World Cancer Day is an annual global initiative, aiming to raise awareness, improve education, and inspire action to reimagine a world where preventable cancer deaths are saved and access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is equal for everyone.
Feb 04, 2021
This year, Sandoz is highlighting and celebrating the work of employees from across the business who are determined to search for solutions that make life better for patients.
Dr Roland Starlinger is Global Medical Affairs Lead for Oncology at Sandoz. A microbiologist by training, with a PhD in immunology and technical hygiene, he first joined Sandoz as a post doc in the late 1990s. Roland draws inspiration from the colleagues, healthcare professionals and external experts he meets around the world as part of his job, learning how other countries organize cancer care.
Here he explains more about why he feels inspired to do the work he does and his pledge for World Cancer Day 2021.
It starts with ‘Why’
When I started working in oncology more than 20 years ago, cancer was hitting others; other families, the friends of others, but it was simply a matter of time until it would hit my own family. Like so many others, I experienced how family members struggled with the diagnosis, the fear, the loss, but also the feeling of hope, particularly when you see someone close to you able to live almost a normal life, even during treatment cycles.
Cancer is complex. When we talk about ‘cancer’, we are actually talking about more than 100 different diseases, with different subtypes and multiple complex potential treatment regimens, that can contain more than five different molecules. This is how we are impacting oncology research and the lives of people living with a cancer diagnosis through the work we do at Sandoz. We develop treatments that cover around two-thirds of the WHO essential medicines list of anti-cancer and supportive medicines, and we make sure these are high quality and accessible to as many people around the world as possible.
Inspiration is an inside job
Sandoz is a medicines company with a strong medical office, which focuses on ensuring that needs of patients are integrated into the drug development process. What is also of great importance, is to have a comprehensive portfolio that is driven by factors such as enabling access and availability.
I remember a discussion with an oncology pharmacist several years ago when I told him about a product we had launched that was going generic at the time. He told me he had over 10 companies talking to him about that same product, but what he really needed was a different type of product – one that had been around for more than 50 years, but many companies chose to no longer make because of its low price level. It is so important that we listen to the healthcare experts and respond to what they tell us patients need.
Small wins that make a big difference
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the impact of delayed treatments on cancer patients. Pharmaceutical development is the crucial first step in making sure our products are available. Stable supply and avoidance of drug shortages is critical for cancer patients to get the best possible treatment. These are perhaps our most important goals.
Another very important target for us relates to safety. We are committed to manufacturing our products in a way that minimizes the risk of exposing healthcare parctitioners including nurses, pharmacists and doctors to cytotoxic residues when handling them. This includes the introduction of secondary safety packaging materials and research on extended stability data. Taken together, it is this deep understanding of the small things that all need to happen before a drug can be administered to a cancer patient and make the big difference we’re determined to deliver.
#IAmAndIWill for World Cancer Day
This World Cancer Day, I want to remind everyone that there is always hope and that we make progress in our fight against cancer every day. I hope that people do what each and every individual can do to minimize the risk of getting cancer, such as small changes to make their lifestyle healthier. And I hope they feel the support of the society caring for cancer patients. Helping deliver access to anticancer drugs is important, but we need all aspects of the healthcare system to work together so no patient feels anxious about being left alone when the diagnosis comes.
My #IAmAndIWill pledge, from my perspective working in a global function, is inspired by this quote from Ban Ki-Moon:
On World Cancer Day, let us resolve to end the injustice of preventable suffering from this disease as part of our larger push to leave no one behind.
The small part I know I can play in making sure no one is left behind is to remind family and friends to go for regular check-ups. One third of cancers might be preventable, that still means two thirds are not. Early diagnosis is so important.
Every day I remind myself that it’s the sum of the small contributions we make that add up to the big differences. Perhaps it’s not rocket science, but how often do we fly to the moon?