Innovations in Care and Cancer take Honors

The Optune treatment is non-invasive and has few side effects, and though it looks like a bathing cap hooked up to a backpack, it kills cancer cells. (Courtesy of Novocure)

Fast Company, the business magazine, featured 50 innovators on its cover this week, of those one was in the health care industry and three were new treatments for cancer.

Changing how Health Care Works

CVS took top honors for moving beyond being a $153 billion drug chain and becoming a one-stop health shop. CVS made national headlines for stopping sales of tobacco products (which were bringing in $2billion in annual revenue), but they weren’t done yet. They say more than half of their clients don’t have primary care physicians, and they pivoted to meet that need with walk in medical facilities that provide quick and cheap access to health care professionals. It seems to be working, with about half of their clients coming in night and weekends when most primary care offices are closed.  Based on that success CVS has added optical and hearing exams at a dozen test locations to see how far their health care provision can go.

In addition to dropping tobacco, CVS has remodeled 500 of their locations (so far) to push healthier food in the check out line and has rolled out a line of wholesome snacks, they say in response to feedback and questions from customers looks for better options.

Technology is also playing a role in the transformation. Last summer CVS and IBM announced a partnership that will allow CVS to leverage the Watson super computer to chart behavioral patterns and eventually raise red flags when it looks like people aren’t adhering to their prescriptions or their health is declining.

Innovations in Fighting Cancer

Three companies were recognized for their work in changing the way we fight cancer: Novocure, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Amgen.

Using electricity to slow tumor growth

Previously there were three ways to fight cancer: surgery, radiation or some form of chemo. Novocure is the first company to commercialize a fourth way: alternating electric field therapy. The company, based in the UK, has developed a portable “Optune” device that sits directly on a patient’s scalp to deliver low intensity alternating electric fields that inhibit tumor growth in the most common and aggressive forms of brain cancer, called glioblastoma. The FDA recently approved it as a first line treatment in conjunction with chemotherapy. The company has clinical trials underway for for non-small-cell  lung cancer, pancreatic and ovarian lung cancer, mesothelioma and other types of brain tumors.

Using the Body to Fight the War

Bristol Myers Squibb has been buy acquiring small biotech companies with big ideas and speeding experimental treatments to market, and although it had a few down years, it seems like that strategy may finally pay off. They are now at the forefront of a new class of cancer drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, which push a patient’s own T cells to fight tumors.

Although Merck’s Keytruda made headlines after successful helping former President Carter with Stage IV cancer, Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo is well positioned with a slightly more encompassing go-ahead from the Food and Drug Administration to treat advanced melanoma, all second-line NSCLC patients (not just the high-PDL1-expressing patients), and second-line renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

Cancer hunting Virus

People weren’t sure how Amgen’s 2011 purchase of BioVex would play out, but now they they are on the market with the first cancer killing virus its looking like a genius move. Amgen’s live, genetically modified virus, Imlygic, has been making news through its ability to infect cancer cells, replicate inside then, and kill them by popping their membrane like a balloon. Once the membranes are burst the virus is freed to hunt other cancer cells. Imlygic also has a genetic enhancement that may also increase immune responses, amplifying its impact. It was approved by the FDA and European Commission to treat metazoic melanoma last fall after impressive clinical trial successes.

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Lindsey McCoy MPA, is an Executive Medical Recruiter and former CEO in the not for profit sector.

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