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AstraZeneca to offer innovative oncology medicines to UAE, says top official

The British-Swedish pharma and biotechnology giant is “optimistic” about rapidly providing them



File photo
File photo
by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Fri 11 Mar 2022, 7:05 PM

Last updated: Fri 11 Mar 2022, 8:17 PM

Following a close and fruitful partnership during the Covid-19 pandemic, AstraZeneca is set for new vistas of cooperation with the UAE in cancer care.

The British-Swedish pharma and biotechnology giant is “optimistic” about rapidly providing its new oncology medicines to the UAE. Some of its phase 3 and 4 clinical trials have been carried out in collaboration with leading healthcare firms in the UAE, top officials from AstraZeneca said.

“AstraZeneca has more than 130 different trials of medicines going on and some certainly are here. It’s a growing level of R&D collaboration that we see taking place between AstraZeneca and this region,” Dave Fredrickson, executive vice-president, Oncology Business Unit, AstraZeneca, said after a tour of the cancer centre at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi.

Evusheld Covid-19 medication (Photos supplied)
Evusheld Covid-19 medication (Photos supplied)

The pandemic has already seen a high-level engagement from the leading drug maker.

Last year, the UAE received ‘Evusheld’ Covid-19 anti-body drug and innovative AZD7442 medication for unvaccinated Covid-19 patients, there were collaborations with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi to further enhance R&D in health sciences, and with G42 Healthcare on clinical research and diagnostics.

“What we have learnt through our work done particularly around Covid-19 treatments is that it’s through public-private partnerships and private-private partnerships that we are able to bring in medicines very rapidly across the globe,” Fredrickson told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

Dave Fredrickson during a tour in Burjeel Medical City
Dave Fredrickson during a tour in Burjeel Medical City

AstraZeneca has a scientific office in Dubai, which follows-up on drug supply from manufacturing sites and ensures uninterrupted supply of medications in the UAE.

“AstraZeneca has one of the most important portfolios of new oncology medicines. I am hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to bring those medicines as rapidly as we can to the UAE. We have some important new studies that are reading out as well as some clinical trials that have recently read out. I am hopeful we will be able to bring those here rapidly so that the patients can begin benefitting from them as quickly as possible.”

Dr Humaid Al Shamsi at BMC
Dr Humaid Al Shamsi at BMC

Professor Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, director of oncology services at VPS healthcare, hopes for more clinical trials in oncology.

“AstraZeneca visited us to look at the UAE infrastructure in cancer care. Their team was very impressed with the current infrastructure, and we are looking forward to collaborating with them for clinical research and advancing cancer care in the UAE. We aim to bring FDA registration and clinical trials to the UAE. We discussed collaboration for early screening and detection, and prevention of cancer, which will certainly help the advancement of cancer care in the country,” said Professor Al Shamsi, who is also the president of Emirates Oncology Society.

National campaign boosts screenings

One of the agreements has already borne promising positive results. A national campaign: ‘New Normal, Same Cancer’ launched in collaboration with Emirates Oncology Society has resulted in 59 per cent more screenings in the UAE.

The nationwide awareness drive, launched in March 2021, urged people to go for early screenings and consult doctors when they feel any symptoms of cancer.

“Statistics showed there was a 40-per cent decline globally in the patients going for treatments and screenings in 2020. So, we launched this campaign with the Emirates Oncology Society to ensure the progress made in survival of cancer patients was not undone,” said Peter Raouf, director, AstraZeneca GCC oncology business unit.

Peter Raouf
Peter Raouf

“Some initial figures show an improvement of 59 per cent of patients returning to their routine screening. While working with different hospitals and healthcare centres, they have given us some statistics on how they have seen improvements in the number of appointments for screening. The findings have been very encouraging,” Raouf added.

By end of the 2021, a joint lung cancer campaign for early detection was launched in the country.

AstraZeneca will now launch a new programme: ‘Accelerating Change Together’ in the UAE with focus on screenings and diagnosis.

“Innovative new therapies alone won’t be sufficient for us to be able to battle cancer but we need to ensure that we are screening and diagnosing patients early. In addition, we have excellent patient identification techniques to deliver precision medicines, that is, the right medicine to the right patient at the right time,” Fredrickson noted and lauded the role played by the Emirates Oncology Society in creating awareness among the public.

“It’s imperative that we are able to diagnose cancer early,” he stressed.

Number of cancer cases to rise

Fredrickson is hoping the cooperation seen during the response against the pandemic will now extend in offering cancer care as the number of new cases are expected to surge.

“Silver lining of the pandemic was the work that we were able to do when we all came together to make meaningful progress against the health crisis that the entire globe was facing.”

The high-level delegation is taking part in a two-day AstraZeneca Oncology Summit at the Expo 2020 Dubai. It aims to explore ways to transform the way cancer is diagnosed and treated in the future.

“I think cancer is indeed a health crisis. I am confident that if we can partner and collaborate in ways to tackle the core issues, we will be able to make progress in eliminating cancer as a cause of death across the world.”

Fredrickson stressed that the number of cancer cases is expected to rise in the region this year.

“We saw the number of cases go down significantly for the last two years. I expect the number to climb up again. Unfortunately, cancer incidents in the Middle East region are likely to grow because of the ageing population, different aspects of lifestyle and improved diagnosis rate. We are going to see an increased number in this region. Early screening is essential. Mortality rates of cancer patients diagnosed late are very high.”

AstraZeneca and BMC team members
AstraZeneca and BMC team members

‘VPS’ cancer centre is world-class’

AstraZeneca’s delegation was impressed by the world-class cancer care facilities at Burjeel Medical City. Fredrickson pointed out the multi-modality and specialities brought together at the cancer centre.

“This is truly one of the most innovative cancer centres in the Middle East. They have a focus on multiple modalities. So, it is bringing together the ability for chemotherapies, radiation, particle therapies, bone marrow transplant. Having all of them together in the same institution is impressive.”

Fredrickson highlighted that focus on the patient’s care was paramount at VPS Healthcare’s facility.

“Making it the most convenient, comfortable for patients as they undergo their cancer treatment. I have been to many hospitals across the globe. Oncology is a very competitive space across the globe and there are many impressive institutions but this hospital is certainly world-class,” Fredrickson added.

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