Access to Oncology Medicines (ATOM), a global partnership of which Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is a founding member, launched in late May.
Sylvester is currently the only academic cancer center among several partners, including the Geneva-based Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), American Society of Clinical Oncology, big pharma, patient advocacy groups and others, to establish the coalition aimed at improving access to essential cancer medicines in low- and lower middle-income countries, as well as increasing these countries’ capacity for diagnosing cancer and properly using the medications.
“Low- and lower middle-income countries do not have the resources to respond adequately or optimally to cancer patients’ needs, and cancer-related death and disability often soar as a result. We believe this multisectoral global collaboration of powerful organizations and companies can help to change the dire situation,” said ATOM’s Technical Chair Gilberto de Lima Lopes Junior, M.D., M.B.A., professor of clinical medicine, medical director for international programs, associate director for global oncology, and co-leader of the Lung Cancer Site Disease Group at Sylvester. “We at Sylvester are excited to be part of ATOM’s mission to provide high-quality and lifesaving cancer care to underserved nations.”
Expanding Access to Cancer Medicines
ATOM coalition partners will work together to assess, work with, and support low- and lower middle-income countries’ governments to close gaps in providing cancer medicines; support development of sustainable diagnostic and pathology capabilities; implement training and education programs on evidence-based treatment guidelines, protocols, and management of adverse reactions; help to streamline regulatory processes, procurement, forecasting, and supply chain management; and provide what is needed to make available new medicines of significant importance to public health in these countries through voluntary licensing and other channels, according to UICC’s official announcement about the launch.
It is estimated that less than 50% of the cancer medicines on the World Health Organization Essential Medicine List (WHO EML) are currently available in low- and lower-middle income countries, according to UICC.
In the first four to five years of ATOM’s operations, the partners will work with a subset of up to 10 low- and lower middle-income countries. The countries will be identified based on criteria including classification in the last two years as low- or lower middle-income by the World Bank; having a strong existing local network of international- and national-level ATOM partners; and having an existing basic diagnostic capacity.
“Once we announce the first subset of target countries, we will place priority on generic and biosimilar medicines that are on the WHO EML or likely to be included for cancers with the highest incidence-to-mortality in low- and lower middle-income countries. These cancers include breast, lung, cervical, prostate, and childhood cancers,” said Dr. Lopes, who also is co-chair for the executive committee that oversees ATOM.
The first four years of ATOM’s operations will cost an estimated $32 million, part of which private-sector pharma companies are funding initially.
Advancing Cancer Care in Lower-Income Countries
“Pain and suffering from cancer is felt everywhere on earth; we have to work together in order to advance cancer care for all,” said NCCN Chief Executive Officer Robert W. Carlson, M.D., in a statement in UICC’s official announcement.
Simply making affordable cancer medicines available does not guarantee that people living with cancer will receive the medicines when they need them, according to Dr. Anil D’Cruz, UICC president and director of oncology at Apollo Hospitals in India.
“This new partnership is set up to ensure that low- and lower middle-income countries get the support they need to receive the essential cancer medicines where they are currently lacking, as well as the training on their use so that their availability becomes sustainable long term and addresses the specific needs of each country with respect to cancer burden,” Dr. D’Cruz said in the UICC announcement.