Inaugural Cure4Cancer Conference Facilitates Strides Towards Global Health Equity and Harmonization
NEW YORK, DECEMBER 1 — Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), and the Chinese Thoracic Oncology Group (CTONG) cohosted the first annual Cure4Cancer conference on Friday, December 1, 2023. Cancer experts, global public health leaders, founders and CEOs of major biotechnology companies, chairs and CEOs of top hospitals, patient advocacy groups, and cancer survivors joined together to discuss how to advance global health equity and harmonization — a major component of Cure4Cancer’s commitment to accelerating the development of life-saving cancer medicines through international cooperation. The event was held in coordination with the 6th annual MSK-CTONG symposium.
Welcoming the over 200 conference participants, Asia Society COO Debra Eisenman commented on the importance of Cure4Cancer’s mission today. “We should not allow geopolitical tensions to prevent us from making progress in this area. Like COVID-19 and climate change, cancer is a global problem that deserves a global solution.”
Jing Qian, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Asia Society Policy Institute’s Center for China Analysis, expressed agreement in his opening remarks: finding a “cure for cancer is not just a medical challenge, it’s also a policy challenge, a political challenge, and essentially a human challenge... and we all have a role to play at every level.”
In his opening remarks, Bob Li, Physician Ambassador to China and Asia-Pacific, MSK, and Senior Fellow on Global Public Health at ASPI’s Center for China Analysis, spoke of the importance of multiregional cooperation, such as U.S.-China collaboration, in the global effort to find a cancer cure. “The United States and China are major victims of cancer. The two countries that share the highest burden and represent almost 38% of cancer deaths.” He noted that many of these lives could be saved if the two countries were to collaborate on clinical trials, a claim substantiated by the Cure4Cancer task force’s most recent report, “Advancing Global Health Equity: Enhancing Clinical Trials Access and Cooperation to Save Lives from Cancer.”
Kevin Rudd, Australian Ambassador to the U.S. and inaugural president of Asia Society Policy Institute, agreed, referencing the report's conclusion that if China were to join the U.S.-led cancer research project Cancer Moonshot and its core initiative Project Orbis, the time needed to roll out new cancer treatments globally would significantly shorten, potentially turning a 10-15-year process into a 2-3-year process. “We’ve moved a long way to encourage China’s participation in international regulatory harmonization,” Rudd noted. “Just this past August, China’s State Council unveiled new guidelines that allowed foreign investment into the biopharmaceutical field, with a clear focus on cancer.”
Lisa DeAngelis, Chief Physician Executive, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, delivered a keynote speech that emphasized the critical role of international clinical trials: "Ending cancer has been MSK’s singular mission since 1884, and clinical trial R&D is central to the mission. It is the soul of the Cure4Cancer international movement."
Shelly Anderson, Hospital President, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, also addressed the audience as a keynote speaker. “To accelerate clinical trials, it is essential that we collaborate with multiple stakeholders worldwide. That is what is truly unique about Cure4Cancer,” she said. “We have academia, government, media, advocacy, think tanks, philanthropy, all coming together because it takes a village.”
The conference’s first plenary panel was entitled “International Regulatory Harmonization and Collaboration for Accelerating Cancer Cures” and was moderated by Luis Diaz, Head of Solid Tumor Oncology at MSK.
On the panel, Larry Norton, Senior Vice President, Office of the President, MSK, stated that one of the greatest hinderances to global regulatory harmonization today is the lack of clinical trial data sharing across borders. “I think that we know the answer to cancer, I just don’t think that we know that we know the answer to cancer,” Norton said. To rectify this, he suggested organizing a widely-profiled demonstrative clinical trial with a high likelihood of success to showcase the efficacy of international collaboration.
“The regulatory lag that exists between the U.S. and many other parts of the globe is on average 6-12 months, but in many other cases much longer than that, sometimes 2 to 3 years,” noted David Fredrickson, Executive Vice President of Oncology Business at AstraZeneca, agreeing with the need for international collaboration on clinical trials. “I think that the U.S. and China have the opportunity to lead the globe on this cure for cancer...when you look at the number of new drugs and developments there is 440% growth in Chinese late-stage clinical studies.”
