As the world's leaders in oncology gather this week to share the latest discoveries and advancements in treating cancer at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual conference in Chicago, our Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development, Sandra Horning, shares her thoughts on the evolution of how cancer has been treated and the importance of developing partnerships that drive innovation.

As an academic, researcher, and oncologist, Sandra has seen the pace of scientific discovery increase significantly over the past few decades -- particularly in cancer.

“As science and technology converge, we are bringing areas of knowledge together as never before,” she says. “Our understanding of the intricate relationships in tumours is evolving to a cancer ecosystem, a concept that also defines the way in which Roche develops transformational medicines for patients through collaboration.”

Thanks to the insights we have gained about the biology of cancer, we are developing a more personalized approach to treatment that pairs sophisticated diagnostics with targeted medicines, especially for patients living with cancers that have a high burden of impact. In addition to this, our understanding of the cancer immunity cycle has accelerated our efforts to take a long-term leadership role in the development of cancer immunotherapy agents, which use a person’s immune system to fight their cancer.

Over the years, scientific advances such as these have helped save lives. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, today over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer are expected to survive for 5 years or more after their diagnosis.

We need to adapt to change

But cancer is highly complex. In fact, cancer is not one disease. In the last 10 years, we have realized that there are more than 200 different types and subtypes of cancer. The current understanding is that tumour cells cooperate with other tumour and host cells in their microenvironment, adapting to ensure their growth and survival. The ability of cancer to grow and survive despite available treatment options is why cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada.

Our understanding of the complexity of cancer and our desire to build partnerships that drive towards the next innovations in cancer care were our primary reasons for our establishment of  the Immunotherapy Centres of Research Excellence (imCORE) Network. imCORE is a global network of 22 academic centres across nine countries, including Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. The Network works together to access and share technology, data and expertise to further understand the biology and immunology of cancer, and to develop new medicines that may offer better outcomes for people with the disease.

We are smarter together

For partnering to truly work, and for us to continue developing better medicines that improve outcomes for patients, we also know that we need to adapt to our changing environment.  At a town hall meeting during her recent visit to our Mississauga office, Sandra shared her thoughts on what we need to do as an organization to continue advancing science:


advice - stay curious and continuously learn, take smart risks, be good collaborators

These attributes are critical to both our work within Roche and as a global partner in cancer research. As an organization of 90,000 colleagues spanning multiple functions, time zones and geographies, it’s not always easy to move quickly. Delivering innovation often means breaking through our own internal norms and boundaries that hold us back.

As Sandra puts it, “We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact - and we have to be agile to take advantage of that opportunity.”  Curing cancer demands our best efforts.  Collaborating, challenging the status quo, and taking smart risks will continue to push us forward as we work to realize that goal.

June 2, 2017

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