Towards a new era in oncology

Companies must demonstrate meaningful clinical outcomes to guarantee access to their medicines, says Patricia Andrews, the new CEO of Boston Biomedical



The sheer scale of innovation taking place in the field of oncology may lead to cures for some cancers in the next decade, while others will become chronic, manageable conditions in a similar way to the treatment of HIV/AIDS. That is the opinion of Patricia Andrews, recently appointed CEO of pioneering R&D company Boston Biomedical.

In oncology, a single discovery can spark a whole new mode of treatment, she says. “A pathway is identified or a target that wasn’t previously considered, or something becomes ‘druggable’ that wasn’t previously.” One example is transcription factor, STAT3. “STAT3 is correlated with other cancers; patients with high levels of STAT3 tend to do worse, so we knew it was a great target, but it wasn’t druggable. However, we have figured out how to do that and our lead compound, napabucasin, is now in phase III clinical trials in several indications, including gastric, colorectal and pancreatic cancer.”

The increasing individualisation of cancer treatment and the ongoing identification of many different disease phenotypes will not only have an impact on patient outcomes, but also on those pharmaceutical companies leading in the oncology space, says Andrews.

“Pharma has long recognized that ‘cancer’ is a hundred-plus different diseases, but now we are discovering that with the various combinations of mutations, it may even be more than that,” she says. “We used to look at it by indication and now we are looking at what may have caused that patient’s cancer. Treatments can be increasingly customised to patient specifics, and applied to the circumstance, and I believe there will be much more of that in the future.”

For Andrews, a key challenge in the cancer landscape – and an area that needs greater focus – are cancer stem cells. “The current treatment approach assumes all cells within a tumor are equally cancerous and does not consider the role of cancer stem cells (CSCs). CSCs are a type of cell in a cancerous tumor that develop ‘stemness’ or the ability to self-renew and differentiate,” she says. “While many traditional therapies affect the primary tumor, they cannot address the stem of the cancer, which can lead to therapy failures, which account for recurrence or metastasis.” Recent research also suggests CSCs are highly resistant to conventional therapy and radiation.

Several approaches to targeting CSCs are being investigated, says Andrews. “At Boston Biomedical we focus on targeting cancer stemness pathways; in addition to napabucasin, we have several other research programs actively targeting cancer stemness pathways, including immune response modifiers, which are in earlier phases of development.”

In her new role as CEO, Andrews’ goal is to build upon the research and work that the company has done over the last decade. “We are committed to changing the treatment of cancer through first-in-class agents that have the potential to improve patient care and overcome the challenges of current treatment approaches, including resistance, recurrence and metastasis. In the next few years, my goal is to have several approved compounds, a robust pipeline, and that we will ultimately be able to provide many patients around the world with a treatment solution.”

Price tag

However, as cancer treatments become more specific and thus more effective, they may well come with equally stunning price tags. Patient access to highly effective but costly therapies will come down to the true value of a new drug, says Andrews.

“Healthcare systems want their patients to have effective therapies, and I believe they will cover products or regimens that provide meaningful clinical benefit. We have a long way to go to provide benefit to everyone but survival rates are up in many diseases and quality of life continues to improve.”

And pharma has a role to play in guaranteeing patient access, she adds. “Companies in this space want to provide benefit to as many people as possible, and, regardless of what criteria went into their pricing decisions, all reputable companies support patients with out-of-pocket expenses and reimbursement and provide the drugs to many patients who can’t afford it.”

Breakthrough medicines are the focus of Boston Biomedical, she adds. “We are not trying to bring out a ‘me too’, we are trying to develop something that is a significant step forward for the patients with the indications we are studying. The aspiration is to take that major step forward in what is a high-risk business.”


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