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Omar Perez, PhD, RAC
Omar Perez, PhD, RAC

Omar Perez, PhD, RAC, Head of Medical Diagnostics, U.S. Medical Affairs, Oncology at AstraZeneca, recently shared with Inside Precision Medicine (IPM) the importance of taking a collaborative and comprehensive approach to precision medicine to ensure a better patient experience.

IPM:  Who is involved in the patient’s experience with precision medicine? What is needed to unite the various stakeholders involved?

Several key individuals are often involved in a patient’s precision medicine journey, from family or caregivers to the medical team and specialists responsible for overseeing the person’s treatment. Beyond the patient’s care team, researchers and pharmaceutical companies directing clinical trials to develop innovative new therapies, as well as policymakers overseeing treatment availability, are also deeply embedded. Through collaboration, this network has the potential to ease a person’s treatment pathway and alleviate some of the major barriers to care. Ultimately, the risk of poor patient outcomes grows without a common language around precision medicine and misaligned treatment approaches.

However, at AstraZeneca, we believe that through a collaborative effort to codify precision medicine terminology, standardize diagnostic and treatment practices, and streamline communication, we have the potential to make biomarker test­ing more accessible—and ultimately, help ensure all patients can receive timely and accurate information about the genetic mutations causing their specific cancer regardless of their tumor type, disease stage, or where they are receiving care.

AstraZeneca is seeking ways to bring the community together to address these barriers, and some of this collaborative work is already underway. Earlier this year, we hosted a roundtable fea­turing key groups across the space to gather their unique insights and perspectives. We have also supported the Association of Community Cancer Centers’ national multi-phase initiative—Fostering Excellence in Care and Outcomes in Patients with Stage III and IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)—which leverages multidisciplinary care teams to understand existing barriers better and create and execute process improvement plans to support the optimization of care for patients diagnosed with stages III and IV NSCLC. Additionally, we have joined Access to Comprehensive Genomic Profiling, a coalition of industry experts dedicated to advancing comprehensive genomic profiling for advanced cancer patients.

IPM:  What makes navigating the landscape of biomarker testing and precision medicine so complex for researchers, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers (HCPs), policymakers and, most importantly, patients?

The road from cancer detection to treatment initiation is long, complex, and filled with barriers that may hinder the optimal use of biomarker testing among all patients. For example:

• The outputs of biomarker testing can be challenging to understand and communicate, and some physicians find the interpretation process cumbersome and time-consuming.

• Testing terminology is inconsistent and complex, hampering patient and HCPs’ understanding of precision medicine.

• The lack of standardized testing processes is further compli­cated by a constant stream of new disease/biomarker/assay-specific guidelines.

• Clinical trials are inaccessible to the broader population, limiting patient access to biomarker testing and decreasing its clinical utility.

Addressing these barriers requires a collaborative approach, and at AstraZeneca, we know we are just one piece of the puzzle. We need the collective expertise of the entire oncology community to achieve meaningful change for those affected by and living with cancer.

IPM:  How can collaboration accelerate advances in biomarker testing while also simplifying the landscape and improving access to biomarker testing for those impacted by cancer?

We believe multidisciplinary collaboration is critical to solving complex issues within precision medicine. This involves harnessing the collective expertise of the entire oncology community—from patient advocates and HCPs to policy experts and payers—to ensure health policy and best practices work synergistically.

Ultimately, a collaborative approach has the potential to establish biomarker testing as an essential component of high-quality cancer care for all patients and transform the standard of oncology care into one that is consistent yet tailored to patients’ distinct needs.

IPM:  In what areas have we seen collaborative success in addressing specific issues within precision medicine? Can you share examples of initiatives that have demonstrated tangible impact?

We have engaged in several partnerships to raise awareness around biomarker testing and targeted therapies through education, advocated for precision medicine approaches to oncology by removing barriers to access and advancing policy, and sought to gain a deeper understanding of barriers to precision medicine through further research and insights from stakeholders.

From an education standpoint, AstraZeneca supports several efforts to help patients, HCPs, and policymakers broaden their understanding of biomarker testing and precision medicine. This work includes initiatives such as:

• It’s OK to Ask, which was designed to address the stigma around lung cancer and empower those impacted by it in the Asian American community to take a more proactive approach to treatment.

• The No One Missed campaign, which aims to empower patients and caregivers to request comprehensive biomarker testing from their healthcare team at the time of diagnosis, recurrence, or progression. Specific to lung cancer, we have partnered with PGA champion, Jason Day and his mother to form the Complete Your Diagnosis campaign, which focuses on the importance of biomarker testing in stage IV NSCLC based on their family’s experience navigating the disease.

Our collaborative access and policy work seeks to ensure all patients have accurate and timely information about their specific type of cancer. For example:

• Our work with the YOUR Cancer program brings together patients, caregivers, advocacy groups, researchers, HCPs, and policymakers to transform cancer care by driving change in precision medicine and improving early intervention, access, and health equity.

• We are also a founding member of the Lung Ambition Alliance, through which we work with industry and nonprofit partners to increase early diagnosis and ensure the implementation of screening programs and increased biomarker testing.

Directing the future of biomarker testing and precision medicine requires a comprehensive understanding of the current landscape. That’s why AstraZeneca, in collaboration with Personalized Medi­cine Coalition and Health Advances LLC, sought the viewpoints of surgeons, oncologists, lab directors, payers, and patients to understand perceived barriers to precision medicine better and ultimately uncover how to help bolster its wider adoption across the United States. The findings, published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine, revealed a disconnect between clinicians and patients on the relative level of awareness of biomarker testing and access. These findings underscore the importance of our work to address barriers to testing alongside our community partners and fortify our ambition to improve cancer survival.

IPM:  How does AstraZeneca approach strategic partnerships?

At AstraZeneca, we seek to serve as a convener and enabler of those in the cancer community who are helping achieve bold goals in cancer. We know pharmaceutical research and development advances quickly, and we see an important opportunity for us to support the broader oncology community by translating science into medicine. This involves synthesizing clinical information and translating findings about treatments or diagnostics into a language that can be better understood by the broader healthcare community, including people who may be navigating a cancer diagnosis. We look to our partners with expertise across disciplines to engage in meaningful conversations and devise complementary approaches to priority issues for people impacted by cancer.

 

Dr. Omar Perez has nearly 20 years of experience designing, deploying, and leading high-visibility oncology initiatives supporting global companion diagnostic developments, strategic partnerships, and commercialization opportunities. Before joining AstraZeneca, he oversaw the global companion diagnostic (CDx) developments for GlaxoSmithKline’s oncology portfolio and led global CDx activities supporting numerous drug approvals for Pfizer. Notably, he led the first FDA-approved next-generation sequencing product for multiple targeted agents and helped establish the Center for Precision Medicine in Latin America to support Pfizer oncology products. Dr. Perez’s background includes roles in biotech and diagnostic companies, including co-founding Nodality, a diagnostic company focused on hematological malignancies. He is an inventor of the multiparametric phospho-proteomic flow technologies and an author of 37 publications and 35 patents.

 

For additional information: www.astrazeneca.com

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