Aminu Umar-Sadiq, CEO of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, and Isabel Mestres, CEO of City Cancer Challenge, both discussed the role of low-income countries in global regulatory harmonization. “There is a massive barrier to low-income countries who don’t have the opportunities to involve themselves in clinical trials,” said Mestres. “This is something that we need to start taking into account: how we bring these countries into the conversation.” Aminu agreed, noting, “equity and access are fundamental: they go side by side with innovation.”
The conference’s second panel, “Promoting Patient-Centric Clinical Trials,” was moderated by Victoria Smart, Senior Vice President of Mission for Susan G. Komen, and featured cancer patients and advocates Terri Conneran and Lillian Leigh.
When discussing how clinical trials can be improved for patients, Simon Powell, Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at MSK, noted: “Patients want answers, they want answers and they want them quickly. In picking up on a theme from earlier, our role as physicians in a clinic is to design the trials so they are not massively cumbersome and can be executed in a reasonable timeframe.” Lillian Leigh agreed: “Inclusion of patient and care-givers voices in clinical trials is so important.”
Otis Brawley, Professor of Oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, believes that the accessibility of clinical trials is a limiting factor in their success both locally and internationally. “In the U.S., a large number of patients don’t have a clinical trial available to them in the setting where they are being treated. When it’s available, 70% of people say yes,” he said.
Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Asia Society Center for U.S.-China Relations, believes that U.S.-China collaboration can help improve clinical trial accessibility: “When we get to cancer, we really have no impediment on our two countries collaborating except for ourselves...This is an immensely hopeful area in which not only can the U.S. and China find some common purpose, but perhaps make their relationship a little less fraught.”
“Expanding Global Health Equity in Clinical Trail Access and Participation,” the third panel of the conference, was moderated by Deb Schrag, Chair of the Department of Medicine at MSK.
“If we want to run many clinical trials and get the best medicines and answer the scientific questions we need — are they safe and efficacious — as quickly as we can, it’s all about changing clinical trials to be more inclusive using better technology and going places that others haven’t,” said John Oyler, CEO of BeiGene, opening the panel. “At this point, we have about 3,000 people around the world running clinical trials and trying to bring more and more centers into the process." Oyler also noted that the lowered cost of organizing clinical trials outside of the U.S. can help companies like BeiGene launch their medicines more efficiently.
Still, there are challenges, noted Stephen Clarke, Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney. “I think dealing with new players is hard. We’ve undertaken some collaborative studies in Asia and we didn’t really understand some of the circumstances of the people there, and I think education and exchange of people is critical...we found that some of the countries didn’t want things like DNA to leave their country...The other thing was the whole ethics and consent process, which tended to be different to the way we undertook it.”
Despite these complications, Tolulope Adewole, Managing Director of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority’s Medserv, noted that international collaboration on clinical trials is worth the effort: “There was a study at the University of Chicago, and they couldn’t get enough people, but they came to us [MedServ] and within six months we were able to recruit 60 people for them...With collaboration, we will actually get faster and be able to treat people.”
After the conclusion of the public program, the Cure4Cancer team hosted five scientific panels, featuring medical professionals from the U.S., China, Switzerland, Brazil, Nigeria, Australia, Chile, and the U.K. Yi-Long Wu, president of CTONG and a Cure4Cancer conference chair, led a delegation of twelve mainland Chinese medical professionals who participated in these conversations. Topics ranged from leveraging A.I. in oncology to clinical trial training and education.
As the afternoon panels were taking place, the NORTH Foundation announced that philanthropists Gregory John Poche and Kay Van Norton Poche donated $20 million to help establish a cancer clinical trials research and development center at Royal North Shore Hospital and North Shore Private Hospital in Sydney, which will be developed in partnership with Cure4Cancer and MSK. It was stated at the Conference that another generous donation by the Poche family to MSK will be announced to further support this U.S.-Australia partnership. A recent Forbes article noted that this donation is just one of the event outcomes that underscored the global reach and success of the inaugural Cure4Cancer conference.
In the evening, John Oyler, Dr. Bob Li, and Jing Qian conducted a fireside chat which focused on topics related to innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, policy and regulation harmonization, while reiterating the industry's and various sectors' continued determination in the ongoing fight against cancer.