August 1 marks World Lung Cancer Day. Under normal circumstances, this would be an opportunity to raise awareness of a disease that accounts for nearly one in five cancer deaths globally1 while sharing information about risk factors and highlighting the importance of early detection.
Yet, these are anything but normal circumstances. World Lung Cancer Day is still an important opportunity to raise awareness of the disease, but also gives us a chance to reflect on a new call to action: supporting people living with lung cancer in new and innovative ways during a worldwide pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought an urgent level of awareness to how vulnerable members of the cancer community currently are, with rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality being significantly higher among people who are living with lung cancer.2 This World Lung Cancer Day is a reminder that we also need innovative solutions and change to provide members of this community with the level of care they need and deserve.
Fortunately, I have seen many of my colleagues responding to this climate of crisis with renewed commitment and focus. When I joined the team at Jazz Pharmaceuticals in June, my arrival coincided with an important milestone: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s accelerated approval of our new treatment for adult patients with metastatic small cell lung cancer (SCLC) with disease progression on or after platinum-based chemotherapy.
SCLC is an aggressive cancer that is often diagnosed once it has already reached advanced, metastatic stages – limiting the role of traditional treatment options and generally leading to worse outcomes than other types of lung cancers. While many patients initially respond to chemotherapy, the majority go on to experience a relapse of their cancer that is resistant to treatment.3 For these reasons, the approval of our treatment represented an important and much-needed option.
But it also represented something more. In our industry, an approval of a new medicine is always something to celebrate. It can mark a life-changing advance for people living with disease and their families and the culmination of the hard work and innovation happening behind the scenes. Yet even as a newcomer at Jazz, I could tell that the enthusiasm I was seeing around the approval – the first of the company’s in the solid tumor space – stood for new hope and positive momentum at a time when patients with lung cancer are facing unprecedented challenges in their treatment and care.
Coupled with this excitement to provide an important option for patients, the team at Jazz has remained dedicated to our purpose of innovating to transform the lives of patients. This mindset of innovation and agility has enabled our teams to continue engaging with, and meeting the educational needs of, healthcare professionals (HCPs) despite the challenges of the pandemic. Jazz has conducted formal training on effective virtual communication with our field force, implemented new platforms and technologies to engage with HCPs virtually, and is using video platforms to enable the continuation of clinical trials in a virtual setting. We have also adapted to the modified method of scientific exchange by presenting our research with global healthcare leaders at virtual medical congresses and conventions. Additionally, we’ve updated product websites and curated email templates to create opportunities for our sales representatives to share information with HCPs quickly and efficiently, allowing us to continue to expand our educational efforts, despite face-to-face interaction limitations created by COVID-19. HCPs are critical members of the care teams supporting people living with lung cancer and we believe that continuing to provide them with the latest information ultimately is best for patient care.
The health and safety of our colleagues is also of the utmost importance during these unprecedented times. Jazz continues to follow World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, as well as national or local guidelines around the world. We are allowing our field force to conduct live customer visits only if it is deemed safe by local guidance and they feel safe to do so personally. Jazz is also providing personal protective equipment – such as face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer – to all field personnel. In areas where face-to-face interactions are resuming, this has allowed our sales representatives and HCPs to engage in a safe manner, protecting them as well as the patients they serve.
Nearly everyone I know who works in healthcare shares the desire to make a meaningful impact in patients’ lives. While it may feel like the stakes are higher than ever, this World Lung Cancer Day is a reminder that the opportunity for innovation has never been more profound.
I encourage all of my colleagues at Jazz and across the industry to continue to seek new and inventive ways to support lung cancer patients during the COVID era. There is much more to do. I’m proud to be part of a team living into our purpose and rising to the challenge of these times with creativity, compassion and a renewed commitment to improving the health and well-being of the most vulnerable cancer patients – and ready to take on the work ahead.
1Lung cancer. (2019, June 19). Retrieved July 2020, from https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/lung-cancer.
2Mortality unexpectedly high among people with lung cancer, COVID-19. (2020, April 28). Retrieved from https://www.healio.com/news/hematology-oncology/20200428/mortality-unexpectedly-high-among-people-with-lung-cancer-covid19.
3American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/small-cell-lung-cancer/about/what-is-small-cell-lung-cancer.html. Retrieved July 2020.
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