Our dedicated squad of oncology enthusiasts, HRW OR:BIT (Oncology Research : Business Intelligence Team), focus predominantly on cancer-related projects; and most members of our global team have experience in the oncology space.

In the new year, and following World Cancer Day, we have been thinking about what drew us into the world of oncology in the first place – and what we have to look forward to in the new year.

Below, our members of the OR:BIT team tell us what sparked their interest in oncology research, and what they hope to see in this rapidly evolving area in the near future:

Vincent Huart (Senior Research Executive, UK):

“I was originally interested in oncology through my work as an in-vitro pharmacologist in the melanoma team, on my industrial placement year at university. Since then, I have had a continuous interest in oncology – particularly brain tumours and pancreatic cancer, after losing close relatives to these disease types. Most recently, I’ve been involved in MR in the CAR-T space, working to understand how this novel and innovative approach will be adopted for third line DLBCL patients, and what challenges may arise as a result. As the approach is still relatively new, it will be important to understand how HCPs perceive this type of therapy as adoption begins. As the race continues in developing new CAR-T products, I am very interested in seeing how this advancement in cancer treatment unfolds this coming year.”

Jo McDonald (Research Director, UK and Head of OR:BIT):

“Having lost my mum to cancer in 2008, it strengthened my resolve to try and help improve the lives of patients and their carers in any way I could. I have always been involved in oncology research studies over the years, but when the opportunity arose to move client-side to GSK to help launch an asset in two new indications, I jumped at the chance. This allowed me to work more closely with R&D, and the medics involved in the trials for these medications – and see how these functions work alongside commercial teams to bring an asset to market. I continue to enjoy the balance between science and marketing in oncology, and leading HRW OR:BIT, our specialist oncology team, allows me to get involved in a variety of studies. This ranges from supporting clients in the design of clinical trials; to understanding the key patient types for a brand at launch; to tracking awareness, usage and behaviour once in market. Every day is different in oncology, and the pace of change is sometimes quite scary with new developments happening on a weekly, if not daily basis.

The Immuno-Oncology (IO) field has come a long way in the last few years, and we now stand on the cusp of further changes. It is a highly competitive space for pharma companies who launched, or are launching, IO’s; and probably even harder for patients and physicians as treatment choices become more complex. As clinical differentiation becomes harder, non-clinical differentiators across tumour indications will play an even greater role, and pharma will have to get even better at marketing the benefits of their drugs. In addition, despite all these choices, many patients with difficult-to-treat cancers still don’t fully benefit from IO therapies, leaving them with limited treatment options. We are starting to see more clinical trial programs where pharma companies are joining forces to co-develop IO combinations. Just recently, GSK and Merck KGaA announced they are entering a global strategic alliance to jointly develop and commercialise an investigational bi-functional fusion protein immunotherapy, designed to simultaneously target two immuno-suppressive pathways: transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), and an anti-programme cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1), that are commonly used by cancer cells to evade the immune system. We’ll be watching with keen interest as this exciting area progresses!”

Kirsty Page (Associate Director, UK):

“I have always had a passion to work in the oncology space at HRW, driven by an academic interest in the complex and evolving science behind the many different tumour types and treatments, but particularly because I am extremely passionate about patient research. There is no typical oncology journey for patients; living with cancer is a very different proposition for all who are given this diagnosis. Having the opportunity to get close to a multitude of different patients, to learn about their experiences and hear first-hand about their challenges and hopes surrounding living with, or dying from, cancer is inspirational. OR:BIT offers me the opportunity to work in a therapy area that is increasingly able to offer more and more for patients, not just in terms of survival benefits, but also offering an improved quality of life, an advantage often so fundamental to helping motivate patients to manage and live with a disease that can often turn their lives and the lives of loved ones upside down.

I am looking forward to seeing how the oncology ‘patient experience’ will change in the future with the expansion of IO therapies (existing drugs and new entrants), and new CAR-T options for example, and getting to the core of what new developments such as these mean in the real world. The weight of patient expectation as they progress down the lines of therapy, in terms of what is potentially achievable will also be an interesting dynamic to monitor, as IO and CAR-T in particular, do not guarantee a response.”

Lisa Logan (Research Director, US):

“I was originally interested in oncology market research as it perfectly combined my two interests of psychology (why people do the things they do) and biology (the science behind the medicine), but the longer I’m in it, the more fascinating it becomes. Each tumour type has its own complexities and challenges, and no two patient types are alike. And with the advances we have seen in oncology research in the last five years, I love that I’m continuously learning – the advancements in medicine and what we are doing to fight cancer never stop.

This year I’m most looking forward to seeing what becomes of all the pharma/biotech mergers that we saw come together at the end of last year – Tesaro, Celgene, Loxo – how many advances will we see in the research and in the treatment of patients – I’m very excited to find out!”

Dana Hill (Research Executive, US):

“I’ve always had a passion for healthcare, and the drive to take on the biggest challenges we face in medicine today. To me, cancer is just that – it is an incredibly difficult disease for physicians to treat, and an especially difficult diagnosis for patients and loved ones to receive, no matter what age. I joined OR:BIT as I am enthusiastic to partner with a team of people who are highly motivated to contribute to fighting this disease and improve outcomes for patients worldwide.

As advancement continues to focus on acute understanding of tumours and developing targeted therapies that attack based on mutational status, or work to harness the body’s immune system, I’m increasingly curious to understand how the growth in options will impact those traditional agents – chemotherapy. With a number of options available and increasing their breadth with indications and trials in new tumour types and combinations, the market (that can never be truly saturated without a cure) is becoming increasingly crowded. These targeted agents continue to prove their worth among both their intended audiences, as well as all-comers. However, chemotherapy still remains a staple of care both alone and in combination with other cytotoxic or targeted therapies. Especially as these agents move forward in terms of lines of therapies, I’m curious to see how oncologists weigh up their treatment options as the roles of these medications evolve.”

Emily Glass (Senior Research Executive, UK):

“Since studying immunology at university, I have been fascinated by oncology and how cells interact within different types of disease. Having been involved in several oncology projects and learning to understand how the likes of immunology and CAR-T are making the oncology space even more competitive, OR:BIT gives me the opportunity to explore not only the changes in the market place, but also the shifts we are seeing in the doctor-patient relationship thanks to more personalised care. New products are revolutionising the oncology field as we find molecular markers that can specifically target a patient’s tumour, and we are seeing a plethora of new drugs being approved, which would have been incomprehensible only a few years ago. I am looking forward to seeing how the doctor-patient relationship will continue to evolve over time as a result of these new developments.”

Fenna Gloggner (Head of Client Relations, Switzerland):

“Becoming a member of the HRW OR:BIT team has been a fascinating experience: there are few, if any, areas in healthcare today where as much progress has been made in such a short space of time as there has been in oncology today. Working in this field as much as we do at HRW, really feels like being at the cutting edge of medical science. It’s a privilege to be able to support new products that fundamentally change the course of disease and to help shape their development, brand strategy and customer communications.

As member of OR:BIT, I have also had the opportunity to attend congresses like ASCO and ESMO and to listen to the latest scientific debates first hand. While I very much enjoy learning about the science of oncology, a particular interest of mine are the societal implications that the newest new approaches, including CAR-T, will have. It will be interesting to observe how pharma will work with regulatory authorities and the different HTA and reimbursement bodies to resolve the inherent tension between high-cost personalised healthcare and broad patient access to innovative new cancer treatments.”

To find out more, please contact our team on: HRW-ORBIT@hrwhealthcare.com

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