Techspert

Advancements shaping the pharmaceutical oncology market

Written by Mariama Malang, Associate Project Manager, 10 August 2020

Oncology is such a crucial segment of the pharmaceutical world. With it dominating investment and R&D spending in the industry and a forecast that by 2022, global spending on therapeutic and supportive care for cancer will account for roughly 14% of total global medical expenditure, it’s a market that can’t be ignored. In this blog post we identify a few advancements we believe will have an impact on the burgeoning pharmaceutical oncology market.

 

A doctor touching an electronic medical record on a tablet.

 

Nuclear medicine

In the past, diagnosing internal body issues often required surgery, but nuclear medicine makes this unnecessary. Nuclear medicine is a specialised area of radiology that uses very small amounts of radioactive materials called radiopharmaceuticals, radionuclides or radiotracers to diagnose, evaluate or treat a wide range of conditions, including cancer.

Physicians can use nuclear medicine to find tumours, see how much the cancer has spread in the body and establish if treatment is working. To do this, a patient inhales, swallows, or is injected with a radiotracer which travels through the area being examined and emits rays which are detected by a camera and a computer to create images of the inside of the body. 

According to this report, oncology accounted for the largest market share in the radiation dose management market by application in 2019. The rising prevalence of cancer and the increasing need for advanced diagnostic technologies has resulted in the growing adoption of imaging techniques for cancer detection and treatment planning, thus driving the demand for radiation dose management software as well.

Because of the growth in this market and the many benefits of nuclear medicine in oncology, such as the images obtained by the technology providing information that other imaging procedures can’t, it’s not surprising to us that pharma companies are keen to discover more about it. In fact, we recently arranged interviews with radiation oncologists and nuclear medicine physicians for one of our customers who wanted to discuss the potential market fit of a novel radioligand therapy for prostate cancer. 

With so much happening with nuclear medicine in oncology, this is definitely a space to watch.

 

Digital opinion leaders 

Healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to social media to build their professional network, share ideas and information, offer and access professional and peer support, campaign on issues important to them and follow debates and developments around their work. Many of these digital opinion leaders (DOLs) have amassed a major following and have great influence across platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. 

In recent years, companies have realised the power that digital influencers can have on their brand and business, and pharmaceutical companies are following suit.

In line with the above, we’ve seen an increase in customers requesting the insights of oncology DOLs for their projects. For instance, a healthcare market research company developing a marketing campaign for their end client on CAR T-cell therapy and multiple myeloma asked us to connect them with EU5 (France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom) DOLs in the above fields who have a high online presence to help flesh out their strategy. 

Using our AI search technology, we found and connected the customer with the precise oncology DOLs they requested, enabling them to develop an expert-backed campaign for their end client.  

Being innovative in oncology isn’t just about drug development. If you’re not including DOLs in your pharma strategy, now may be a good time to start!

 

Epigenetics

According to this report, oncology is the leading revenue contributor in the global epigenetics market, accounting for approximately 70% of it. Simply put, epigenetics is the study of genetic effects that are not entirely encoded by the DNA sequence of an organism.

Epigenetic processes are natural and essential for the functioning of many organisms, however, odd occurrences can prove to be a source of several illnesses including different kinds of cancers. As such, epigenetics is a rapidly growing field of cancer research and the treatment targeting epigenetics is becoming an attractive strategy of cancer therapy.

Recently, various epi-drugs – drugs that target the epigenome (a multitude of chemical compounds that can tell the genome what to do) – have been developed and implicated in clinical use. And the use of epi-drugs alone, or in combination with other drugs or treatments, has shown compelling outcomes.

In line with the increasing activity in the field, last month, we supported a strategy consulting firm conducting market research on cancer epigenetics by connecting them with subject matter experts. The consultancy engaged with senior pharma professionals that conduct epigenetics drug and/or biomarker discovery and/or development research in oncology, enabling them to enhance their strategy and provide their end client with expert-backed strategic advice.

The progress being made in the oncology epigenetics space is exciting and shows great promise for cancer treatment. 

 

Immunotherapy

Over the past decade, cancer immunotherapy – also known as immuno-oncology – has emerged as a novel and significant approach to cancer treatment which uses the power of the body’s own immune system to find and attack cancer cells. There are different types of immunotherapy (some types are also a targeted therapy, which we discuss in the next section) and each one uses the immune system in a different way. 

The main types of immunotherapy include:

  • Checkpoint inhibitors: These drugs block proteins, called checkpoints, that stop the immune system from attacking cancer cells. This allows immune cells called T cells to find and attack tumours.
  • Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy: This therapy works by taking T cells from a patient’s blood, inserting the CAR gene (a special receptor that binds to a certain protein on the patient’s cancer cells) into the T cells to make CAR T-cells, growing large numbers of these new CAR T-cells in the laboratory and infusing these genetically changed cells which can now recognise and attack cancer cells back into the patient.
  • Cytokines: This treatment uses cytokines (small proteins that carry messages between cells) to stimulate the immune cells to attack cancer. The two main types of cytokines used to treat cancer are interleukins and interferons.
  • Immunomodulators: This group of drugs generally boosts parts of the immune system to treat certain types of cancer. Immunomodulators can function in many ways, including working on the immune system directly by turning down some proteins and turning up others.
  • Cancer vaccines: Cancer treatment vaccines, also called therapeutic vaccines, can help teach the immune system how to identify cancer cells so that it can recognise and eliminate them. Research in this area is at an early stage and vaccines are mainly available as part of clinical trials.
  • Oncolytic viruses: This treatment uses viruses that have been modified in a lab to infect and destroy cancer cells. 

