‘Personalized medicine transcends the disease-specific approach’

‘Personalized medicine transcends the disease-specific approach’

FT3 member Ivica Belina, President of the Coalition of Associations in Healthcare, says a multistakeholder approach is essential in order to foster a culture of personalized medicine in healthcare

Tell me about yourself?

Ivica Belina – KUZ

I’m the president of Coalition of Association in Healthcare, a national umbrella patient organization in Croatia, which gathers over 30 patient organizations in different disease areas. The organization was founded in 2002 by a group of enthusiasts who wanted to unify and amplify the voice of patients in Croatia. The main activities of the organization are the protection and promotion of patient’s rights, but also raising awareness of patient’s obligations in the healthcare system, promotion of the active role of patients in the healthcare system and in their own treatment, and public policy in healthcare.

In the past four years we have also established a few informal platforms of patient organizations in the field of rare diseases, patients treated with biologic therapy and oncology. My own background is related to work in different civil organizations, mainly focused on people with disabilities, and by education I’m an educational rehabilitator (special needs teacher). 

What does personalized medicine mean to you?

I’m guided by the idea that we should treat the person, and not the disease. By that I mean that when a person becomes sick or afflicted with the disease or condition, the whole life of that person is influenced by this, and the entire ecosystem of that person is influenced to the same extent. So I believe that we should approach the patient as a whole, and provide all the necessary levels of support. Of course, I deeply understand the individual differences in the disease in different patients and the way they cope with the disease, and the only way to approach this is through personalized medicine.

Why do you believe this topic is important as a member of a patient organization?

The meaning of personalized medicine is important to me, because if I was ever to become a patient, I could get much more actively involved in the treatment and management of my disease, get much more information on my disease, codecide on my treatment and care programs, achieve better quality of life, help other patients with my data, information and experience, achieve better and closer relationship with my treatment and care providers, get involved in clinical trials… I believe that this is important to all patients. 

Why is your organization interested in participating in this multi-stakeholder collaboration? What has your organization been doing in this space?

My organization is always involved in the dialogues between different stakeholders in healthcare, we strive to have different perspectives on problems in healthcare, and raise topics that are not present in the public space. We see the personalized approach as the only way to improve treatment outcomes and quality of life of patients in the existing healthcare environment, but also better working conditions for the people who are professionally involved in healthcare.  To achieve this, we need to transcend medicine and the individual roles of the different healthcare stakeholders, and make the leap forward together. Actually, I don’t believe that any positive change is possible without a multistakeholder approach. 

What makes this collaboration unique?

The topic of personalized medicine transcends the disease-specific approach, positions of different stakeholders in healthcare and local/national/regional interests. Since this is such a new area, we all need to find a way to bring it to life, so it would become standard in healthcare. The special thing about this collaboration is that everyone involved is there from the start, so no one feels like he/she has been handed with already developed solutions, we are creating them together. Along the way, we are also detecting some problems and issues, but also the ways to solve them. For me, the uniqueness and strength of this collaboration is in so many different individualities working together, challenging themselves and everybody else in an attempt to make personalized medicine our everyday reality. 


‘This is a unique collaboration’

‘This is a unique collaboration’

Tanya Knott, Director, SJK Foundation, spoke to Danielle Barron about her vision of personalized medicine and the personal tragedy that drives her to make it a reality.

Tanya Knott – Sarah Jennifer Knott Foundation

Tell us more about you 

I am the founder and director of the Sarah Jennifer Knott Foundation. I established the foundation with family and friends in 2016 following the death of my sister Sarah aged 31 from cancer of unknown primary also known as CUP. The aim of the foundation is to raise awareness, education and research into CUP. This is an unusual type of cancer where the patient presents with a secondary cancer but the origin of the cancer is unknown. If the primary is unknown, the treatment is unknown. In Ireland, cancer of unknown primary affects up to 400 patients annually. Approximately 3-5% of all cancers are cancer of unknown primary, making CUP the fourth most common cause of death from cancer worldwide. 

My background is in healthcare, I am a registered nurse and worked for many years in the pharmaceutical industry. Throughout Sarah’s illness I realized the huge gap in care for patients like Sarah with CUP and armed with this knowledge I set up the foundation in an effort to address the unmet needs for patients diagnosed with this devastating illness.

What does personalized medicine mean to you?

In the future, where the cancer began will not be the treatment priority, and instead treatment will be tailored to the unique genetic make up found by genomic profiling. Enabling targeted treatment options specific to the individual patients needs. For patients with cancer of unknown primary and unusual cancers, genetic profiling offers a vital opportunity for targeted treatment. Studies have shown that relevant mutations are observed in 30-85% of patients with cancer of unknown primary. Genomic profiling is opening up access to clinical trials and access to revolutionary new treatments; unfortunately, despite these benefits, the transition to personalized medicine is slow.

