Although lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide[i], funding of lung cancer research and treatment advances over the past few decades have led to significant reductions in mortality rates in some developed countries[ii]. While this is positive news, not all countries have experienced the same promising results. In China, often seen as ‘ground zero’ in the fight against lung cancer[iii], incidence rates and mortality continue to grow. In fact, it is predicted that lung cancer mortality in China may increase by approximately 40% between 2015 and 20303.
Considering this outlook, the need to enhance global research and investment in innovative technologies, therapeutics and solutions have never been more pressing. Through the formation of the Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson (LCI), we’ve created a dedicated team of scientific experts focused on prevention, interception and cure of the disease.
As we close out this year’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I would like to draw on a few ways we can work together to develop solutions in support of our vision of a world without lung cancer.
Interception: Early Diagnostics is Key to Catching it Early
A key driver to help reduce mortality rates in China will be early diagnosis. Lung cancer is almost always detected at a late stage when the disease has spread outside of the lungs to other organs, making it extremely difficult to cure. In most cases, lung cancer doesn’t cause symptoms until the disease is fairly advanced[i]. An important way that we can significantly contribute in this area is by helping detect lung cancer earlier.
In 2018, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, LCI and Boston University announced a five-year alliance aimed at changing the ways in which detection and treatment take place[ii]. The team behind the alliance agreed to spend the next five years developing strategies to detect the disease at the earliest stage possible. One approach has been to try looking for gene markers that are indicative of lung cancer. By identifying key markers, early screening can then be more appropriately and effectively deployed to high-risk populations.
We also recently signed a multi-year collaboration with AnchorDx, a leading biotechnology company in China, to conduct a lung cancer study to evaluate a novel diagnostic test, which may help distinguish between benign and malignant pulmonary nodules and accelerate early cancer detection[iii]. The four-year study will involve over 3,000 patients with pulmonary nodules identified by CT scan be enrolled and followed up with in the next three years. During the study, clinical, imaging and pathological data, as well as biospecimens, will be collected and analyzed.
An important strategy for early detection is to develop simple and less invasive tests, which would be more widely accessible to patients. One promising technology on the horizon is a diagnostic test which can be used during a medical procedure called bronchoscopy. Other promising solutions involve AI, and this is an area that we have been exploring through another recent research collaboration with DianNei, which will see us work together to develop an AI algorithm for nodule detection and classification[iv].
And within Johnson & Johnson as part of our commitment to create the next frontier of surgery, we acquired Auris Health, Inc. along with its Monarch Platform in early 2019[v]. Like our collaborations with the external ecosystem, our goal in the acquisition was to enable the development of a differentiated digital solution that addresses key steps in the lung cancer care journey, from diagnosis to early stage intervention.
Prevention & Cure: Advances in Lung Cancer Treatments Throughout the Lifecycle
Early detection is not the only method of reducing the mortality rate of lung cancer. Our vision at LCI is to think about the patient journey and how we can improve the process at every stage. Collaborating with partners has an important role to play in working towards this vision.
Earlier this year, we were excited to announce a strategic collaboration with DNX Biopharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS @ Shanghai resident company, to exclusively research, develop and commercialize novel molecules from within the DNX portfolio for cancer immunotherapy[vi].
We must remember that the lifecycle of a patient begins before lung cancer has even taken root. Accordingly, we are also delving into novel prevention tools. At certain points on the journey, this may take the form of a consumer-based product, for example, something to protect your lungs from carcinogens in the air or a device to wean people off smoking addictions.
In this spirit, we recently signed a collaboration agreement with Zhejiang University and Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital to evaluate the first Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based smoking cessation digital app through a clinical trial in China. We also continue to collaborate with the Chinese Association of Tobacco Control to develop and conduct effective smoking cessation education, digital and consumer solutions and research.
The three-pronged approach to prevent, intercept and cure lung cancer at LCI was created to transform the standard of care for the millions of patients who suffer from the deadly disease. In China, we aim to adopt a unique and localized approach that leverages global expertise to make a difference in the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese diagnosed with lung cancer every year. Through collaboration with strategic partners from around the world, we hope to propel a paradigm shift that will eliminate lung cancer by developing holistic solutions through medical devices, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics and consumer health products.
If you have an early-stage solution for lung cancer in any of these areas, click here to reach out to our team. We look forward to hearing about your innovation!