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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the process of scientific development to the forefront of public discussion, with heightened awareness of the important steps undertaken to bring new, innovative treatments to the people who need them. The collaborative effort that has brought new vaccines to the general public in record time is nothing short of remarkable. The work, dedication, and insight of scientists has generated similar scientific advances in other areas but, unlike COVID-19 which saw rapid and universal access to new vaccines and treatments, this is not the case for the majority of patients living with conditions with high unmet needs who are waiting for new treatment options.
One example of a patient population with high unmet needs are those living with kidney cancer. With over 400,000 people diagnosed with kidney cancer globally each year, of which about 90% are diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (RCC),1,2 access to new therapies is critical. If detected in the early stages, the five-year survival rate is high, but for patients living with advanced or late-stage metastatic RCC, the survival rate is much lower, around 12%, with no identified cure for this disease.3,4
The treatment landscape for advanced renal cell carcinoma (aRCC) has evolved rapidly over the last two decades as major pathways involved in its pathogenesis have become clear. Strides have been made, with innovative new treatments being developed to not only improve outcomes for patients but also ensure that extension of life does not come at the expense of quality of life.
Innovation, however, can be disruptive. Improvements in care require change which can pose new challenges for European health systems already under considerable pressure. To realize the full potential of novel oncology therapies and unlock the outcomes that matter most to patients, efforts need to be made to secure safe, sustainable and affordable access everywhere across Europe.
The European Commission’s Beating Cancer plan is an important step forward in addressing uneven access to treatment and care. Formally launched in February 2021, it outlines actions to enable health systems to become more robust, to pool data, expertise and resources, and to tackle inequalities across the entire disease pathway.5 Similarly, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 2020 report highlights policies and practices adopted by countries to address identified challenges to managing oncology medicines, such as pricing of treatments with multiple indications or combination regimens, real-world evidence and data infrastructures, and reimbursement disparities.6
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown what can really be achieved in the global pursuit of improved health outcomes. It has also put collaboration and partnerships at the heart of solutions. It will be important to review how these achievements may be able translate to other therapy areas and aspects of the approval and reimbursement process to make new treatments a reality for patients more efficiently.
For people diagnosed with aRCC who are facing a poor five-year survival rate3, the need for therapeutic options that extend survival and improve quality of life is urgent. While more remains to be done, it is clear that a multi-stakeholder approach is key to identifying challenges and unlocking solutions across the entire health ecosystem, as many patient populations, such as those living with aRCC, simply cannot wait.