The Future of Cancer Care is Personal

Charles “Charlie” Fuchs, MD, MPH, Genentech’s new head of oncology and hematology global product development, discusses what’s ahead for Genentech’s Oncology franchise.

Hanging in every office Charlie Fuchs has ever had is a 1939 black-and-white photograph of Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. For the first time ever, the photograph is getting ready to travel cross country. “I’m looking forward to moving to San Francisco,” the lifelong Yankees fan said. “If you visit me, that's where you're going to find this picture.”

After years in academia, time spent in the clinic, the lab and mentoring trainees, staff and faculty, Fuchs chose Genentech because of the company’s reputation; he said, “We’re really writing the next chapter in cancer drug development. What’s unique about us is we have incredible depth in science at our company.” Fuchs has spent his career researching gastrointestinal and colon cancers and working to develop better ideas, better understandings of cancer biology, and better therapies for patients. For him, cancer is personal.

Several years ago, after taking his wife Joanna Fuchs, M.D., to receive a colonoscopy, he received a phone call and was told she had cancer, unexpected news as she was only 44 years old at the time. “My wife was diagnosed with colon cancer, which is pretty ironic for a guy who’s committed his career to it,” he said.

Joanna’s colon cancer was caught early, and remarkably, required only surgery for treatment. “She’s done great,” Charlie said. “She’s a proud cancer survivor, and she’s living proof of the progress we’ve made.” Every patient facing a cancer diagnosis should be as fortunate, a cause close to both Fuchs’ hearts. Joanna has been a patient advocate for Stand Up To Cancer, a cancer charity that has funded Charlie’s research in the past and an organization Genentech has proudly supported for many years. As Charlie sees it, this goal of improving outcomes for all patients will require cancer care to be addressed from multiple angles — a viewpoint shared by his new colleagues at Genentech.

Genentech’s commitment to patients goes well beyond novel treatment options to advocating for higher screening rates for earlier cancer detection — when it is most treatable and can save lives. It’s this commitment, as well as its development pipeline and partnerships, that are on display at the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting. “We have innovative science and novel methods of launching clinical trials and advancing drug development, creating the possibility of discovering the next technology that can make a difference for patients,” Fuchs said. At ASCO, Genentech is presenting data demonstrating for the first time that an immunotherapy medicine may improve disease-free survival in certain people with early-stage lung cancer — providing an opportunity for longer life.

Whether it comes from our own sources or from partnerships with other companies or from the moon, if it’s going to help patients with cancer, we’re going to go there.

- Charlie Fuchs

Fuchs’ enthusiasm for Genentech is palpable as he looks ahead to his role in helping shape the company’s future. He shared, “Whether it comes from our own sources or from partnerships with other companies or from the moon, if it’s going to help patients with cancer, we’re going to go there.” He believes that helping more patients will require a focus on inclusive research, strategic partnerships and listening to patient needs.

Genentech has also made inclusivity a priority by embedding diversity and equity into its business model, organizational culture and research protocols. One study that epitomizes this approach is EMPACTA, which found that diversity could be increased by changing how patients were recruited. Inclusivity also shines through in key partnerships. Genentech recently founded the Advancing Inclusive ResearchTM Site Alliance, a partnership with several community-based research hospitals to increase the representation of diverse patient populations in oncology clinical trials. Key to this partnership is accountability. Genentech plans to report on the lessons learned, as well as expand into more therapeutic areas and increase the membership of the Alliance throughout the United States and beyond.

Additionally, Genentech is addressing patient needs through pioneering the importance of precision medicine based on underlying biology — achieved through the convergence of innovative science, data, analytics and technology. For example, through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Genentech is helping to improve care for veterans living in rural and underserved areas by using digital health to provide care. By connecting patients to treatment options based on their disease, cancer care becomes more accessible and equitable. “It starts with understanding the disease and then building medicines. By virtue of that approach, we’ve seen a revolution in cancer care, targeted therapies, immunotherapy — things we never conceived of years ago,” Charlie said. “It starts with the science.”

If you let the science lead you, you will find the answers.

- Charlie Fuchs

According to Charlie, his background in science and clinical research, as well as his personal connection to patients, made Genentech “the right opportunity at the right time.” He is confident that Genentech’s commitment to patients, resolute focus on inclusive research, and foundation in science will succeed in helping produce the next significant advancement in cancer treatment. “I know that we’ve got a long way to go,” he said, “but if you let the science lead you, you will find the answers” — answers that may impact the lives of all patients with cancer.