You are not alone. Patients can lean into the thousands of advocacy groups in the US and around the world for helpful resources and access to support groups.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. There is so much great information out there, but sometimes it is very difficult to filter out the noise. What causes cancer? Can it be prevented? How do you detect it? What are the odds of survival today? What are the different forms of cancer? What are the best treatments? And what is the best way to support someone impacted by cancer?
In this interview series called, “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer” we are talking to experts about cancer such as oncologists, researchers, and medical directors to address these questions. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benjamin Moutier.
Benjamin Moutier, MS, has held leadership positions across AstraZeneca’s therapeutic areas for more than a decade and has extensive experience bringing innovative cancer treatments to the global market. He currently serves as Vice President and Global Franchise Head of Hematology at AstraZeneca, where he’s leading commercial activities for the company’s Hematology portfolio.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the small city of Normandy, France, where I loved playing tennis and spending time with friends and family. The single most defining moment of my childhood, however, was losing my father to cancer when I was fifteen. At first, it didn’t spark any desire to work in the cancer space. It did the opposite — I stayed far away from anything related to illness and hospitals. That profound loss impacted me differently later on and led me to where I am today.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was always very interested in science, at first in mathematics and physics and later, biology. After graduating from engineering school in France, I wanted to pursue a career that would give me a sense of purpose and contribute back to society, and I finally found it in the pharmaceutical industry. Looking back, cancer research was always on my mind, even if subconsciously due to my father. Most of us have a loved one who’s been through their own battle with this disease — it’s a nearly universal human experience.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
The bold ambition and purpose of our oncology unit is important to me, and the reason I get up in the morning. I focus on some of the hardest-to-treat cancers with the goal of changing patients’ lives. I’ve worked across different tumor types, including lung cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and gastrointestinal cancers, and eventually led our global immuno-oncology (IO) business. IO is promising and has seen such substantial progress in recent years that is giving newfound hope to thousands of patients. Having a direct impact on patient outcomes, with the ultimate goal of one day potentially curing cancer is a unique opportunity and a powerful motivator.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
What really drives me is exploring new treatment options that will have a significant impact on patients. Our goal is to develop innovative medicines and create new regimens that will become the future standard of care in hematology. We aim to deliver innovative medicines to improve patient outcomes. AstraZeneca is an organization with innovation woven into our DNA. Our R&D teams in oncology and hematology are made up of world-class, industry-leading experts. We have an opportunity to lead the pack in hematology, and we have several new assets potentially coming to market in the future for hematological malignancies.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of cancer?
I have been in the industry for more than 15 years in a range of roles, including leading the oncology business for AstraZeneca France across different parts of the organization. During this time, I’ve launched several products and new indications, at both the country and global level. The dual experience allows me to understand the full lifecycle of cancer drugs and how to bring them to market. I’ve worked on different types of drugs in oncology and hematology across several tumor types: targeted therapies, IO therapies, bispecific antibodies, and antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). Within AstraZeneca, all teams are critical to a successful, impactful new cancer drug launch: — commercial, marketing, sales, medical affairs, access, regulatory and R&D. I also have experience designing effective clinical development plans, which involves building clinical trials to address unmet patient needs.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s start with some basic definitions so that we are all on the same page. What exactly is cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide without control, proliferate, and then affect and invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also travel through the bloodstream and lymphatic system and spread to other parts of the body.¹
Blood cancer in particular is a diverse and complex family of diseases.² There are more than 100 types of blood cancers and related disorders of the blood, bone marrow or lymph nodes.³ ⁴ ⁵ This includes leukemias, lymphomas and myelomas.⁶ Leukemia is a cancer that affects tissue that makes blood (such as bone marrow) and causes the production of too many abnormal blood cells.⁷ Lymphoma and myelomas are cancers that begin in the cells of the immune system.⁸
What causes cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases with many possible causes.¹ At its core, cancer is a genetic disease; it is caused by changes to genes that control the way our cells function, particularly how they grow and divide.¹ Normal cells grow, divide and die when they are no longer needed, but cancer cells lack the ability to have programmed cell death so they grow and divide out of control.¹ To get cancer, a person can be born with genetic mutations, which can increase their risk of developing certain kinds of cancers.⁹ People can also make personal lifestyle choices, like smoking, which can increase the likelihood that certain types of cancer will develop.¹
What is the difference between the different forms of cancer?