With immunotherapy being such an important area in oncology, we’ve supported various customers on the topic, however, one particular case springs to mind.

A strategy consultancy working on a CAR T-cell therapy research project asked us to connect them with haematologist-oncologists who treat DLBCL (diffuse large B-cell lymphoma) patients. Before partnering with us, the consultancy had struggled for weeks to find the specific experts they needed insights from. Thanks to our AI-powered search technology, we swiftly sourced and connected the consultancy with precision-matched haematologist-oncologists, enabling them to make up for weeks of lost time and obtain the specialist insights they needed.

Based on the amount of activity happening in immunotherapy, we have no doubt that this area will continue to have a powerful impact on oncology. 

 

Targeted therapy

Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that act by blocking essential biochemical pathways or mutant proteins that are required for tumour cell growth and survival. There are many types of targeted therapies, and some fit into more than one category, making things a bit confusing. For example, a monoclonal antibody may also block cancer cell growth. So, it may also be called a cancer growth inhibitor. To add further confusion, some types of targeted therapy are also an immunotherapy.

To try and simplify things, we’ve identified three widely known examples of targeted therapy:

  • Angiogenesis inhibitors: Tumours need a blood supply to survive, so, angiogenesis inhibitors block the formation of new blood vessels, making it difficult for a tumour to develop the network of blood vessels it needs to get a blood supply.
  • Cancer growth inhibitors: Also known as cancer growth blockers, this is a biological treatment for cancer that blocks the growth factors that allow cancer cells to grow and multiply.
  • Monoclonal antibodies (MABs): These are laboratory-produced versions of immune system proteins that block a specific target on the outside of cancer cells. The target might also be in the area around the cancer. Some MABs have an effect on the immune system. So, as well as being a targeted cancer drug, they are also immunotherapy.

With the potential that targeted therapies hold, many pharma companies are eager to deepen their understanding of them. Earlier this year, a customer conducting drug discovery research needed to engage with lab directors or lab managers experienced in working with MABs. We sourced the specialists and connected them with the customer, enabling them to get the information they needed for their discovery research.

With the range of targeted therapies being researched and developed, this type of treatment looks like it will have an impact in the oncology market for years to come. 

 

Digital health 

Digital health, the use of telecommunication and virtual technology to deliver healthcare outside traditional medical facilities, is playing an increasingly vital role in oncology. Including, tailoring prescriptions to specific needs, improving cancer diagnostics and treatment, and facilitating general patient care.

The booming digital healthcare landscape includes products such as wearable medical devices, remote patient monitoring, electronic health records, medication adherence apps, biometric sensors, smartphone apps and telemedicine. To learn more about some of these technologies, have a look at a blog post we published earlier this year on 20 Healthcare tech developments to watch in 2020

It’s difficult to keep up with the new oncology digital health products being released because there are so many! In fact, we recently partnered with a digital health company seeking to connect with key opinion leaders (KOLs) working in the oncology digital health space so they could use their specialist industry knowledge to inform one of their projects.

Some products already in the market that have caught our eye include:

  • Mammosphere, a breast imaging and cancer prevention application that lets patients digitally transfer records to and from healthcare providers at the click of a button.
  • Untire, an app that provides cancer patients and survivors with the tools to cope with extreme fatigue.
  • Careology Professional™, a software for clinicians to remotely monitor their cancer patients’ health in real-time.
  • Savor Health, a digital health platform delivering prescriptive nutrition interventions to cancer patients. 

The above are just a handful of examples, but they give an idea of the range of the oncology digital health products out there. And it looks like there’s no slowing down in this space. 

 

Artificial intelligence

When it comes to AI, we may be a little biased. After all, we’ve developed AI-driven search technology to find world-leading experts. But this isn’t about us, it’s about the development of AI in oncology, which has the potential to affect various areas of cancer therapy. Such as improve the accuracy and speed of diagnosis, aid clinical decision-making, accelerate drug discovery and lead to better health outcomes.

One area that has seen great progress is diagnostics. For instance:

  • The Transpara system: Developed by ScreenPoint Medical, uses AI for early breast cancer detection and diagnosis.
  • Veye Chest: Created by Aidence, is an AI system that helps radiologists improve their reporting in the treatment of lung cancer.
  • The Galen Platform: Built by Ibex Medical Analytics, this AI-powered technology is used to support pathologists in making diagnostic decisions.

We’re yet to have a customer project on AI in oncology but with the growing interest in this field, something tells us it may happen soon. Although this area is very new and various elements are being explored, it holds great potential to impact the oncology space.

 

And that brings us to the end of our blog post on the advancements we believe are shaping the pharmaceutical oncology market. From the few examples above, there’s no denying that oncology is an innovative space, pushing the boundaries to make major breakthroughs. To recap, you should keep an eye on nuclear medicine, digital opinion leaders, epigenetics, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, digital health and AI – we certainly are!

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Topics: Industry insight