Accelerating progress in cancer care: Perspectives from six oncology leaders

Björn Albrecht is the global leader of the McKinsey Cancer Center, working with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, health systems, payers, and providers to help advance progress in cancer research and care globally. He recently had the honor of interviewing six industry leaders from across the spectrum of cancer research and care to ask about their outlook for oncology and their insights into how to accelerate ten years of progress into five. The following is a partial transcript from the conversations.

McKinsey: What is the vision for the future in cancer research and care, and how do we condense ten years of progress into five?

Peter Adamson, pediatric oncologist, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania: How can we condense ten years of progress into five years? I think at the beginning of that discussion, we have to recognize that the pace of discovery is far faster than we had ever envisioned, and it’s likely to continue.

Kim Thiboldeaux, executive chair, Cancer Support Community: When I think about what that means, I think about having a good system, for example, around prevention, screening, and early detection.

Reed Jobs, managing director of health, Emerson Collective: If I could paint a vision for the future of cancer care in the next five years, there would be the extension of precision medicine out of the academic institutions and into the hospitals where most people in the United States get treated.

David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering, University of Southern California, and CEO and founding director of Larry Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine: My dream is that over the next decade we’re going to learn from having experience—that every time I treat a patient, it’ll be better than the last patient. When you do a search on Google, your search results today are better than yesterday. Google looked at where people went, and they improved their search results; they do this on a daily basis. We have to do the same.

Jonathan Hirsch, founder and president, Syapse: In order to make a decade’s worth of progress in five years, I think we’ve got to focus on a few core pillars. The first pillar is how we take the experience of every single cancer patient that is being seen today and every historical cancer patient—and leverage and use their data to develop insights out of that.

Reed Jobs: I’m also keen on the exportation and interoperability of clinical electronic health records, particularly the nexus on personal ownership over the data.

David Agus: So, every patient could be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Kim Thiboldeaux: I think about having a good clinical program in place, where we’re advancing and making progress in the treatment of cancer, and that includes clinical trials.

Samir Khleif, professor of medical oncology, Georgetown University: There are a few things that would be extremely important as an element in addressing the issue to accelerate progress. One is accelerating discovery and the implementation of discovery. The second issue, that would be an impediment of progress, is addressing the cost of development and how much consumers are paying for those developments.

Kim Thiboldeaux: For example, a system where all patients have access to genetic information and genomic testing and screening.

Samir Khleif: The third that’s going to be a major part is accessibility—of everything that we do in cancer care—to have accessibility for the “desperate” population. As you know, in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, cancer kills more than malaria, TB [tuberculosis], and HIV combined.

Peter Adamson: I do think the opportunity is there, because the era of the physician scientist solving all problems is probably behind us.

Kim Thiboldeaux: I would say in five years, in ten years, we’d like to see a system—maybe a system that we think we already have—a system that is functional and truly works for patients and families.

Jonathan Hirsch: I think that we can make progress much more rapidly; so instead of five years and ten years of progress in five, maybe we can speed that up.

Reed Jobs: What I would want patients to know is that this is a hopeful, dynamic time—that I don’t believe that cancer is going to be the same disease ten years from now that it is today.