Despite its many forms and varied outcomes, cancer has stubbornly embedded itself as a singular entity in the public’s consciousness: the amorphous and universally feared ‘Big C’.
In 1971, the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon, famously declared his war on this singular, recalcitrant enemy, asking congress for the “same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon” to beat cancer.
Decades later, in a twist of presidential fate, 92-year old fellow US President Jimmy Carter received his all clear from melanoma thanks in part to an entirely new way to treat the Big C.
This new treatment - immuno-oncology (IO) - is revolutionising cancer care. Immune-based drugs are controlling advanced cancers in a way that’s never before been possible. IO is fast becoming a lifeline to thousands of cancer patients, and has reformed our expectations and hopes for what’s possible in treating cancer.
The science of ‘omics’ - genomics, proteomics, metabolomics - has already taught us that the Big C is far from a singular entity, more like thousands of individual diseases caused by a myriad of cellular glitches that make normal cells ‘go rogue’ and grow unchecked. Fantastic successes with IO have given tantalizing glimpses into how the power of the immune system can be unleashed to recognise and kill such rogue cancer cells.
Yet IO is still a story of two extremes.
At one end of the spectrum comes the unprecedented successes - the Supersurvivors - those who defy long-embedded prognostic expectations, whose tumours melt away to nothing thanks to the near-miraculous effects of IO.
Though their numbers are steadily increasing with every new IO approval, the Supersurvivors remain the lucky outliers.
For every patient who has a Supersurvivor response there’s a handful of those who don’t respond at all. And there’s still no reliable way to predict this.
For those on the frontline of treating cancer, IO brings a whole new level of excitement and opportunity, but also unprecedented complexity and uncertainty. And for patients, the practicalities of their cancer treatment have changed. IO is shifting the fundamental realities of cancer treatment. Scans look different. Treatment schedules are unlike those of other treatments. And side effects can range from the benign to the devastating.
IO heralds a new age for the Big C. Not just a new age, but an entirely new vision. New treatment standards require new communication standards.
In short, in the era of IO, the Big C is Big Communication.
Our latest white paper explores how we can help to unleash the true potential of IO through such Big Communication thinking.
The next wave of IO discovery will focus on identifying patients in whom these treatments work best; discovering mechanisms of resistance that can be overcome; and developing better means of reducing side effects. Our white paper shows how a corresponding wave of Big Communication will be essential to focus on cutting through the complexity that IO brings.
This clarity afforded through Big Communication could help to improve outcomes for many more patients. On the flip-side, there’s a real danger of letting patients down if we don’t do more to support the unprecedented clinical advances with fit-for-purpose communications strategies.
This means working with others to define a new lexicon for cancer care; helping healthcare professionals stay on top of the deluge of new data and insights; and lifting the veil on the IO field for patients.
Our white paper looks at how Big Communication in IO affects every patient touchpoint - from clinical trial engagement to conversations about prognosis and side effect education. Moreover, it re-defines how we talk to healthcare professionals and raises the need for a new value proposition beyond basic unit cost.
IO has broken the mould. It’s changed the conversation. It moves us yet further away from the tumour-centric view of cancer treatment to one that co-opts a patient’s own immune cells to create living drugs that respond to rogue cancer cells anywhere in the body.
We must correspondingly break the mould of communication in cancer. Big Communication is a necessity, not an option.
Download the white paper here.