Amid increasing talk of a Cold War between the U.S. and China, the two countries should look to their successes in the fight against cancer as a way forward, former Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said at a global online healthcare summit organized by Forbes China on Saturday.
“As the international community continues to navigate a fractured and uncertain world with COVID-19, the war on cancer is showing us the power of collaboration, even while managing a strategic competition among nations,” said Rudd, currently president of the New York-based Asia Society Policy Institute.
“Ultimately, the results of this cooperation between the world’s two largest economies is accelerating the improvements in cancer outcomes for patients in the United States, China as well as the rest of the world. It is therefore vitally important that this cooperation is allowed to continue, and it is a shame the same level of cooperation is yet to be the hallmark of the global fight against COVID-19 as well.”
The 2020 Forbes China Healthcare Summit gathered to discuss the theme of “Advancing the Global Fight Against Cancer in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era.” The event was held in strategic partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Forbes China is the Chinese-language edition of Forbes.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic this year has led to more than three-quarters of million deaths globally as of Aug. 15, cancer will likely kill far more people around the world this year– close to 10 million. Cancer patients are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 than others, and have more than double the COVID-19 death rate compared to COVID-19 patients without cancer.
“No one is so far immune to cancer,” noted Rudd, speaking from his home in Australia. Political leaders struck down by cancer in the two countries include former China Premier Zhou Enlai and former U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Current U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Beau died from brain cancer 2015, which led to the launch of the White House Cancer Moonshot program while Biden was vice president.
Since 1971, the U.S. and China have managed to increase collaboration on clinical trials “even amongst an increasingly difficult bilateral relationship,” Rudd said. “Talk of a new Cold War is fast becoming a reality and could yet become a hot one, too, with military conflict in the South China Sea with seriously unpredictable consequences for all over the world,” he said. In today’s “uncertain and frightening times,” however, “another war is being fought cooperatively behind the scenes by both the United States and China that must be allowed to continue – a war on cancer.”
With its more than four million cancer patients a year, China’s participation in clinical trials can help reduce the time from laboratory discovery of new medicines to treatments – sometimes as long at 10-15 years, Rudd said. “The fact that even during the COVID-19 pandemic clinical trials have continued and virtual meetings are conducted regularly attests to the depths of this collaboration.”
Policy changes in Beijing since it joined the International Council of Harmonization in 2017 have paved the way for its acceptance of international clinical trial data in the country, thus accelerating American drug development in the China market and earlier Chinese patient access to medicine, Rudd said. As a result, a Merck cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil was approved in nine days in 2018 by China’s National Medical Products Administration, the equivalent of the country’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Rudd noted.
In addition, Beijing-headquartered Beigene, in which California-based Amgem agreed to pay $2.7 billion for a 20% stake last year, received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2019 for Brukinsa, a lymph cancer treatment. More recently, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals of the U.S. in June signed an agreement with Shanghai-based Zai Labs to work together on trials for a lymphoma drug.
A condition for longer-term success, however, is agreement between government agencies on both sides to set scientific standards for regulatory approvals and clinical trial design, Rudd said. To that end, barriers continue to exist in multiple jurisdictions, including the proper use and handling of human genetics resources by researchers in China which must be urgently addressed. Existing multilateral rules must be upheld to ensure data quality, patient privacy and intellectual property protection, he added.
“Everything must be subject to regular audits by independent inspectors. In other words, we must ‘trust, but verify’ as President Reagan used to say in a different context.”
Other Forbes China Healthcare Summit participants included Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media; Moira Forbes, Executive Vice President, Forbes Media; Dr. Wu Yi-Long, Chairman, Chinese Thoracic Oncology Group,or CTONG; Dr. Lisa DeAngelis, Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer, MSK; and Dr. Bob Li, Physician Ambassador to China and Asia-Pacific at MSK.
Dr. Murray Brennan, Senior Vice President International, MSK; Kenneth Manotti, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer, MSK; Ge Feng, CEO, Jiahui International Hospital in Shanghai; Dr. David Raben, Vice President, Product Development, Genentech; and Dr. Andrea Myers, Global Program Head, Lung Cancer at Novartis also participated. The event was sponsored by the Antidote Health Foundation, Genentech, Novartis, and Jiahui International Hospital.
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