AstraZeneca's Gift for Cancer Care

February 28, 2007

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-02-28-2007, Volume 0, Issue 0

Unbranded effort with American Cancer Society will bolster patient education, compliance.

As companies struggle with how to increase patient compliance and provide better disease information, AstraZeneca has given the American Cancer Society (ACS) $10 million to fund a program that connects underserved patients with medical resources. The grant--one of the largest corporate gifts ACS has ever received--will bankroll a near doubling of the group's Patient Navigator Program, currently linking patients with cancer educators at 60 sites nationwide who connect them with resources that range from the financial to the emotional.

Compliance remains a challenge even for oncology patients, who often face a life-threatening disease. A report from the Compliance Strategic Initiative, which includes ACS, found that 17 percent of breast cancer patients stopped taking tamoxifen (which AstraZeneca markets as Nolvadex) during the first two years of treatment, and 50 percent discontinued it by the fourth year. Social, medical, and educational support are among the factors contributing to increased compliance.

"Some patients don't know where to turn--there are just so many questions that they have," said Lisa Schoenberg, vice president of specialty care at AstraZeneca. "We have the opportunity to impact cancer care on a national scale."

The program is unbranded, and the educators--dubbed "navigators"--will not distribute information on the company's seven oncology products, which include blockbusters Arimidex (anastrozole), Casodex (bicalutamide), and Zoladex (goserelin). ACS will handle site selection, recruitment, and training for volunteers.

AstraZeneca, with US headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, has had an ongoing relationship with local ACS chapters, according to Schoenberg. It has also supported such groups as the American Heart Association, whose services correspond with its other therapeutic areas. Even though the program isn't a strict marketing effort, better-educated patients are more compliant and tend to have better outcomes, Schoenberg noted. "At the very core of [our business], what we have at heart is the patient," she said. "Products are just one component of patient care."

The top-four corporate givers were pharmaceutical companies, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a biweekly newspaper. But the industry tends to donate products rather than cash. For instance, Pfizer was the largest corporate philanthropist, donating $1.6 billion--but about 94 percent was in the form of drugs. Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson also topped the paper's list, which looked at the Fortune 150. Corporate giving is expected to remain steady among pharma companies.

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