Two decades ago, when I attended my first American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting, we didn’t use the word “cure” in the context of hematological cancer management or aspirations. Since then, the discovery and development of transformational and effective therapies has helped usher in new conversations at ASH 2022 and beyond, where some now dare to talk about a vision for cure in certain blood cancers.
At Janssen, conversations like this help drive our work. The insights of healthcare providers, researchers, patients, and their advocates are crucial to the work that we do in our labs, where our principle of focused innovation is, I believe, the single biggest driver of Janssen’s success. In identifying new targets and compounds in hematology, our dedicated experts focus on the biology, unmet need, and speedy delivery of novel medicines for a particular disease.
Take for example our approach to multiple myeloma, where we are advancing a portfolio and pipeline of immunotherapy options across the disease continuum. For this heterogeneous disease, we are intentional about leveraging the strength of many different approaches and developing treatments that address unique cellular targets, including monoclonal antibodies, bispecific antibodies or cell therapy. Newer therapies such as bispecific antibodies are targeting novel pathways, showing tremendous efficacy and increasing physician’s armamentarium of treatment.
These individual therapies are critical, but equally important is planning and providing complementary and combinable treatments that create synergy and much larger benefit for patients with multiple myeloma – which becomes more complex with every line of therapy. At Janssen, our teams are dedicated to exploring promising combinations and sequencing, and working closely with the community on the optimal use of these new drugs to achieve the best possible response.
In another example, Janssen’s more than ten years of experience in B-cell malignancies is resulting in real improvement in the treatment paradigm. We’re harnessing the power of the immune system and continue to advance studies with innovative medicines and next-generation T-cell redirectors including trispecifics. Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are now living longer and are effectively managing their condition with their doctor because of recent advancements in therapies such as BTK inhibitors.¹
While the rapid pace of innovation was lauded throughout ASH, we also heard from both physicians and patients that they have concerns about how best these life-saving medicines should be used. For healthcare providers, particularly at the community level, more detailed education and training can improve the use of these new medicines and treatment approaches, while also offering new ways to measure therapeutic efficacy. Patients are seeing that the quality of care can vary greatly based on individual provider expertise. This drives our relentless commitment to continuously innovate and educate while also exploring new access pathways for our transformational medicines.
In reflecting on insights from ASH and the interactions I had with patients in my early days of practicing medicine, keeping the patient first remains paramount in the decisions I make about drugs discovery and development. The first patient I saw on my first day as an oncology fellow more than 20 years ago had been flown to the emergency room with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma. He and his wife, parents, and children had many questions, and there were no good answers. While he responded well to the first round of chemotherapy, he relapsed after few months on treatment and died weeks later. The rapid journey from diagnosis to false hope, to disease progression and death, was shocking.
Every time we meet to discuss our strategy for multiple myeloma, I remember that patient and his family and how desperate they were for a cure. It wasn’t a reality then, but that experience has kept me going. Through listening to and learning from the blood cancer community, I am optimistic that we can develop regimens that one day make the word “cure” and all that it means more attainable for more patients around the world.
¹ American Cancer Society. Living as a Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Survivor. Available at: bit.ly/3YcfORM. Accessed February 2023.