The future of oncology: 3 predictions

By Alexander Pavlovic

Oncology, the treatment of cancer, has matured rapidly in the past several decades. From new brachytherapy applications to more targeted stereotactic radiotherapy and Big Pharma immunotherapy treatments, oncology is becoming more sophisticated, more focused and more potent – and is widely recognised as one of the most dynamic, innovative fields of modern medicine. But what does the future of oncology look like? We make 3 predictions: 

1.  Fresh trial tactics 

The clinical trial is a key area where the future of oncology promises exciting new change. 

Currently, oncological trials generally focus on particular types of cancer and the tissue they are affecting: breast, lung, prostate and so on. 

Sample sizes remain generally static, usually expanding as new treatments yield positive early results. But as unsuitable drugs are then ruled out later on, trial providers and CROs find they’ve spent unnecessary money and treated an unnecessary number of patients with an unsuccessful drug.  

More flexible, adaptive trial set-ups should help eliminate this wastage in future and shift trial focus from cancer type to underlying molecular markers such as gene mutations. 

Targeting biomarkers could mean transcending tissue-focused trials in the future, instead of combining patients with different types of cancer (but the same mutation) into so-called ‘basket’ trials. Multi-arm, multi-stage or MAMS trials could become more widespread, with multiple treatments being applied throughout the trial.  

And being more flexible with sample sizes methodology would allow trial providers to tweak and modify patient volume mid-trial to prevent unnecessary time and financial expenditure.  

More focused trials should in turn help a natural future shift away from the blunt approach of chemotherapy to more targeted subsets of treatment.  

2.  Sharper diagnostics 

Early cancer diagnosis is crucial for maximising the chances of survival.  

It’s why Professor Karol Sikora, a leading British oncological authority, is so worried about what he sees as the true deadly impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: lockdown and social distancing keeping early-stage cancer patients from getting checked up and diagnosed in time. 

 Harnessing technology to maximise early diagnosis should be a central objective for the future of oncology.  

What might this look like?  

  • Private at-home genetic tests, in a similar manner to current finger-prick blood diagnostics like Thriva, which reveal gene mutations and potential early warning signs for monitoring 
  • Telemedicine systems allowing the sharing of images with physicians remotely 
  • ‘Smart’ cameras and mirrors for dermatological or leukocorial warnings 

Patients should have the tools and technology at their disposal for the earliest possible detection of cancer – augmenting the efficacy of the oncological response as a result.  

3.  A quality-first approach beats the competition  

Oncology remains the most expensive treatment sector, with cancer costs higher than treatment costs for any other disease – and continuing to rise.  

Minimising spend while maximising efficiency will become an unavoidable demand of the increasingly pressurised high-innovation, high-price oncology space, making quality assurance, control and continuous improvement more significant than ever.  

Pharmaceutical, biotechnological, medical device and contract research organisations will need to leverage unprecedented insights into their quality landscapes, harnessing ‘Big Data’ and predictive quality analytics to pinpoint risks and opportunities and outstrip the competition. 

Business intelligence dashboards, swift and snappy digitised CAPA responses and aligned information streams will replace manual paper-based quality protocols – and quality managers will need to embed business-wide continuous improvement led by a ‘quality-first’ culture.  

Digital quality platforms will bring other benefits including:  

  • Engagement of stakeholders 
  • Simplifying adherence to increasingly stringent regulatory demands  
  • Single sources of truth for more nimble operations and faster routes to market 

The future of oncology, based on its recent past, has every reason to be bright and optimistic. But it is incumbent on businesses in the oncological space to continue to innovate - not only offering patients new and empowering opportunities for treatment and recovery but making themselves stronger, fitter and faster to thrive in what will surely become an even more competitive and innovative field. 

 

Further reading  

Learn more about the technological opportunities of life science quality management. 

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