believe there is a role for agonists to embolden the immune system either alone as maintenance to prevent recurrence, or in combination with antagonists or ‘blockers’. One early pipeline example of an agonist at GSK is a programme that addresses the STING pathway (Stimulator of Interferon Genes), which looks at how we can stimulate the immune system to mobilise a patient’s adaptive immune response to cancer.
The potential of our R&D approach was apparent before the pandemic hit; and we are determined that patients should not miss out through unnecessary delay.
Looking at innovation beyond the lab
Beyond the medicines we research, develop and provide to health services, we also strive to look at other needs: at how we can improve understanding of different cancers, raise vital awareness and improve patient support.
Marc Clausse, UK Oncology Business Unit Head at GSK says: “Regrettably, this pandemic has been devastating to cancer services. Too many people have missed out on care that could have prolonged or improved their lives as a consequence. Industry has shown its willingness to provide support and the determined examples of collaboration with government and the NHS have been heartening to see.”
In the last few months, GSK has collaborated with the clinical community and hospitals to deliver a homecare package for women with advanced ovarian cancer – enabling patients to avoid hospital visits. Examples like this are being seen across the UK and show again that innovation is not just taking place in the lab – it is also in how we are finding solutions to support patients and the NHS in this challenging time and beyond.
We firmly believe that when we do emerge from the disruption we find ourselves in, we will do so stronger and better equipped to deliver a new standard of care in cancer.