Today, cancer is typically classified as either a solid tumor based on location in the body, or as blood cancer — also known as a hematological malignancy.¹
Among hematologic malignancies, one of our core areas of focus at AstraZeneca is chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). CLL is the most common type of leukemia in adults in Western countries, with over 100,000 new cases globally in 2019.¹⁰
Another area of focus for us is lymphoma which is a blood cancer of the lymphatic system caused by the rapid production of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.¹¹ The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).¹² Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer, while NHL has more than 60 different subtypes some of which are more aggressive and others indolent.¹³ ¹⁴ Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), is a rare NHL typically resulting when B-lymphocytes mutate into malignant cells within a region of the lymph node, known as the mantle zone.¹⁵ ¹⁶MCL is often diagnosed at a late-stage disease after it has spread to the other sites such as gastrointestinal tract and bone marrow.¹⁵ Due to the intricacies of NHL subtypes, there are many promising standard or investigational therapies being researched.
Despite great successes in developing innovative treatments and a deep understanding of blood cancers, patients still have critical unmet needs.¹⁷ As a company, we are expanding our commitment to these patients by exploring the main hematological disease. We’re investigating novel treatment approaches in patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), follicular lymphoma, marginal zone lymphoma, T-cell lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, acute myeloid leukemia and soon patients with multiple myeloma. We know cancer is different for each patient and bringing these pipeline agents forward with the goal of achieving superior levels and durations of response, both in monotherapy and in combination with established agents, holds the potential to offer additional treatment options to patients.
I know that the next few questions are huge topics, but we’d love to hear your thoughts regardless. How can cancer be prevented?
The research is clear — our best chance to reduce the risk of developing cancer is by making healthier choices whenever we’re able to.¹⁸ This can mean anything from maintaining a healthy weight through diet and regular exercise habits, to abstaining from smoking, to lowering alcohol consumption and wearing sunscreen when outdoors.¹⁸ Pairing these habits with yearly physician check-ups, staying up-to-date on vaccines, and undergoing recommended health screenings can make a world of difference when it comes to both prevention and early detection, the latter of which is critical to better outcomes if cancer does develop.¹⁸
How can one detect the main forms of cancer?
Keeping on top of regular healthcare visits is key. People can take things into their own hands by getting screened early, and often.¹⁸ ¹⁹ ²⁰ It’s the simplest way to mitigate risk and allow for early detection, which we know improves outcomes across so many types of cancer.¹⁸ ¹⁹ ²⁰ Lung cancer, for example, is a big area of focus for us at AstraZeneca. For anyone who has been a smoker for a decent part of their lives, regular screenings are extremely important and can improve their overall chances of survival.²¹
Cancer used to almost be a death sentence, but it seems that it has changed today. What are the odds of surviving cancer today?
The answer to this question really depends on the type of cancer we’re talking about, rather than considering cancer as a single disease. With some cancers, we’re now in the remarkable position of being able to reach positive outcomes for a large percentage of cases. We already see this with pediatric cancer and certain types of leukemia, and it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come in the last few decades.²² ²³
Other cancers are still more difficult to treat — for example, metastatic lung cancer is one of the most challenging.²⁴ ²⁵ With other blood cancers such as DLBCL, there’s a 50–50 chance of relapse within five years.²⁶ So, while incredible progress has been made, we know our work is far from over if we want to achieve a reality where cures are the norm for cancer in every form.
Can you share some of the new cutting-edge treatments for cancer that have recently emerged? What new cancer treatment innovations are you most excited to see come to fruition in the near future?
There are a number of innovative therapies that have been launched throughout the past few years, including targeted treatments and recent advancements in IO. IO has already transformed patient outcomes in hematological malignancies and is paving the way for breakthrough treatments in solid tumors. In hematology, we’re seeing the most promise in CAR-T, T-cell engagers and ADC therapies.²⁷
In addition to the strides AstraZeneca is already making, we have a huge opportunity to address and potentially cure many hematologic malignancies in the future by leveraging our industry-leading portfolio in solid tumors and connecting and applying those discoveries to blood cancers. Research in these therapies is happening at an accelerated pace. This will enable us to explore novel combinations and expand across more subtypes of lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma with the aim to increase patient benefit and with the potential to become new standards of care in this setting. It’s a remarkably unique time to be working in this field.
ADCs are another class of cutting-edge treatments that are showing promise in many solid tumors and hematological malignancies.²⁸ They can generate durable responses in patients and be combined with other mainstay treatments.²⁹ ³⁰
Ultimately, I don’t believe any single asset is going to cure cancer. Combination therapies are going to play a very important role in getting us there, and our team at AstraZeneca believes personalized medicine is the future of cancer detection and treatment. We’re energized by our pipeline that will ultimately help get patients on the right treatment for their specific cases.
Healing usually takes place between doctor visits. What have you found to be most beneficial to assist a patient to heal?
Healing is a common complementary therapy for patients with cancer, but the most effective form varies from person to person.³¹ I find that it’s most important to have open lines of communication with the patient regarding what types of healing matters most to them so you can support them in finding a personalized process that works best.³¹ Whether it’s advising on the available physical/psychological therapies or linking patients up with support groups, I find it best to first listen to the patient’s needs and then identify the healing support that will be most effective for them.³¹
From your experience, what are a few of the best ways to support a loved one, friend, or colleague who is impacted by cancer?
It is important to remember that there are no set rules in supporting a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer. From my experience, it is often the little things that mean the most. This can take the form of bringing them to an appointment, preparing a meal or just being there to listen and acknowledge their journey so they don’t feel alone. Navigating this kind of health change in someone you care about can often be emotional for you as well, so remember that it is okay to express those feelings and seek out your own sources of support.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about fighting cancer is that every type of cancer is the same, and therefore all patients can be treated with the same therapy. Especially in hematology, it’s important to remember that not all blood cancers are the same.³² ³³ Molecular drivers may vary between cancers, requiring treatments to address the specific characteristics for each patient’s blood cancer.³⁴ Cancer care is about so much more than treatment.
Our entire organization is focused on better care for patients with high unmet needs, and that care extends beyond direct treatment of their disease. The fight against cancer should not be a solitary one. Overcoming cancer requires a collective approach with patients, caregivers, physicians, academics, advocacy groups, governments, regulators and more. Through strategic drug discovery collaborations and commercial partnerships, we are sourcing new medicines, investing in the brightest minds and funding research across the globe, with a focus on making a difference in the lives of patients.
Thank you so much for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what are your “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
1 . Approximately 40% of cancers can be prevented.³⁵ Early screening is critical because it could dramatically increase survival rates.³⁶
2 . We are making progress. There are new options. The cancer treatment landscape is constantly evolving, as new treatments and advancements are being made. It’s important that patients talk to their doctors about the latest treatment options and what’s right for them.
3 . Enrolling in a clinical trial may be a good avenue to explore. If you’re dealing with a rare and aggressive cancer for which there are currently limited options.
4 . No two cancers are the same, as each has unique characteristics differentiating from others. That’s why cancer patients often require personalized treatment approaches.³²
5 . You are not alone. Patients can lean into the thousands of advocacy groups in the US and around the world for helpful resources and access to support groups.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d start a movement towards bringing as many young and talented people to cancer research and the pharmaceutical industry as possible. We have a chance to cure cancer in the next few decades, but it is going to be a herculean effort and we need as much talent and as many ideas as possible. Hopefully, they will come to AstraZeneca, where we aim to transform the overall hematological cancer care experience.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please also feel welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn to hear more about the advancements we’re making at AstraZeneca in the hematology field.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your great work.
1. National Cancer Institute. What is Cancer? https://www.cancer.gov/about-
cancer/understanding/what-is-cancer. Accessed September 2023.
2. Hillman Cancer Center. Types of Blood Cancer. https://hillman.upmc.com/cancer-care/blood/types. Accessed September 2023.
3. Yale Medicine. Blood Cancers. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/blood-cancers#.
Accessed September 2023.
4. American Cancer Society. What is Bone Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/bone-cancer/about/what-is-bone-cancer.html. Accessed September 2023.
5. American Cancer Society. Lymph Nodes and Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/diagnosis-staging/lymph-nodes-and-cancer.html. Accessed September 2023.
6. Temple Health. Leukemia, Lymphoma and Multiple Myeloma.
https://www.templehealth.org/services/conditions/leukemia-lymphoma-multiple-myeloma. Accessed September 2023.
7. Mayo Clinic. Leukemia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/leukemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20374373. Accessed September 2023.
8. American Society of Hematology. Patients.
https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/blood-cancers. Accessed September 2023.
9. National Cancer Institute. The Genetics of Cancer. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/genetics. Accessed September 2023.
10. NCBI. The global burden and attributable risk factors of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 204 countries and territories from 1990 to 2019: analysis based on the global burden of disease study 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8753864/#. Accessed September
11. America Society of Hematology. Blood Cancers.
https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/blood-cancers#:. Accessed September 2023.
12. National Cancer Institute. Lymphoma-Patient Version.
https://www.cancer.gov/types/lymphoma. Accessed September 2023.
13. Penn Medicine. Types of Lymphoma. https://www.pennmedicine.org/cancer/types-of-cancer/lymphoma/types-of-lymphoma#. Accessed September 2023.
14. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. NHL Subtypes. https://www.lls.org/lymphoma/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/nhl-subtypes. Accessed September 2023.
15. Rare Diseases. Mantle Cell Lymphoma. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/mantle-cell-lymphoma/. Accessed September 2023.
16. Cancer Research UK. Mantle Cell Lymphoma. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/types/mantle-cell. Accessed September 2023.
17. NCBI. Assessing unmet needs in advanced cancer patients: a systematic review of the development, content, and quality of available instruments.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9489568/#. Accessed September 2023.
18. Mayo Clinic. Cancer prevention: 7 tips to reduce your risk. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/cancer-prevention/art-20044816. Accessed September 2023.
19. Health NY. Cancer Screening and Prevention.
https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/cancer/screening/. Accessed September 2023.
20. American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/screening/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer.html. Accessed September 2023.
21. American Cancer Society. Can Lung Cancer Be Found Early?
https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html. Accessed September 2023.
22. NCBI. Outcomes for Children and Adolescents With Cancer: Challenges for the Twenty-First Century. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2881732/. Accessed September 2023.
23. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Treatment Outcomes. https://www.lls.org/leukemia/acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia/treatment/treatment-outcomes#. Accessed September 2023.
24. URMC. Lung Metastasis.
https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=22&contentid=lungmetastasis#. Accessed September 2023.
25. City of Hope. Stage 4 Lung Cancer. https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/lung-cancer/stages/stage-iv-lung-cancer. Accessed September 2023.
26. Blood. Outcomes in refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: results from the international SCHOLAR-1 study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5649550/. Accessed
27. ASCO Educational Book. ADCs, BiTEs, CARs, and Small Molecules: A New Era of Targeted Therapy in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. https://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/EDBK_279043. Accessed
28. Oncology Hematology. Antibody-Drug Conjugates in Solid Tumors. https://onco-hema.healthbooktimes.org/article/33628-antibody-drug-conjugates-in-solid-tumors. Accessed September 2023.
29. PubMed. Combining antibody-drug conjugates and immune-mediated cancer therapy: What to expect? https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26686577/. Accessed September 2023.
30. PubMed. Antibody-Drug Conjugates for the Treatment of Hematological Malignancies: A Comprehensive Review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29556925/. Accessed September
31. Cancer Research UK. Healing and Cancer. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/healing. Accessed
32. Cancer Institute NSW. What is Cancer? https://www.cancer.nsw.gov.au/about-cancer/cancer-
basics/what-is-cancer#. Accessed September 2023.
33. City of Hope. Blood Cancer. https://www.cancercenter.com/blood-cancers#. Accessed September 2023.
34. Cell.com. Cancer driver mutations: predications and reality.
https://www.cell.com/trends/molecular-medicine/fulltext/S1471-4914(23)00067-9. Accessed September 2023.
35. World Health Organization. Preventing cancer. https://www.who.int/activities/preventing-cancer#. Accessed September 2023.
36. NCBI. Population measures: cancer screening’s impact.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK550216/#. Accessed September 2023.