Precision medicine is here and ready to improve outcomes, yet patients cannot access the necessary tools and supports, the recent PEOF heard
Precision medicine represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of many of the most serious diseases, with the promise of tailored therapies and much-enhanced outcomes. Yet global access to this approach remains patchy and inconsistent, and inequality dominates.
This was the focus of an eagerly awaited session at the recent Autumn sessions of the Patient Engagement Open Forum. Entitled “Visualising the patient pathway in precision medicine: the identification of barriers and best practices across different stakeholder groups”, as with previous PEOF sessions, a broad spectrum of multi stakeholder involvement gathered to offer an holistic overview of the problems and endeavour to co-create potential solutions.
Helena Harnik, executive director of FT3, outlined the goals and objectives of the unique initiative. A “global collaborative program to make precision medicine an accessible reality for all those who could benefit from it”
“The FT3 members and community believe that a true multi stakeholder program, one that involved diverse stakeholders is the best way to address this complex issue,” she told the virtual audience. Initially focusing on cancer and testing, FT3 is striving to develop practical solutions to making precision medicine “a reality on the ground”. Immediate action is being taken to accelerate existing efforts in precision medicine and scale best practices, she added.
Yet this remains a “complex topic and fragmented landscape”, she reminded attendees; despite the rapid speed of change in the area, it is fundamentally fragmented in terms of the actors and organizations involved. “Hence the need for a whole health system view,” she advised. This is why FT3 is taking a unique approach, acting as a global catalyst identifying and sharing translatable good practices and learnings, developing practical resources and support for PM champions and identifying good practices but also co-creating solutions for unmet needs by drawing on existing knowledge.
Attendees of a previous PEOF session, back in September 2020, had direct input into this work, Harnik explained. Some 85 attendees had helped to identify over 220 patient support and information needs in precision medicine. These included issues pertaining to access, clinical trials, and testing, as well as understanding the patient experience and access barriers at all levels.
Andrea Ferris, President and CEO of LUNGevity Foundation, then delivered a presentation on the patient pathway in non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). A lung cancer advocacy group, LUNGevity defines precision medicine as “biomarker-driven care” across the entire spectrum of a disease, Ferris explained. LUNGevity is involved in funding translational research, providing education and outreach, as well as promoting precision medicine and advocating for public policy reform.
“Every patient has access to the right test and the right treatment at the right time,” she said, adding that this is particularly important in lung cancer as advances in the area are being predominantly driven by precision medicine and immunotherapy.
Ferris outlined the biomarker testing journey of NSCLC; looking at it from different perspectives, she explained, including the patient, the healthcare provider, the payer, helped to identify the key barriers at all levels of stakeholder involvement.
There were “issues along the entire journey” – from the tissue acquisition to diagnostic testing, all the way through to how doctors were using the test results, educating patients on waiting for their test results and reimbursement of the eventual therapy. LUNGevity then explored interventions that would help to address the various barriers on this journey. “This is a tool that could be applied in many other diseases,” Ferris concluded.
FT3 were struck by the simplicity and effectiveness of LUNGevity’s approach, Helena explained, and also sought to map out the patient experience, as well as access barriers and solutions across the patient pathway. In the course of doing this, they also found similar approaches being taken elsewhere and elements of these were incorporated.
She presented a draft version of the resulting Access Barrier Cause-Effect Canvas, which aims to be a practical tool for precision medicine champions, enhancing best practice.
Tanya Knott established the SJK Foundation following the death of her sister Sarah Jennifer Knott from cancer of unknown primary (CUP) in direct response to the lack of specific supports for the disease, despite it being the fourth most common cause of cancer death worldwide. Embracing precision medicine is “critical” as it may allow CUP patients to be identified earlier and ultimately achieve better outcomes, Tanya told attendees. Significant advances have been made in not only awareness of CUP, but also in terms of diagnosis and treatment, with genomic advances crucial in achieving this. Tanya also outlined how genomic profiling will allow for targeted, personalized treatment, yet she reiterated that patients often cannot access these sophisticated but essential tests.
“Being a part of the FT3 group means we can work together with all the different countries to find the best practices and try bring them to the countries that don’t necessarily have them while learning from best examples,” she said.
Following Tanya was Warnyta Minnaard, who is one of the founders of Missie Tumor Onbekend, the Dutch advocacy and patient organization for patients with cancer of unknown primary (CUP). Outlining her own personal family experience of the disease, she reiterated Tanya’s points about the unsatisfactory nature of the patient pathway in CUP, as well as the barriers patients face in obtaining a timely diagnosis and effective treatment. Warnyta emphasized the aggravated emotional impact of
“every cancer or challenging diagnosis”. “It is especially challenging to grasp what is happening if you have cancer but they cannot locate the primary site and they don’t know what to do.” Yet she also stressed the enormous potential in this area because of increasing focus and enhanced possibilities around precision diagnosis and treatment.
The need for an agreed definition of CUP was then outlined by Caroline Leof of the Integraal Kankercentrum Nederland (IKNL) in the Netherlands
As the diagnosis in CUP is based on a diagnosis of exclusion, discrete differences in the diagnostic workup between countries means there is no reliable comparison data, and no understanding why specific treatments are given to CUP patients, Caroline explained.
“Mostly we miss out on the possibility of learning from each other and improving healthcare for CUP worldwide”. A national and international consensus on diagnostic techniques must be achieved but this is easier said than done, she warned. “Together is the only way we can move forward.”
As with all PEOF sessions, its interactive nature meant that the feedback of the audience was eagerly gathered; Helena outlined the questions they were hoping to answer such as identifying access barriers, how best to represent the patient experience and which critical stakeholders were missing from the draft Access Barrier Cause-Effect Canvas. She also asked their input on how the canvas could be employed in a real-life scenario – this will allow the first draft to be refined and tested.
Feedback was plentiful: among the access barriers highlighted by the online attendees were the limited availability of tests, deficiencies in health literacy, delayed referrals by primary care physicians, and geographical issues. It was also suggested that the canvas could be used to help compare and contrast the experiences of patients in different jurisdictions to see where they diverge or converge.
Ultimately what the session had proven was that access challenges are “complex and interconnected” said Helena. “A whole system approach, starting with the patient experience is needed.”