In her keynote lecture at the ESMO Targeted Anticancer Therapies Congress 2022, Prof. Lesley Seymour stresses the importance of sharing ideas and resources between academia and industry
Recipient of the ESMO Targeted Anticancer Therapies Honorary Award 2022, Prof. Lesley Seymour of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, has spent 30 years ‘trying to make rigorous clinical trials happen,’ conducting and designing studies that give definitive conclusions and provide effective, accessible new treatment options for patients with cancer. As the title of her keynote lecture indicates, she believes in the ‘power of collaboration’ – combining the efforts of researchers in both academia and industry to make future drug development more efficient and cost-effective.
What attracted you to work in anticancer drug development?
After completing medical and specialist training, I worked for a pharmaceutical company for a few years, and it was there that I got the taste for the fast-paced ever-changing landscape of drug development. I later moved into academic clinical research and was hooked – I still find my job very satisfying after almost 30 years. On one side there’s the exciting nature of the work, and on the other there’s the underlying goal of trying to get new effective treatments to patients who often have few other options. With each new agent or even new schedule or combination of treatments, there is the hope that it may be an improvement that will change practice and become standard of care.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievements so far?
I have spent my entire career working as part of a team and have tried to ensure we design and conduct studies that provide conclusive results. Even if the trial is negative and the new treatment does not improve outcomes, it is crucial that the results are clear and unambiguous, and there isn’t a need for a new trial. It is important to have answered all of the original questions to make the most out of the efforts of the participants who volunteered and that of the study personnel. As faculty at the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, I have been involved in many success stories, including the development of erlotinib in non-small-cell lung cancer (N Engl J Med. 2005;353:123–132). And in the Investigational New Drug Program, we have investigated several immunotherapeutics in early trials, some of which defined doses and schedules for combination regimens that have subsequently changed the standard of care in small-cell lung cancer (Lancet. 2019;394:1929–1939).
Promoting independent academic research has been one of the priorities of our group and we have facilitated the early clinical development of several agents that were created by investigators in academia. I have also been involved in developing methodology guidelines, such as iRECIST, which help to provide a consistent framework for the management of data collected in immunotherapy trials (Lancet Oncol. 2017;18:e143–e152) and those issued by the Methodology for the Development of Innovative Cancer Therapies (MDICT), supported by ESMO/TAT (Eur J Cancer. 2008;44:19–24; Eur J Cancer. 2008;44:25–29; Clin Cancer Res. 2020;26:2461–2465).
What do you think is the most important challenge in anticancer drug development today?
The main challenge is the increasing cost, complexity and commercialisation of clinical research. I really believe that our patients should have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial if they wish. In the past, it was accepted that clinical trials were part of an oncologist’s practice, but now the costs are so great that independent research is becoming much more difficult. The increasing monetisation of clinical research means that not only is it more challenging for independent academic groups and investigators to be involved with trials, but also that when new therapies are approved, they are so expensive that it limits patient access. Cell-based therapies provide an excellent example – they are among the most interesting strategies currently in development, but the challenge for the academic research community is to make these innovative and potentially curative therapies more accessible to patients in a more cost-effective manner. We are actively working on developing the technologies and the partnerships to explore cell-based therapies further, both in haematological malignancies and also, going forward, in solid tumours.
ESMO TAT 2022 Honorary Award Keynote Lecture: ‘The Power of Collaboration’. ESMO Targeted Anticancer Therapies Congress 2022
07.03.2022, h. 12:25 – 13:00, Channel 1