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Patients diagnosed with rare cancers often struggle to find treatment. Pharmaceutical Executive spoke with Nelson Ambrogio, senior vice president, general manager of Oncology US at Bayer Pharmaceuticals, about the struggles the industry faces in regard to developing cures for rare cancers, and how Bayer is using precision medicine to meet these challenges.
Pharm Exec: What are some of the greatest challenges in developing cures for rare cancers?
Ambrogio: Perhaps the greatest challenge in developing cures for rare cancers is thinking about the enormity of unmet need patients are faced with every day. Bayer is committed to precision medicine as a way of addressing the unique needs of these patients. Our Bayer Research & Innovation Center (BRIC) is a great example of a tangible initiative we’ve implemented to bring strategy to life, working without silos to evoke change for our patients.
Access to care is another common challenge we see all too often. At Bayer, it is our belief that every patient diagnosed with cancer should be able to access breakthrough innovations and medicines that are appropriate for them as an individual, bringing meaningful difference to their lives. As part of the Bayer Oncology Sustainability Initiative, we’ve witnessed this struggle firsthand—large, underserved communities in low- and middle-income countries are experiencing disparities in access to cancer care, and it’s a challenge we’re working hard to overcome.
Pharm Exec: How might precision medicine be a game-changer for these conditions?
Ambrogio: Bayer is investing in a paradigm shift toward precision medicine, providing true value for people with rare cancers and the oncology space as a whole. Precision medicine makes it possible to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from a biomarker-driven approach.
We are used to hearing about cancer based on the location of the tumor, such as breast, prostate, or lung. In the age of precision medicine, we now understand cancer is defined by its genomic makeup, which has a profound impact on what doctors can learn about a patient’s diagnosis and, more importantly, how it should be treated.
Pharm Exec: What is Bayer doing to make inroads in this space?
Ambrogio: Bayer is committed to supporting patients in their cancer journey. The first of many steps includes education of appropriate stakeholders, including patients, physician, payers, and policymakers. Bayer launched the Test Your Cancer campaign, aimed at educating patients and their loved ones about genomic cancer testing. It works to increase awareness and understanding, while clearing confusion about genomic cancer testing, to establish testing as a critical step of the cancer diagnosis process.
As part of our overall commitment to precision oncology, Bayer has recently joined the Precision Cancer Consortium (PCC) as a founding member alongside Roche, Novartis, and GSK, to expand our efforts to educate about the importance of comprehensive genomic cancer testing and improve access to precision oncology treatment options.
Bayer’s partnership with TargetCancer Foundation (TCF) is another example of how we’re working to advance precision medicine. The TCF-001 Target Rare Cancer Knowledge (TRACK) study, with support from Bayer and in partnership with Foundation Medicine, Inc., works to provide participating rare cancer patients and their physicians with personalized, actionable information to potentially inform treatment, as well as recommendations for on-label, off-label, or clinical trial treatments from an expert panel of rare cancer clinicians and scientists.
Pharm Exec: What are some ways to help spread the message about these conditions to help raise awareness and funding?
Ambrogio: I can think of several examples, one of them very personal. I recently ran the Boston Marathon as a charity runner for TCF and in memory of my brother, Daniel. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma four years ago and passed away shortly afterward. As someone with a passion for cancer research and awareness both personally and professionally, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to educate others, spread awareness, and raise funds to support the causes that are so dominant in my life. Participating in activities like this is a great way to help spread the message about these conditions.
The second example has to do with partnership. Teamwork between companies and nonprofit/research organizations is incredibly important and can help to spread the message to raise awareness and funding. Bayer’s longstanding partnership with TCF is a great example of this. The charity supports initiatives at the forefront of rare cancer treatment by funding innovative research, fostering collaborations, and raising awareness among scientists, clinicians, and patients, like the aforementioned TRACK study that aims to provide individualized treatment recommendations to patients with rare cancers. The support from Bayer aligns with our dedication to finding new and innovative approaches to treat cancer and broaden access to genomic testing.
Pharm Exec: What did running the Boston Marathon in honor of your brother teach you?
Ambrogio: The entire marathon experience was incredible, and I’ll hold each aspect—fundraising, training, and running—close to my heart. TCF raised $41,000 as a team. I am humbled by the support I received from friends, family, and Bayer colleagues from around the world. With the inclusion of Bayer’s matching funds, I was able to surpass my fundraising goal raising $13,000 to help increase awareness of and funds for rare cancer research and patient support.
While this was my third marathon after running in Philadelphia and Sydney, the feeling of running alongside over 28,000 runners was something I’ll never forget. The marathon was physically challenging, especially with the wind we experienced, but I also found running for a cause so close to my heart extremely intense and rewarding from an emotional perspective. While running, my thoughts ranged from my brother, how I wish he was still with us, how cancer can take so much from so many, and how I’m grateful to work toward a mission that means so much to me at Bayer.
Running in the Boston Marathon taught me so many things about myself, the people that I’m lucky enough to have in my life, and just how important it is to me and so many others to keep working toward finding a cure for cancer