U.S. and China Collaboration to Fight Cancer: A Potential Breakthrough in Global Healthcare
In the midst of ongoing geopolitical tensions between the United States and China, a new report by Cure4Cancer, an organization under the New York-based Asia Society, highlights the potential benefits of collaboration between the two countries in combating cancer. Titled Advancing Global Health Equity: Enhancing Clinical Trials Access and Cooperation to Save Millions of Lives from Cancer, the report delves into a case study illustrating how China’s increased participation in global regulatory harmonization and international drug trials could significantly reduce cancer-related deaths.
This report comes just ahead of an anticipated meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping during an APEC leaders meeting in San Francisco this month. As diplomatic exchanges between the two countries intensify, there has been speculation that joint efforts to fight cancer will be a key agenda item. Dr. Bob Li, the report’s first author and Physician Ambassador to China and Asia-Pacific at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, announced that Cure4Cancer will be holding an international conference in New York on December 1st.
Both China and the United States face a significant healthcare challenge in terms of cancer treatment, as they rank first and second in the world, respectively, in terms of annual cancer burden. Together, they account for nearly four million deaths each year out of a global total of over 10 million. The Cure4Cancer report asserts that expanding international collaboration in clinical trials is vital for bringing new cancer treatments to patients worldwide. The report suggests that global regulatory harmonization and approvals of cancer therapies could potentially decrease cancer-related deaths by 10% to 20% or save one to two million lives annually.
However, the report also acknowledges that policy innovation and regulatory harmonization for international clinical trial collaboration still face significant hurdles due to bureaucratic challenges, stakeholder silos, and cultural and geopolitical differences. Currently, only around 5% of cancer patients worldwide have access to clinical trials that explore the effectiveness of innovative drugs, vaccines, and technologies for cancer treatment. The report highlights the emergence of AI algorithms that match patients with potential treatments, as well as the importance of increasing the percentage of patients from diverse backgrounds who have access to clinical trials. This could greatly accelerate the drug approval timeline from the traditional 10 to 15 years to just 2 to 3 years, ultimately saving millions of patients desperate for treatment.
The report emphasizes the need for pragmatic policy frameworks that involve multiple stakeholders in order to promote international clinical trial collaboration. The United States has launched Project Orbis under the Food and Drug Administration as part of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which has successfully attracted countries like Australia and Brazil to participate, resulting in expedited approvals for 75 cancer drugs. Nonetheless, China is not currently a member of this project, despite accounting for approximately 24% of new cancer cases annually. The report argues that working with China would expand the pool of trial data available to researchers, reduce treatment costs, and encourage other countries to join. Concerns about data generated from China could be addressed through site inspections. If China does not join Project Orbis, the report suggests the possibility of a limited confidentiality agreement between the United States and China, which could pave the way for full partnership following agreements with other project nations.
It is worth noting that increased collaboration in drug trials between China and other countries would complement the ongoing collaboration between individual companies in the development of cancer drugs. For example, Coherus BioSciences of the United States and Shanghai Junshi Biosciences of China obtained U.S. FDA approval to sell a treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer, a type of head and neck cancer. With over 130,000 newly diagnosed cases worldwide in 2020, this approval signifies a step forward in cancer treatment.
As anticipation builds for the upcoming Biden-Xi meeting, it remains to be seen how this potential breakthrough in global healthcare collaboration will unfold. The fight against cancer requires a united effort, and if the United States and China join forces, millions of lives could be saved, treatment costs could be reduced, and pharmaceutical companies could access new markets and revenue streams. Improved policy coordination and collaboration in clinical trials hold tremendous promise in the quest to find lifesaving new cancer therapies and preventions. Ultimately, the time it takes to conduct clinical trials remains the main barrier to discovering new treatments, and global cooperation is key to overcoming this obstacle.
By harnessing the power of international collaboration, stakeholders can establish more pragmatic policy frameworks, optimize drug approval timelines, and provide millions of patients with the much-needed hope for a better future in the fight against cancer.