This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on July 14, 2021
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has severely impacted the cancer community. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported earlier this year that one in three European countries had experienced disrupted cancer services during the pandemic.1
A myriad of factors – such as travel restrictions, fear of contracting the virus at hospitals, and overburdened healthcare systems – has led to delays in cancer screening, urgent referrals and treatment, with a significant backlog of patients now requiring the resumption of normal care. Throughout Europe, countries have published startling figures. The number of cancer diagnoses in the Netherlands and Belgium dropped 30-40% in their first 2020 lockdown,1 and in the UK, more than one in five people living with cancer experienced disruption to their treatment or care.2 Our own research confirmed that nearly two-thirds of oncologists in the EU4 and UK reported a reduced number of cancer diagnoses,3 and more than 40% of their cancer patients experienced delayed treatment.3
At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated changes that we might want to keep longer term. The rapid adoption of digital ways to connect, the decentralization of cancer care into the community, the use of oral therapies in home-based settings, and greater mental health awareness immediately spring to mind.
So, how can the pharmaceutical industry play its part in addressing the cancer patient backlog so that they don’t become the next casualties of the pandemic, while supporting the cancer community to adjust to our ‘new world’? Here are six thought-starters, and importantly, they’re ideas we’re exploring at Takeda too:
Create disease awareness and education: We can produce campaigns that encourage people to return to screening services, see their doctor about potential symptoms or missed routine cancer checks, and resume treatment
Build capacity: Cancer services were already overstretched before the pandemic and will likely come under additional pressure as they recover. Our industry has the potential to help with the adoption of pioneering workforce utilization models to alleviate the resource burden
Generate evidence for health systems: As we emerge from the pandemic and vaccines are rolled out, we need to provide better data on patient journey bottlenecks, capacity stresses and on the services required to remove barriers to effective treatment
Enhance remote communications: Convenience, flexibility, inclusivity, and cooperation are just some of the reasons why patients and doctors value virtual connectivity, such as telephone and web-based interactions. While there are downsides too, we have an opportunity to innovate digital solutions and transform the remote consultation
View patient support holistically: We have seen the mental strain caused by COVID-19, with heightened fear and anxiety reported amongst people living with cancer. It’s essential that we place greater focus on supporting patients with practical, financial, emotional and wellbeing services, as well as information directly relating to their treatment
Drive sustainable and timely access to medicines: The pandemic has thrust the power of healthcare collaboration into the spotlight. We must continue to show the same willingness to partner and engage in open dialogue so that innovative therapies, in areas of high unmet needs, become available for cancer patients who need them
The pharmaceutical industry has risen magnificently to defeating COVID-19 in terms of treatment and vaccines development. As we start to see control of the virus happening across Europe and Canada, I am confident that we can overcome our next big challenge in helping to get cancer care back on track. The time to act is now. Are you with me?
- WHO. Statement – Catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on cancer care. 4 February 2021. Available at: https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/statements/2021/statement-catastrophic-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer-care Last accessed: July 2021
- Macmillan Cancer Support. The forgotten ‘C’? The impact of COVID-19 on cancer care. October 2020. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/assets/forgotten-c-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer-care.pdf Last accessed: July 2021
- IQVIA. Report: Winning strategies for Oncology in the New Normal – A conversation between Takeda and IQVIA Thought Leadership Team. 13 April 2021