Collaboration can help us beat cancer

Dr Mike Capaldi of ''Edinburgh BioQuarter. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Dr Mike Capaldi of ''Edinburgh BioQuarter. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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CLINICIANS and businesses working together, says Mike Capaldi.

Cancer is an area with no shortage of statistics.

But one that struck me was published earlier this year by Cancer Research UK which highlighted the real need for innovation. From now on, one in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives, mostly because the UK population is living longer and the risk increases with age. Yet half of the people diagnosed will survive their cancer for more than ten years.

So, because we are living longer with cancer, treatments need to be better to improve our quality of life, prevent recurrence and minimise the economic impact of the disease.

Edinburgh BioQuarter was thrilled to help bring world oncology leaders together in Edinburgh recently to discuss new and better ways of discovering and developing more effective cancer treatments.

There is now a greater willingness than ever for academics and industrialists to work together on this challenging issue.

The Horizons in Cancer Drug Discovery Conference attracted key leaders from a range of different organisations including international pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, academics and clinicians working at the leading edge of cancer discovery science and innovative patient treatments, as well as venture capital investors. Everyone was asking the same question: “How do we get better cancer treatments onto the market – quicker?”

The exciting thing is, there’s no shortage of good ideas. The challenging thing is that it takes a long time – over ten years – to bring a good idea out of the laboratory and into the market. Importantly, it is acknowledged that no single organisation, company, laboratory or technology has all the answers – true innovation will come from collaborating across different disciplines and different organisations.

Oncology is a prime example of the need to innovate by adopting a collaborative approach. New technology platforms, not necessarily related to cancer research, can throw up new ways to look for new drugs. Modern genomics can identify new causes of cancer or can subdivide existing cancers (such as “breast” cancer) into several different sub-types, each requiring a different approach for optimal treatment.

In healthcare, we increasingly talk about “personalised” or “precision” medicine. Oncology is one area of medicine where this could have a huge effect.

Cancer is such a complex collection of diseases that “one size does not fit all”. So we are moving away from standard treatments like chemotherapy to a position where we are able to give patients the treatment that will best help their condition based on the specific characteristics of their disease. This is recognised as the new way to deliver healthcare – but the challenge is to develop and deliver those treatments quickly, following a rigorous process whilst minimising cost and waste, ensuring they are efficacious and appropriate, but also that they will be affordable.

One particularly exciting recent development in treating cancer is immunotherapy – stimulating the body’s own immune system to recognise the tumour as “foreign” and attack it. Clinical results have been breathtaking with some patients, seemingly at the end of the road, going into full remission having received some of the latest immunotherapies currently in clinical trials. There is a real feeling that, after 40 years, we are entering a new era in cancer treatment.

And it’s from academic laboratories and research institutes where many of these new innovations in healthcare will start. By harnessing this innovation engine, pharma can supercharge their drug discovery and development processes. This is the only way to move away from traditional ways of working and thinking and to achieve efficacious and cost-effective long term solutions to tackle our most serious healthcare issues

This type of collaboration is central to everything we hold dear here at Edinburgh BioQuarter. The more we can get scientists working with clinicians and the more we can get industry involved in these types of collaboration, the more likely we are to see new innovative approaches that will stop cancer dead in its tracks rather than just treating symptoms or extending lives by a few of years. After all, at least 50 per cent of us are likely to have a strong personal interest at some point in our lives.

• Dr Mike Capaldi is director of commercialisation, Edinburgh BioQuarter www.edinburghbioquarter.com

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