Cancer during COVID-19: Novartis exec Schaffert headlines campaign highlighting the other 'C' word

Susanne Schaffert, Ph.D., president of Novartis Oncology, speaks with (clockwise) Michael Coleman, M.D., Paul Farmer, M.D., and Deborah James. (Novartis)

Novartis wants to remind everyone that there’s more than one “C" word health problem. While COVID-19 is dominating headlines and minds, the original "C" word—cancer—hasn’t gone away.

Novartis Oncology's reminder is a new campaign “Let’s Talk about the C Word: From Cancer to Cures.” The monthly series of six short videos launched Feb. 4, World Cancer Day, and focuses on cancer prevention, diagnosis and management.

“Especially during the pandemic, cancer got completely forgotten, and what for me was very concerning is that screenings were disrupted and diagnostics are now very late—you see patients come in with more advanced stages—and we all know we need to act,” Novartis Oncology President Susanne Schaffert, Ph.D., said.

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Schaffert will moderate informal chats with experts, including Paul Farmer, M.D., professor of global health at Harvard Medical School; Michael Coleman, M.D., a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who heads up the Cancer Survival Group; and Deborah James, BBC podcaster, author and cancer care advocate.

Schaffert's ultimate goal is another “C" word, but that one is “cure."

“Many people will say, ‘Is this too ambitious?'" she said. "[But] there is so much progress that we have probably never been closer. There's still a long way to go, but now is the time for a call for action."

The "C" word campaign aims to educate patients and emphasize that, even with a cancer diagnosis, people can live their lives—and live them well—as scientists and researchers work toward the ultimate "cure" goal.

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James, the BBC podcaster and author who appears in the series, is a excellent example. She is a stage 4 bowel cancer patient who is “ a role model for not giving up enjoying life, enjoying every moment,” Schaffert said.

Novartis Oncology's portfolio of more than 25 drugs includes Kisqali and Piqray to treat metastatic breast cancer and the CAR-T therapy Kymriah to treat leukemia. More recently, its MET inhibitor Tabrecta nabbed a first FDA approval for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer with MET mutations.