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AstraZeneca and other lung cancer specialists join together to emphasize early screenings

If there is one strong message Camille Hertzka, AstraZeneca vice president and head of oncology, U.S. medical, wants people to take away from lung cancer awareness supergroup The Lung Ambition Alliance’s message, it’s “screenings.”

Composed of AZ, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, the Global Lung Cancer Coalition and Guardant Health oncology, the alliance, which was founded in 2019, is on a mission to bring earlier screenings, innovative medicine, improved quality of care and, of course, better outcomes to lung cancer patients.

In Teligent’s case, the company is recalling two lots of topical lidocaine solution after companies testing the drug received superpotent results at the nine-month and 18-month stability time points. The company faced similar problems in September, and it had a number of run-ins with the FDA prior to that.
Hertzka describes it as “the more the merrier” when it comes to increasing awareness—a full collaboration with the oncology community as well as different groups and networks with the goal of reaching and educating those who are not yet patients on the importance of lung cancer screens.

“When you look at what we can leverage with The Lung Ambition Alliance, the number of activities that this group is doing, it’s actually quite impressive. So as awareness can be done through different campaigns, there’s also transforming languages in something that is accessible for patients,” she said.

One project which focuses on multiple cancers and the importance of keeping up screening during the pandemic was AZ’s “New Normal, Same Cancer” campaign that Hertzka estimates reached 1.4 billion people across the world.

To help bring up survival rates, as of Jan. 1, 2022, new recommendations by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowers the bottom of the age range from 55 to 50. The new guidelines include “individuals ages 50 to 80 years who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.” It is estimated that this change will nearly double the number of individuals eligible for screening and will subsequently help save lives.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, as with almost all healthcare, inequalities loom large.

“We know that patients who are medically underserved are usually not the first ones to be screened,” Hertzka said. “This is one area where we need to do something—the awareness needs to be in general, but for some communities, it’s also important to get access to them to be able to increase the awareness.”

Hertzka says that the Lung Ambition Alliance together with other partnerships are working to increase awareness in these communities with the message that lung cancer isn’t a death sentence, but it needs to be acted upon early.

This message was emphasized not only at last month’s virtual event for health system leaders—AmbitioUS 2021: All Systems Go! – Changing the Pace of Progress in Lung Cancer Screening and Diagnosis, hosted by the alliance, where Hertzka gave the closing remarks—but also in the American Lung Association’s State of Lung Cancer report.

“The goals that we have set ourselves within the Lung Ambition Alliance is that we want to double the five year survival rates by 2025,” she said.

AstraZeneca has a huge stake in oncology drugs, especially when it comes to lung cancer, with its top sellers EGFR inhibitor Tagrisso, which brings in annual sales north of $4 billion a year, and PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi, which is making around half that. Both drugs are used to treat non-small cell lung cancer.