AstraZeneca cooks up campaign with celebrity chef to raise lung cancer biomarker awareness

AstraZeneca's new campaign emphasizes the importance of biomarker testing in lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. (AstraZeneca)

AstraZeneca and celebrity chef Ming Tsai are teaming up for an online cooking session peppered with lung cancer information.

A Facebook video features Tsai and his son Henry preparing a healthy stir-fry dinner while also talking about the stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis Tsai’s wife and Henry’s mother, Polly, received in 2018.

Tsai specifically talks about Polly's biomarker, an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation for non-small cell lung cancer, along with how taking things slower and creating family meals helped bring them together.

In the 10-minute video, the Tsais move from cooking techniques and how to use ingredients to addressing Polly's cancer and how they are coping. Ming Tsai also addresses the fact that in Asian culture, sometimes people don’t want to “burden you with their diagnosis." He emphasizes several times that people shouldn't be afraid to ask questions or go to a doctor for help.

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The social media collaboration with Tsai debuted in March and is part of AstraZeneca's “It’s Okay to Ask” campaign, which was already underway. The goal is to raise awareness around lung cancer and biomarkers and to encourage people to talk openly about it.

“There's this widespread perception that lung cancer is a smoker's disease or you've brought it upon yourself,” Katy Miller, AstraZeneca's U.S. franchise head for Tagrisso, said. “It can make patients feel guilt or shame about decisions they've made, but in fact, all you need to get a lung cancer diagnosis is a pair of lungs.”

In addition to the personal connection and his broad appeal—Tsai is host of PBS’s popular cooking show, “Simply Ming"—the campaign is another way for AstraZeneca to reach the Asian American community. The EGFR biomarker is overrepresented in Asian Americans at 30% to 40% of lung cancer patients; only 10% to 15% of all lung cancer patients have it. While Tsai's wife Polly does have the EGFR mutation, she is not Asian American.

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The Facebook video directs viewers to the hashtag #ItsOkayToAsk and AZ’s lung cancer website, which focuses on the importance of the biomarker test to help tailor specific treatments for certain types of lung cancer.

Along with the video, which has more than 13,000 views, Tsai took part in several pre-pandemic live educational events, including one aimed at Asian-language media which also featured oncologists and doctors local to the New York area.

Tsai is "engaging the community and his story really touches so many people, and we are looking forward to continuing that collaboration,” Miller said.

AstraZeneca's blockbuster Tagrisso has notched billions in sales as it established itself as the new standard of care for EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer.

And that was even before its December FDA approval for post-surgery treatment in patients with early-stage EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer. Tagrisso lowered the chance of disease recurrence or death by a 83% versus with placebo in patients with stage 2 and 3a disease, according to data presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting.