Partnership on access detailed in the Journal of Global Oncology

In September of 2015, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) launched the inaugural issue of the Journal of Global Oncology. This new open access, online journal focuses exclusively on cancer research, treatment, and the delivery of care in middle and low resource countries. Among the first articles published was one authored by The Max Foundation’s CEO Pat Garcia-Gonzalez, along with other partners, spotlighting the Glivec International Patient Assistance Program (GIPAP).

In this short interview, Pat is asked to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into why she was driven to publish the GIPAP story and what she hopes readers will take away from the publication.

Journal of Global Oncology

Novel Humanitarian Aid Program: The Glivec International Patient Assistance Program—Lessons Learned From Providing Access to Breakthrough Targeted Oncology Treatment in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Why was it important for you to tell the GIPAP story?

Pat: The GIPAP program – its model, scope, and impact – are extraordinary in many ways. GIPAP has been and continues to be the most far-reaching humanitarian drug access program for an oncology product in history. The GIPAP model provides a new paradigm in access to treatment programs and is a model now broadly adapted to access programs for any targeted therapy. As program administrators we track the treatment of each patient, one at a time, in partnership with his or her treating physician. We have operated in 80 countries, approving the delivery of more than 3 million monthly doses of the drug and working for 14 consecutive years in partnership with 1,500 hematologists and oncologists, as well as the program sponsor.

The early launch of the GIPAP is also extraordinary; the program was launched almost simultaneously with the approval of the drug by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), so patients in low-and-middle-income countries had access to this innovative drug at the same time as patients in the Western world. This approach was quite unprecedented, and has gone a long way towards building a more equitable world.

What is the main thing you want people to take away from this publication?

Pat: The first message I want people to understand is that it is actually possible to safely treat patients with a targeted therapy in all regions of the world. Additionally, that it is also possible for an international non-governmental organization (INGO) to partner with a pharmaceutical company for the benefit of patients. And finally, that with the right model, it is possible to maintain patients with chronic conditions on therapy for many years, avoiding drug diversion and other challenges that have plagued the world of international humanitarian drug donations.

Please don’t get me wrong; I am not saying it is easy. At this moment in time, for instance, we are caring for 33,000 patients on treatment, one at a time. You have seen the extraordinary dedication of our team, and I can assure you it takes an equally dedicated team at Novartis, and the most hardworking and dedicated treating physicians, some of whom today actively oversee the treatment of more than 1,000 patients. But it is possible with the right commitment and with the right goals in mind.

I also want people to know that access to treatment can be a catalyst to strengthening the healthcare system. GIPAP has been pivotal in the introduction of diagnostics, training of more healthcare providers, development of systems, and inspiring the formation of patient associations. I have observed that in the field of global health, stakeholders are often ready to provide resources to strengthen the healthcare system, provide training, and so on, but reluctant to provide access to the drug, giving as an excuse issues such as lack of diagnostics. Well, there is no better incentive to strengthen systems than availability of the treatment. I want people to understand this key point.

The last point I would mention is that a drug access program requires a long-term vision; it needs to be understood as an investment in a community and a partnership with each patient. The Max Foundation is poised to work hand in hand with those who are prepared to step-up and make the investment, and I can promise you that everyone, and especially the patients, will step-up with them