Merck wants advanced lung cancer patients to know that their prognosis is brighter than they may believe. That's because the majority (57%) of recently diagnosed advanced lung cancer patients believe nothing can be done to treat it, according to a study Merck sponsored in conjunction with the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer.
Merck and GO2 have created an awareness effort called “Worth the Fight: Taking on Lung Cancer” to dispel the misconceptions of lung cancer and encourage patients and their caregivers to fight back against the disease. At the core of the campaign is the Merck-hosted website where patients’ personal stories, questions-to-ask guides and advice offer a course of action for those facing the disease for the first time.
Merck’s goal is to “make sure that lung cancer patients recognize that they are worth the fight and that a lung cancer diagnosis does not mean they have to give up. There are options, resources and support, and they should feel empowered to take control of their disease,” said Claire Mulhearn, associate vice president and head of product and pipeline communications at Merck.
The co-sponsored study of 500 lung cancer patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals also found that lung cancer patients were confused after finding out about their disease; 56% said they didn’t know what to ask their doctors, and another significant proportion (21%) never pursued any treatment.
Jacob Sands, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a GO2 board member, said while the numbers are revealing, as a practicing oncologist, he wasn’t surprised because he often hears similar sentiments in his office.
“People picture getting treatment as that treatment is going to extend their lives, but really harm their quality of life. Which is why when they first come in, they will often say ‘Hey, before we talk, you need to know that I want to focus on quality of life.’ And I share with them that that’s exactly what I want to focus on,” he said. “Treatments can not only extend people's lives, but also improve the quality of their lives.”
Getting the message to people early, when they are first diagnosed and most overwhelmed, is important so patients and caregivers can go into doctor visits more prepared and informed, he added.
The "Worth the Fight" campaign fits with Merck’s other ongoing cancer awareness work, including “Your Cancer Game Plan” and “With Love, Me,” as a more focused effort on lung cancer during the early post-diagnosis stage. Mulhearn said it’s complementary to the broader work that includes other cancer types as well as wider-ranging topics of mental, physical and nutritional health across the entire cancer experience.
Merck's anti-PD-1 therapy Keytruda, approved as a lung cancer treatment in 2015, has more than 20 indications in cancer that have helped it grow into an immuno-oncology blockbuster. Keytruda revenue reached $11.1 billion worldwide for 2019, a 55% increase over the $7.2 billion in sales it recorded the previous year.