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The Fight of Our Lives: Confronting the Unmet Need in Lung Cancer

Bonnie J. Addario
Supporting, funding, and protecting the research and development of new medicines and new treatments is more critical, now than ever, to provide better treatments and better outcomes to all cancer patients.
Medical advancements, over the past year, have been game changing for lung cancer patients. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, and now, we finally have a war on lung cancer.

In 2015, the FDA approved 7 new treatments for lung cancer patients, and 5 of these approvals came over a 2-month period. FDA programs, such as the Breakthrough Therapy, Accelerated Approval, Priority Review, and Fast Track designations, have allowed the expedited approval of life-saving lung cancer medicines that address unmet medical needs and provide clinical benefit to patients.

As we march into the era of personalized precision medicine and improved clinical trial design, genomic profiling allows us to target and treat specific cancer mutations, by identifying and prescribing the right drug to the right patient, at the right time. Another fantastic addition to our armamentarium is, immuno-oncology (I-O), a therapy that completely upends traditional treatment options using medicines to boost a patient’s own immune system to fight their disease.

Many of us now have a second chance because of the doctors, scientists, and medical researchers working on our behalf, to provide new medicines and treatments for lung cancer patients.

My Story

Eleven years ago, I was at the peak of my career as a CEO when my world came crashing down around me. After 14 hours of surgery, a battery of nurses and doctors, an army of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, blood clots, procedures, and tubes, I lost my right lung to cancer. I am a survivor.

Today, we not only have new treatments; we have new surgical approaches; new medicines, and skilled, passionate researchers fighting for people with lung cancer; we have information, patient resources, and collaboration among patients, researchers, clinicians, and physicians. It is finally the century of patient-driven lung cancer research!

Throughout my diagnosis and treatment, I realized the huge unmet need for patient resources and information on lung cancer. Survival gave me a new goal: address a deficiency in lung cancer healthcare resources and research initiatives.

In 2006, my family and I founded the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF), where we work with patients to support research and advocate for innovative lung cancer medicines and treatments. In 2008, we started another nonprofit, Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI), a global consortium dedicated to facilitating and driving research. We work with thousands of patients and families worldwide, providing free education and support programs, connecting patients with doctors and clinical trials, and funding innovative research where the need is greatest.

The Promise of Immunotherapy

Clinical research holds the key to discovering the causes of lung cancer, developing effective treatment options, and delivering those treatments to patients, in a timely manner. What can we do to predict lung cancer risk, detect the disease at early onset, and prevent it? Are there novel drug combinations to pre-empt and overcome cancer cells? How can we personalize and provide targeted treatment for each individual patient?

For the first time in decades, we have momentum and hope in the progress made with immunotherapy and companion drug trials. Timely approval and availability of breakthrough therapies allow more families to think of lung cancer survival in terms of years, not just months, and provide hope to make lung cancer a chronic, manageable disease by 2023. It can’t get more personalized than using your own immune system to fight your cancer!

Immunotherapy is a game-changer; a breakthrough that oncology desperately needs. Now, for the first time, we can begin to talk about long-lasting effects, even a cure. Unlike other therapies, immunotherapies afford a sustained, durable response that continues even after treatment is stopped—a first for diseases like lung cancer that have had poor prognoses.

This is a quantum leap forward—a moonshot. Before now, patients had limited options, especially after their disease progressed beyond the current standard of care therapies.

Unfortunately, immunotherapy does not work with every patient, every time. Approximately 70% to 80% of cancer patients do not respond to immunotherapy treatments, which may be an outcome of clinical trial design, including selection of  the appropriate patient population.

Among patients who do respond to immunotherapy, not all have dramatic, long-lasting effects. Several patients present with pseudoprogression, meaning the disease appears to get worse before it gets better. Physicians, patients, and their caregivers need to be prepared for this to avoid discontinuing a potentially effective therapeutic regimen.

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