GSK propels 'Our Way Forward' ovarian cancer campaign, doubling down on patient stories during the pandemic

The pandemic is affecting ovarian cancer diagnoses rates along with triggering chemotherapy drop-offs and delaying surgeries, GlaxoSmithKline says. (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline’s ovarian cancer awareness campaign began four years ago, but the pharma is doubling down on its education and patient storytelling support during the pandemic.

Why? Because the pandemic effects are continuing. Among oncologists, 55% reported making fewer diagnoses during the pandemic when asked in February, while another 47% saw drops in chemotherapy and 77% reported delayed surgeries. The new statistics are similar to oncologist responses in April 2020 just after the pandemic was declared, according to the data quoted by GSK.

Women in particular have delayed care at "significantly higher rates" during the pandemic when compared to men, said Michael Petroutsas, senior vice president of GSK oncology business in the U.S. The rates drop even more when it comes to Black and Hispanic women as the pandemic amplified health inequities.

Former Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller is one of the patients telling her story since the beginning of GSK's campaign. The seven-time medal winner and ovarian cancer survivor signed on as a spokesperson at its outset but more recently is speaking out about the pandemic toll on cancer care.

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Her goal is to remind women not only about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the importance of screenings but also to go to the doctor “when something just feels off.”

“It is so important to have education, the support resources and that sense of community not only for the women experiencing ovarian cancer but also the care partners who are by their side every day. It is critical for women to know they’re not alone,” she said in a recent social media promoted “Chasing Cancer” webinar sponsored by GSK and hosted by The Washington Post.

Petroutsas noted the importance of Miller's advocacy and the value of her celebrity and wide circle of influence alongside the many other patient stories.

The "Our Way Forward" campaign "encourages people like them to tell their stories, which helps patients and caregivers not only with information and education but also hearing someone speak from their point of view. Patients are people first, and the more patient stories you can tell the better—that's what people identify with.”

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Our Way Forward launched in 2017 after Tesaro, the cancer-focused pharma GSK eventually bought, queried patients and families about what they needed. A Harris Poll resulted in the campaign, co-created with several ovarian cancer advocacy groups, and a website with education and resources. More importantly, though, it offered what women and their family members asked forpatient story videos, blogs and community.

GSK, which markets PARP inhibitor Zejula as a maintenance therapy as well as an active treatment, is tracking the pandemic effect on care with the statistics mentioned earlier but also trying to figure out how to counter it. 

GSK is taking the lessons learned during the pandemic, for instance, to reach specific groups of women such as translating messages to reach Spanish-speaking women or using local channels that some Black women prefer, Petroutsas said.

GSK ovarian cancer treatment competitors include AstraZeneca and Merck & Co's Lynparza and Clovis Oncology's Rubraca. Other market entrants loom in ovarian treatment, including Merck's combination of Keytruda and Lenvima, which presented positive phase 2 data at ESMO last fall.