AstraZeneca UK has appointed David Brocklehurst as Head of Oncology in the UK. He spoke with DDW’s Megan Thomas about how AstraZeneca is innovating to displace chemotherapy and research areas of significance.
MT: What will you be focusing on in your new role?
DB: We have three priorities as an oncology business: supporting earlier diagnosis and treatment; enabling the implementation of precision medicines; and working in partnership with the NHS to optimise patient pathways. Delivering in these three areas is key to our mission to redefine cancer care in the UK, and ultimately, to eliminate cancer as a cause of death. Cancer outcomes in the UK are significantly worse than in comparable countries such as Australia and Canada, and this isn’t good enough. The earlier you intervene, the more power you have to change a patient’s story.
MT: What is the key to better disease management in future?
DB: Earlier patient identification and diagnosis is vital, and digital and AI technologies might be able to help. Last year, the National Screening Committee recommended that a targeted national lung cancer screening programme be introduced, alongside smoking cessation services, for people at high risk. The Targeted Lung Health Checks (TLHCs) programme, which AstraZeneca has helped the NHS promote through the Check Your Lungs campaign, offers a great starting platform from which this can be launched.
Another initiative which AstraZeneca fully supports is the creation of 40 new Community Diagnostic Centres to give cancer checks nearer to people’s homes, using technology such as MRI, CT, ultra-sound and X-rays.
As science evolves and new treatments become available, it is important that we are able to support the implementation of those therapies in clinical practice. A shift towards precision medicines means we’re able to tailor treatment to the exact needs of the individual, driving a deeper response and representing a step change from the standard response to cancer.
MT: Where are the opportunities?
DB: We innovate to be able to displace chemotherapy and set a new bar for treating patients with early and metastatic breast and lung cancers. The technology and science that’s behind that uses the power of antibody engineering to produce antibody drug conjugates. That’s key for us.
Another area of research which is really exciting for the whole industry is genomics and genetically targeted medicines.
We are also looking to broaden our interest in immuno-oncology, where you harness the body’s immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. We believe we can really build on that in terms of moving it into early disease, but also through combinations with other therapies, such as next generation biomarker-directed antibody technology.
MT: What has changed over the past 10 years?
DB: I think there’s a general shift towards treating cancers at an earlier stage, at the point before tumours have spread to other parts of the body. That has powerful potential for patients and to potentially cure cancers.
We are beginning to see the impact of big data and AI, enabling us to move a bit faster through the development process, and also to be more targeted in our R&D. Collaboration with others in the industry and with the NHS has improved over the last ten years and that’s going to continue. Where we are going, no one single company can go alone. When we work together, on a common goal, we can change the experience for patients.
MT: What developments have been most prolific in your career?
DB: The thing that stands out to me has been the introduction of immuno-oncology. I was working in global and regional teams as we launched our first immuno-oncology product.
Immuno-oncology agents don’t work for everyone but when they do, the outcomes are transformational versus what we’ve seen in the past. You are seeing very durable responses and when you look at the long- term survival data that has been generated from immuno- oncology, it’s really striking. That’s been thrilling to live and work through.
DDW Volume 24 – Issue 2, Spring 2023 – Global Cancer Research Guide
David Brocklehurst is the Head of Oncology at AstraZeneca UK. Brocklehurst has worked at AstraZeneca for over 13 years and, in his current role, he’s driving AstraZeneca’s ambition to redefine cancer care in the UK through its portfolio, pipeline and leadership initiatives aimed at delivering the best possible patient outcomes.