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DIALOGUE WITH STAKEHOLDERS - Dialogue with stakeholders

Industry Perspective - Dr Andreas Penk

Publication date: 19.08.2015

EU healthcare systems ‘must keep pace with science’ says Pfizer chief 

Dr Andreas Penk is Head of Pfizer Oncology Europe/Africa, and Middle East as well as Chairman of the Board of Pfizer Germany.

When asked what kind of EU policies are needed to strengthen personalised cancer medicine and to increase patient access to personalised cancer therapies, Dr Penk is clear that adjustments need to be made to take into account the leaps in scientific progress.

He says: ‘Cancer entails various complex diseases, each of which progresses differently and requires specialised therapy. Several thousand distinct genetic mutations have been identified in lung cancer alone. Nevertheless, this enormous complexity has not deterred us from making advancements in our research. The insights we have gained into cancer through genetic and molecular diagnostics afford us with a unique opportunity. Precision medicine in research opens opportunities for a new era in drug-based personalised cancer medicine. 

‘Although we are making enormous scientific progress, the full potential of personalised cancer therapies can only be translated into concrete patient benefit when our healthcare systems keep pace with these scientific advancements. Therefore, the political framework has an important role to play.’

Penk continues: ‘Both the European and member state healthcare policy environments need to adapt to these new advances, which are fundamentally changing the way that cancer is diagnosed, categorized, and treated. At the European level, there are a number of policies and activities that can help improve patient access to personalised cancer medicine. Most importantly, it is crucial to emphasise early cancer testing. European-level collaborations are needed to motivate national governments to put in place health systems and structures that incorporate early diagnostic testing and also make widespread molecular tumour testing available.

Penk adds: ‘Our reimbursement systems and policies need to support these treatment paradigms and ensure that patients in Europe have access to the highest quality medical care. Overall, working together is essential to ensure that cancer patients in Europe can benefit from personalised cancer medicine.

‘My vision is that all relevant stakeholders work together to establish comprehensve, patient-centered therapy networks throughout Europe. These networks should provide not only molecular tumour testing, but also guide patients to the right personalised treatment.’

As the Pfizer executive points out: ‘Cancer patients can’t wait, and the quality of their treatment should not depend on their postal code. We need to ensure all patients early access to personalised medicine and other innovative therapies. This matter needs to be a high priority on EU policy and national governments’ agendas.’

So what has Pfizer Oncology done to strengthen personalised cancer medicine in Europe?

Says Penk: ‘Pfizer Oncology is committed to advance science to deliver the right drug, at the right time to address each patient’s needs. We have already launched a targeted, personalised “breakthrough medicine” for the treatment of a specific group of lung cancer patients, and our research centres continue to develop therapies targeting oncogenic driver mutations and gene rearrangements in specific tumors. ‘

‘Personalised medicine,’ he continues, ‘is playing an important role for Pfizer Oncology as well as in future therapies in oncology. Besides our intensive research and drug development activities, we are working in EU member states with key stakeholders to raise awareness, improve technical capacity, and support multi-disciplinary collaborations to strengthen personalised cancer medicine.

‘On a broader level, we are partnering with European medical and scientific organisations to advance initiatives that can contribute to the uptake of personalised medicine. An example of a broader European activity is our work with medical societies like the EORTC to share our knowledge of molecular changes in tumours and biomarkers. We are currently supporting the EORTC’s biomarker-driven pan-European trial CREATE.

‘This programme is a successful cooperation between Pfizer Oncology and academic research. Here we are evaluating in parallel one of Pfizer’s targeted cancer medicines in six rare indications and with three biomarkers.

He concludes: ‘I am sure that these types of innovative collaborations – science driven, practical, and patient oriented – are the right ones to tap the full therapeutic potential of scientific breakthroughs in medicine and, in particular, for personalised medicine in oncology.

Dr Andreas Penk was talking to Brussels-based freelance journalist Tony Mallett

Author: Tony Mallett
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