The Relentless Pursuit of a World Without Cancer

By Luca Dezzani is the Vice President of U.S. Medical Affairs for Eisai’s Oncology Business Group





June 03, 2020

Luca Dezzani is the Vice President of U.S. Medical Affairs for Eisai’s Oncology Business Group. He is responsible for Medical Affairs strategy for the company's oncology portfolio of both commercialized and investigational products in the United States, and he oversees Eisai's Health Economics & Outcomes Research (HEOR), Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and Medical Information & Education teams.

I’ve always been curious about human science, the mechanisms behind our existence, and how we can use that information to improve our lives. The day I realized I could combine my drive for scientific discovery with my desire to improve our society was the day I chose a career in medicine. I began as a practicing physician and eventually joined the pharmaceutical industry. Over the course of my career, I’ve focused my efforts on Oncology Medical Affairs, as it’s a complex area with a particularly high unmet need, which I’ve found both fascinating and motivating. Since that day, I’ve never looked back.

Some of my earliest experiences in the industry molded the course of my career and sparked an unrelenting desire to support drug discovery in oncology. One of the first research fields I worked in focused on a form of leukemia. At the time, the disease had an extremely poor prognosis due to low success rates with available treatments1, including bone marrow transplantation. I saw first hand the transformative impact innovative treatments could have as I witnessed a new drug come to market that provided a newfound hope for patients. That experience inspired me to dedicate my life to bringing new medicines to patients with other types of cancer who have not yet benefited from that level of breakthrough innovation.

That was a eureka moment for me—it was the realization that curing cancer is possible and that our work can make a monumental difference in patients’ lives.

Things also got personal. A few years ago, my father was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which—despite many advances—still has a poor prognosis. Despite working in oncology every day, when cancer hit my family, I experienced first hand the devastating impact it can have on our lives. With dedicated medical care and some luck, my father’s cancer was effectively treated and he has remained cancer free. That experience, however, reinforced my commitment to pushing myself to do everything I can so that stories like my father’s are not the exception but, rather, the norm.

Last year, I gained new partners in my journey when I found a home at Eisai. I was drawn to Eisai, not just because it is one of the fastest-growing companies in the oncology treatment space in the U.S., but because my personal aspirations are deeply ingrained in Eisai’s mission to deliver human health care (hhc). What makes Eisai and today’s biopharma world unique is the depth of diversity in backgrounds and personalities—all working together to ultimately improve patient care—from biology to medical science, data analytics, health economics, software engineering and beyond.

Combine passionate people with such diverse expertise and magic happens. That is the reason I fell in love with biopharma and why I am certain we at Eisai have the potential to make the world a better place.

As part of this incredible team, I am proud and humbled to be involved in our milestone achievement for patients living with a type of endometrial cancer, a space in which there had been no innovation in more than 40 years. Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological malignancy in the world2, yet doctors were left frustrated by the lack of treatment options for their advanced-stage patients. Through our strategic collaboration with Merck, which harnessed its expertise in immuno-oncology, and the opportunity to participate in a unique new regulatory pilot program, our teams were able to tackle that frustration and provide another treatment option.

Despite a number of impressive achievements in the oncology research industry within the past decade, there is great room for improvement. Only approximately 1 out of 25 drug candidates makes it successfully through the development process and becomes available to patients,3 and I believe Medical Affairs can help improve the odds. Medical Affairs can play a crucial role in supporting and improving the drug development process by informing study design and asset prioritization through Big Data and real-world evidence.

I am a strong believer that technology can make an enormous difference in health care. In recent news, we’ve witnessed how artificial intelligence (AI) can improve breast cancer screening by surpassing human experts in radiologic prediction4. Moving forward, we’ll see more and more examples of AI-powered health care, given the growing complexity of medical sciences, and Medical Affairs practice are well positioned to lead the way in this disruptive innovation.

Being part of a growing, agile team here at Eisai that is able to adapt amidst ever-changing landscapes and uncertain times without losing focus on our quest to innovate, instills a sense of optimism about our future. Each morning, I wake up with the belief in my heart that we can beat cancer. And every day that passion drives me to work harder and never give up on working toward that goal.

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  1. Hernández-boluda JC, Cervantes F. Prognostic factors in chronic myeloid leukaemia. Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2009;22(3):343-53.

  2. Antomarchi J, Ambrosetti D, Cohen C, et al. Immunosuppressive Tumor Microenvironment Status and Histological Grading of Endometrial Carcinoma. Cancer Microenviron. 2019;12(2-3):169-179.

  3. Wong CH, Siah KW, Lo AW. Estimation of clinical trial success rates and related parameters. Biostatistics. 2019;20(2):273-86.

  4. McKinney, S.M., Sieniek, M., Godbole, V. et al. International evaluation of an AI system for breast cancer screening. Nature 577, 89–94 (2020).