By Paul Hudson, President, AstraZeneca US and Executive Vice President, North America
Families will come together to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, the same day Women’s Health Week begins in the United States. This time of year, in particular, makes me reflect on the opportunity we have in healthcare to profoundly impact the future of women’s health. New advancements in diagnostics and treatment have the potential to significantly improve women’s health – notably among ovarian, breast and lung cancer patients.
At AstraZeneca, we understand the healthcare system is moving away from a singular approach for all, and toward treating diseases with an increased focus on personalized healthcare.
The promise of personalized healthcare is clear: It can enable doctors to more quickly identify which treatments will be most effective for individual patients based on their genetic makeup. Personalized healthcare means we can identify when a potential treatment requires an individualized strategy at an early stage and develop an integrated diagnostic plan. This helps get the right treatments to the right patients at the right times – even faster.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of oncology, where more effective and targeted treatments are helping cancer patients live longer, healthier and more productive lives. Since its peak in 1991, the cancer death rate is down 20 percent and the five-year survival rate has climbed to 68 percent.
Despite this progress, there is still much work to be done. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States, and breast cancer remains the most common cancer among American women. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and is often diagnosed late because symptoms mirror everyday ailments.
But there’s promise. For these women, it is vital that they understand their tumor type and hormone status so they and their doctors can tailor the most effective individual treatment plans possible. At AstraZeneca, we’re working side by side with leading scientists from different disciplines to better understand how complex data can be converted into innovative treatments. For example, over 80 percent of our pipeline across therapeutic areas is being developed with a personalized healthcare strategy and more than 30 programs have a companion diagnostic test.
For ovarian cancer in particular, up to 15 percent of women have a BRCA mutation, but nearly half of women with ovarian cancer and a BRCA mutation have no significant family history. Despite the fact that major guidelines recommend that all patients living with ovarian cancer be considered for BRCA testing, not all women living with ovarian cancer are tested. By collaborating with experts in diagnostics, we’re working to drive an increase in testing and a greater awareness of risks so that innovative treatments can be matched to those patients who will benefit most.
We’re also using personalized approaches for testing lung cancer, which accounts for about 13 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States. There are currently limited options for treating patients with advanced or metastatic lung cancer. Targeted therapies and companion diagnostics may improve treatment outcomes for patients with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation-positive advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). AstraZeneca has pioneered targeted lung cancer treatments, and we are committed to advancing knowledge of patient management and diagnostic testing in advanced NSCLC.
There continues to be significant positive news in our fight against cancer in the United States and around the world. Taken together, increased education, improved treatments and advanced diagnostic tools are helping doctors make faster, more accurate decisions that are helping patients lead healthier, longer lives.