Why do you believe this topic is important?

I believe access to personalized medicine is vital as it has the potential to transform patient’s lives, especially for patients with limited treatment options. Personalized medicine is a rapidly evolving field, with more and more targeted treatments available, but without the diagnostic profiling some of these therapies are not being considered for patients where they could be of huge benefit.

So much has changed since Sarah was ill, that if she was alive today there is a high chance that through genomic profiling an actionable mutation may have been found and she could have lived longer with controlled disease and many more treatment options.

Why is your organization interested in participating in this multi-stakeholder collaboration? 

SJK are honored to be founding members of this multi-stakeholder collaboration. One of our main objectives at SJK is to advocate for access to genomic profiling for all those who need it. Our goal is completely aligned with this global project. I quickly realized that to ensure patient access to genomic profiling I would need to be a part of something bigger! The barriers are so great and diverse it needs a multi-stakeholder collaboration to understand and overcome all the many obstacles. Through the multi-stakeholder approach we have the solutions to the barriers, we know where to focus for change.

The patient benefit is that they are given the option. Personalized medicine may not be an option for all patients, but to have the opportunity to be fully informed and to have the opportunity to discuss and understand the option with their HCP is a great benefit. Patients can also benefit from more accurate diagnoses, targeted treatments, with greater survival than perhaps their current treatment and with potentially less side effects. Patients can benefit from access to clinical trials and patients and their families can benefit from preventing hereditary cancers.

What makes this collaboration unique?

This is a unique collaboration as it is bringing together all the multi-stakeholders required to make personalized medicine a reality. As a global initiative, we can learn from best practices in countries and share these learnings with other countries. All stakeholders come with their expertise, the drive to overcome the obstacles, identify the solutions and implement the changes needed.


‘No two people are the same’

‘No two people are the same’

President of Lung Cancer Europe and molecular biologist, Dr. Anne-Marie Baird says personalized medicine should mean the best medicine, care, and support for people on an individualized basis

Tell us more about yourself?

Anne-Marie Baird – Lung Cancer Europe

I am a molecular biologist and have worked extensively on mesothelioma and lung cancer, with research interests in inflammation, the metastatic cascade, drug resistance, and disease biomarkers. I am currently a Senior Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Outside of that, I have been active in the lung cancer advocacy space since 2012 and was elected as the president of Lung Cancer Europe (LuCE) in May 2020, having served as a board member for two years. LuCE is a non-profit umbrella organization with over 30 members from more than 20 European countries. LuCE aims to be the voice of people impacted by lung cancer at a European level, advocating for improvements in lung cancer diagnostics, treatment, and care. Everything we do centers on our three core pillars of awareness, education, and advocacy. I also serve on the European Cancer Organisation Patient Advisory Committee and several other scientific and advocacy committees. 

What does personalized medicine mean to you?

To me, this is a dynamic and wide-ranging term. I believe that it should translate as the best medicine, care, and support for people on an individualized basis, which changes as needed throughout the entire care pathway. It is a term that has been used so widely that we need to remind ourselves that this idea of ‘personalized medicine’ is not a reality for everyone impacted by cancer. 

Why do you believe this topic is important? Do you have a personal angle?

Just as no two tumors are the same, no two people are the same. Therefore, it is important to find out as much about the person and their tumor as possible in order to provide the absolute best care.  

Why is your organization interested in participating in this multi-stakeholder collaboration? 

Lung cancer is a complex heterogeneous disease, therefore it is crucial that people know as much about their tumor type as possible, as this will help to identify the best possible care. There is so much information out there that it can be difficult to wade through it and find accurate quality information. We believe that being part of this larger community will make it easier to map what already exists, identify gaps, and design solutions to fill those gaps. It will also provide a platform to share best practices with other groups as we move toward more tumor agnostic therapies in the future. 

What has Lung Cancer Europe been doing in this space?

In LuCE, we have co-created molecularly targeted information with other stakeholders in the field. We have also improved education and awareness through on-line activities, webinars, and our education program. In February of last year, we launched a paper that examined lung cancer care in Europe. The research identified disparities in access to testing and innovative therapies across and within European countries, and also found that many people do not know if their tumor had been tested or if any alterations were found. 

What makes this collaboration unique?

This collaboration is unique in that it combines many different groups from all over the globe, with multiple parallel project strands. It has also built from the beginning with patients, with co-creation at its core. 

What are your ultimate expectations from the project?

To provide graspable tools that will have an impact on the real-world experience of patients.