José Celaya
Medical Director
Bristol Myers Squibb México
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View from the Top

Immunotherapy: The Future of Healthcare

By Miriam Bello | Fri, 02/18/2022 - 13:41

Q: Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) just celebrated 75 years in Mexico. What does this mean for the company in terms of science, research and innovation?

A: Throughout these 75 years, we have changed the natural evolution of cardiovascular diseases, for example in hepatitis, infectious diseases and HIV. More recently, BMS has also altered the course of development of oncological and immunological diseases.

Historically, BMS has focused on diseases that had no treatment option. We have been able to offer life-changing, quality products that improve the life of a patient. During the past five years, BMS has invested US$60 million for clinical research in Mexico, demonstrating its commitment to research and the country’s health outcomes.

Q: Immunotherapy and cellular therapy have been positively disruptive for Mexico’s health system. What is behind these types of innovations for BMS?

A: Immunotherapies are divided into four main lines: action on immune checkpoints, effects on cytokines, immunity through cellular therapies and anti-cancer vaccines.

The company is strongly committed to fighting cancer, so studying the immune system has been pivotal. Through our studies, we learned of the immunoediting process and how our immune system attacks unknown cells. In some patients, the immunoediting process gets overwhelmed, allowing the development of tumorous cells due to lymphocyte inactivation. Tumors will then generate an entire system and quantity of cells unable to be identified by the immune system, creating a tumor load that develops into a visible tumor that can later spread cells to other parts of the body. Our studies have found ways to generate a response that only attacks those unknown cells when lymphocyte is reactivated, otherwise the tumor would further develop.

It is an honor to note that immunotherapy recently in 2021 celebrated 10 years of being introduced to Mexico and was the result of research funded by Bristol Myers Squibb in partnership with Dr. James P. Allison, Executive Director of the MD Anderson Cancer Immunotherapy Platform at Center of the University of Texas, United States and Dr. Tasuku Honjo, of the University of Kyoto, Japan.

BMS is also developing cell therapies for hemato-oncological diseases. This therapy, called transferred immunity, extracts lymphocytes from the patient and changes DNA by adding protein information that will allow the lymphocytes to identify and fight cancerous cells. Transferred immunity is usually the last option for patients who have tried other immunotherapies but for the pharmaceutical industry and who has no other options, it is the future.

Q: What is the future of personalized oncology and what efforts is BMS making to better understand the biology of cancer?

A: Personalized medicine goes hand in hand with precision medicine. In the past, therapies would be generalized for all types of patients. BMS focuses on treating the individual because diseases do not present or evolve equally in everyone, and each patient can react differently to generic therapies.

BMS is trying to identify patient groups for whom therapies have a better chance of working and increasing their years of life without affecting their quality of life. By using biomarkers, genetic studies or mutation detection, BMS is able to identify if a therapy will work for a particular patient as a first-, second- or third-line treatment. Precision medicine allows us to determine the how and when of therapies, depending on the patient and conditions.

It must be remembered that precision medicine is not only the detection of genetic mutations or understanding the psychosocial context of a person within their environment, but also refers to an early and timely diagnosis because, otherwise, we may lose the opportunity to offer a therapy that could have had a better response or efficacy and due the patient was late, he is no longer going to get the benefits that he would have had.

Q: What is BMS’ bet for the future in terms of new releases for the coming years?

A: At Mexico’s subsidiary we have had a great commitment to the investigation of new innovative therapies and we are working on 50 clinical trials in immunology, oncology hematology, fibrosis, cardiovascular diseases and other areas, benefiting about 300 patients. BMS works closely with the Mexican government and performs research within IMSS and some national public health institutes. In addition, we proudly share that BMS Mexico is leading the most important project in breast cancer research protocols worldwide; of 10 authors of the protocol, 3 are Mexican researchers, thus demonstrating our commitment to the country.

We plan within the next year to have six product launches in hematology, dermatology, oncology, gastroenterology and neurology.

Q: What continuing medical education programs do you carry out to support health professionals when making therapeutic decisions for their patients?

A: We have two continuous medical education programs. The first is for doctors to get familiar with our therapies, how to use them and the patient profile they target. The second focuses on raising awareness of uncommon diseases and their therapeutic options. 

Additionally, we offer programs that educate patients on the basic management of their disease, potential side effects or the psychosocial, physical and emotional impacts. Patients who receive an explanation of their therapy and its adverse events better adhere to their treatments and have better outcomes.

Q: What awareness campaigns for the detection, prevention or treatment of diseases is BMS participating in?

A: BMS reaches the public through media outlets to increase awareness of diseases. Self-diagnosis is highly common in Mexico, so we encourage people to look for professional advice. BMS also approaches medical professionals and health institutions to raise awareness through them and to continue promoting a medical diagnosis.

Q: How does BMS use technology to improve its internal operations?

A: During the first month of the pandemic our R&D team was unable to access the institutions where the clinical trials were taking place, and this move us to significantly change the way we operated at BMS. For this reason, we decided to integrate technology throughout the value chain.

We strengthened our approach with medical professionals through digital tools and moved our training programs to online modalities.

Internally, we began to improve our data platforms and supply chains, and we offered all our collaborators the possibility of working with remote monitoring. The entire BMS team faced this challenge with resilience, and we have learned to overcome crises while growing and providing comprehensive solutions to our patients.

Digital Interactions and collaborative work are here to stay and will continue to be strategic pillars to continue promoting innovation in the company.

 

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) is a global biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing, and delivering innovative medicines for patients with serious diseases. The company focuses on oncology, cardiovascular diseases, immimmunology fibrosis and other therapies.

Photo by:   Bristol Myers Squibb
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst