Cancer patients know immuno-oncology and top drugs, but lack details: study

Cancer cells image
Pharma may have an opportunity to address an information gap among cancer patients, one expert says.

Immuno-oncology and immunotherapy are familiar terms to cancer patients. However, when it comes to specifics on how drugs work or genetic details such as PD-1 or CTLA-4 pathways, knowledge drops off. That’s according to a new survey from Inspire of more than 800 cancer patients who use its patient engagement platform.

Inspire did find that patients are familiar with some of the top drugs that use those mechanisms, particularly Bristol-Myers Squibbs’ Opdivo and Merck’s Keytruda. Opdivo led in both unaided and aided awareness, with 52% of respondents expressing familiarity with the drug when presented with a larger list of treatments. Keytruda scored high as well in aided awareness with a 48% awareness rate. Roche’s Tencentriq, which is newer to market and has fewer indications, got a 23% aided awareness score. Both Opdivo and Keytruda have undertaken mainstream media advertising campaigns to get their brands in front of consumers. 

RELATED: Keytruda's head-to-head against Opdivo rockets meds to Nos. 2 and 3 in ad spending

General new cancer terminology scored much higher. When asked about familiarity in general with drug terms such as immunotherapy, T-cells and targeted therapies, respondents' awareness was high, in the 75-90% range, said Dave Taylor, senior director, head of research at Inspire. Yet when asked further about how those drugs work, awareness dipped down into the 25-40% range, he said.

“People just hadn’t heard some of the terms before … The question is, is it important? Now that we are entering another phase of oncology treatment, is this information going to be something that needs to be presented to patients to make informed treatment decisions?” Taylor said.

RELATED: After Keytruda deaths, FDA hits pause on Bristol-Myers Squibb's Opdivo myeloma trials

The education gap could be an opportunity for pharma companies. Because today’s cancer therapies tend to have a wide range of results depending on each specific patient—with some of those results very disappointing—it may be in pharma’s best interest to manage expectations with more precise details.

“In terms of people seeking information and really immersing themselves in it, I can think of, for instance, videos or graphics that could be put together by pharma that will explain in detail how the drug works, and the variation that can occur between patient A and patient B. And ultimately soften the blow if and when the treatment doesn’t work,” Taylor said.

Another finding from the study was a lack of knowledge around cancer drug costs. More than half of the respondents in the survey said they did not know enough about immuno-oncology treatment costs to make fair assessments of them.