Elena Bernedo Arzac, Head of Oncology, GPS at Roche Pharmaceuticals: Accelerating innovation with collaboration throughout the pandemic. #strongertogether
As we enter the autumn congress season, we find ourselves gearing up for yet another virtual meeting, this time with the European Society of Medical Oncology, otherwise known as ESMO. As I reflect back on the year so far, I think it is fair to say that I, along with many others, had hoped ESMO would be an opportunity to spend time with friends and colleagues; instead, we are once again facing the prospect of FaceTime rather than face-to-face time.
We know that the ability to connect and learn is an essential part of any congress, which is why we have developed a series of activities that may facilitate these interactions during this year’s ESMO. Our comprehensive portal will contain key congress information, and areas where one can view recorded sessions on-demand accompanied by follow-up Q&A sessions with speakers and key presenters. Also available will be smart networking tools so that healthcare professionals can engage with likeminded people, friends, colleagues, or get in touch with us at Roche directly. Many more features and tools designed to help maintain a sense of connectedness will also be available throughout the congress. If you are a healthcare professional and would like to learn more about the best way to keep up with the latest congress news while meeting up with friends and making new connections, look out for details when we launch our portal in mid-September.
During this pandemic, it has become increasingly clear, that collaboration and the need to accelerate innovation beyond the medicine and focus more holistically on cancer care along the continuum of the patient journey has become a matter of urgency. Like many others, I have been saddened to see how the pandemic has been wreaking havoc across the world but I have also been disturbed to learn that there are likely to be significant long-term effects on the outcomes for many cancer patients.
The Netherlands Cancer Registry reported a decline in cancer incidence of up to 40% on average in a 14-week period.1 Similarly, The Lancet reports that there has been a 75% reduction in referrals for suspected cancer since the start of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK.2 They also estimate that up to 63,229 years of life lost will be attributable to delays in cancer diagnosis alone as a direct result of the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK.2 Additionally, a recent article published by JAMA suggests that there could be an increase of more than 33,000 excessive cancer deaths in the United States because of the pandemic and they call for urgent planning to address the consequences of delayed diagnoses.3 Furthermore, a group of eight global cancer coalitions and alliances, representing 650 patient advocacy groups, other cancer organisations and the interests of over 14 million patients around the world, recently issued a ‘Joint Call for Action’ to urgently address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cancer patient community.4
As an oncology community we must take collective action and find new ways to ensure patients can receive a diagnosis and subsequently the best treatment option available because cancer will not wait for us to find solutions and patients simply cannot wait. It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention and perhaps never in living memory has there been a greater need to urgently innovate how we provide and deliver care for cancer patients. Working together with all stakeholders, we believe we can address the pain points along the patient journey at a local or regional level by co-creating impactful tailored integrated and flexible care solutions, such as mobile infusion centres and home infusion and by expanding the collaboration with telehealth and technology companies.
At ESMO this year, we are furthering the spirit of collaboration by teaming up with a group of international experts in a round table discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on the outcomes of cancer patients. We will be discussing what we must do to prevent us falling into the trap of simply swapping one health crisis for another. The event will be broadcast live on LinkedIn, and we would encourage you to join and take part in the live Q&A session. To attend the discussion which is taking place on Tuesday 22 September at 15:00 CEST, and find out more please follow the link
Finally, I will sign off by plagiarising myself from my most recent post. I want to assure you all that while many countries begin to experience worrisome new spikes of infection and a second wave of the pandemic looms large over parts of the world we recognise that cancer does not go into lockdown, but neither does our passion or commitment to addressing the needs of cancer patients. This is why I am so very proud of all the work that our Roche colleagues across the globe have been doing to continue to ensure progress is not brought to a standstill, and vitally that patients can still access the essential cancer diagnosis and medicines they need. To all my colleagues at Roche and those on the front line supporting cancer patients through these unprecedented times, I feel humbled and filled with gratitude because of your dedication to the cause, you are extraordinary and I thank you all.
Please stay safe and well, and remember that together we are stronger.
Pursuit - The University of Melbourne. Is a delayed cancer diagnosis a consequence of COVID-19? [Internet; cited August 2020]. Available from:
Maringe et al. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer deaths due to delays in diagnosis in England, UK: a national, population-based, modelling study. Lancet Oncology. 2020(21):1023-34.
Kaufman H. et al. Changes in the number of US patients with newly identified cancer before and during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic. JAMA Network Open. 2020(3): pp.e2017267-e2017267.
IBTA. COVID-19 alliance statement. [Internet; cited August 2020]. Available from: