AstraZeneca aims at a 'broader' target with services-based lung cancer effort

As the number of people living with cancer increases, pharma is rethinking how it treats those patients--both with drugs and services.

And as AstraZeneca ($AZN) beefs up its oncology portfolio with a couple of lung cancer meds, it's developing services designed to help those cancer patients in day-to-day life, akin to outreach for patients with chronic diseases

The recently launched unbranded effort, "LVNG With" (pronounced Living With), now centers on a website ( and live events around the country, focusing on lung cancer patients sharing their stories, as well as advice, tips and wisdom gained from their own journeys. The idea was born from the patient insight that meeting other people living with lung cancer inspired them to go out and live their "new life" as well as possible.

AstraZeneca's John McCarthy

John McCarthy, vice president of global commercial excellence at AZ, said more than 100 patients and their families helped develop the program. LVNG With was co-developed with several lung cancer organizations: Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, Free to Breathe, and Lung Cancer Alliance.

In its first month, the site has had more than 20,000 unique visitors, and considering that lung cancer patients in the U.S. number about 300,000, McCarthy said he is "very pleased with the early activity." Live events in Dallas, San Diego and Philadelphia so far have generated better-than-expected attendance rates, he said. More live get-togethers as well as social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram are in the works.

"I feel very strongly that for pharmaceutical companies, simply playing in the space of science is probably not meeting the expectations of our patients. They are expecting more of us," he said. "As pharma companies [we have to] understand their broader needs and try, when appropriate, to provide service alongside our medicine that can help them."

His group, the global innovation team, gives him the enviable job of focusing on big picture digital innovation and patient services for AZ, without having to worry excessively about the bottom line. The group also recently launched a live digital coaching program, including an app for heart attack patients called Day By Day, and previously developed the Conference Notes app to promote scientific exchange at medical conferences.

"We think that the innovation in science needs to be met with innovation in how we reach our patients. So this is a little bit more about how do we put the right kind of services alongside of our medicines? Rather than trying to promote our medicines within this venue," McCarthy said. " … Obviously, [patients] are anxious for new medicines but they're also anxious to take care of their own health, and they do that in a number of ways at the events with a lot of talk about positive attitude, for example. … They're also anxious to help each other and make a difference."

AstraZeneca's Tagrisso, a targeted lung cancer pill, recently got FDA fast track approval, and the company is also developing a PD-L1 immuno-oncology med, durvalumab. The latter would compete with Merck's ($MRK) Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Opdivo, which are already on the market.

- see the AZ-sponsored site