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‘AstraZeneca Korea to redefine cancer treatments for patients’
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2020.05.27 10:53
  • Updated 2020.05.28 12:11
  • comments 0

It has been four months since Alisha Song came to Korea as AstraZeneca Korea’s oncology marketing director. As a Korean-American, Song is tasked with strengthening the capabilities of the Korean branch’s oncology marketing managers through her role as a brand advisor.

Song believes that with her help, the company will be able to redefine cancer treatments for patients in Korea and ultimately help the patients in the long run.

In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, Song emphasized her goals and experience while working at AstraZeneca Korea and her impression of the Korean pharmaceutical sector.

Alisha Song, AstraZeneca Korea’s oncology marketing director, talks about the company’s goals and strategies in the local market, during a recent interview with Korea Biomedical Review.

Question: Could you briefly explain your role in global AstraZeneca and the current role in AstraZeneca Korea? What will be your plans this year?

Answer: My global role is working on commercialized lung cancer medicines, more specifically, drugs that treat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients who have epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations.

In Korea, I plan to work on the commercial oncology strategy for the market, which is essential to the company.

My ultimate goal during my time here is to help the team redefine cancer treatments for patients in Korea. As part of this goal, we want to extend survival in lung cancer in the long term by bringing innovative therapies for patients and looking at them at the earlier stages of diseases with curative intent.

Q: According to your background, you have experienced various companies in the oncology market. What brings you to come back to AstraZeneca?

A: I have been very fortunate to work for a lot of great companies over my career.

The reason that made me come back to the company is its leadership and commitment to the oncology field. The company is really at the forefront of making advances in oncology.

I also firmly believe in the values that the company holds dear, such as backing their treatment with solid science and always putting the patients first. One of the other core values that I believe important is that “we play to win,” which means that we look for advances in treating patients so that we can win for the patients.

Q: What is the differentiated point AZ is focusing on compared to other oncology-specialized companies?

A: From a strategic perspective, one of the most important factors is that we focus on underlying biological drivers of diseases.

The company is currently targeting four main areas -- immuno-oncology, tumor drivers and resistance, DNA damage response, and antibody-drug conjugates. This means we are not just looking at one narrow treatment opportunity but a wide range of different drivers of cancers to help patients in the long run.

The company is always looking at the entire courses of diseases from earlier stages to curative measures while focusing on improving five-year survival for cancer patients and treating patients who need to overcome primary or acquired resistance.

I think this is just who we are, as the company always embodies a patient-centric approach.

Q: You mentioned that you are focusing on lung cancer. Why is lung cancer so important for the company?

A: Lung cancer is a very important treatment field for the company as it is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

The world is witnessing a steep increase in lung cancer patients, with more than two million patients newly diagnosed every year. The problem is more severe in Asia, as the continent accounts for more than half of the newly diagnosed lung cancer patients. If we specifically look at South Korea, the nation’s prevalence of lung cancer is expected to continue to rise for the next 10-20 years.

Regarding NSCLC with EGFR mutation, which is my area of expertise, up to 40 percent of Asian patients with NSCLC have this mutation, compared to about 10 to 15 percent of patients in the U.S. and Europe.

Therefore, the company believes that it is essential to address the needs of such patients in Korea and provide them with optimal treatments.

This is a field we can excel at as we are one of the pioneers in the research of personalized medicine that can target specific biological drivers of diseases. To date, 90 percent of our oncology portfolio has this personalized healthcare component.

Q: What are some of the characteristics you have seen in the Korean oncology market so far?

A: A big part of our cancer treatments are tied to a type of mutation. However, to determine what types of mutations the patients have, we must conduct a biomarker test.

As we saw, even in this pandemic situation with Covid-19, Korea is a leader when it comes to diagnostics. The same goes for its diagnostic capabilities in detecting specific biomarkers for lung cancer. Also, Korean physicians are very good at analyzing the full biomarker results of lung cancer patients and optimize the treatment for the patients.

Another critical factor is that Korea’s healthcare market is a government single-payer system. Therefore, it brings some of the differences in the timing of access.

Q: I understand that direct-to-consumer public advertisement is available in the U.S market, and the patients’ movement is also active. Based on your experiences, what are some key activities that are likely to apply to the Korean market?

A: You can’t influence patients in any market. In the U.S, we can provide information on our products to patients. Typically the company does not put commercials up like other companies. Instead, we offer educational resources to the healthcare professionals specific to the products to share with patients.

A big part of our advertisement is about the partnership with patient advocacy groups in the U.S., and I do believe that the Korean corporate affairs team partners with patient advocacy groups when it’s available.

Ultimately the goal is to enable patients to make the best decisions by themselves.

Q: Could you share your experiences of working with Korean colleagues and customers?

A: It’s has been fantastic working with the team in Korea. The spirit of collaboration and the focus on delivering innovative cancer treatments to the patients has been outstanding.

It’s also great to see them collaborating not only with me but also with the physicians at the forefront of treating the patients. Seeing their commitments to science, physicians, and patients have been great.

I would recommend my global colleagues to come to Korea, especially my colleagues in the diagnostic team. They need to come here and see how the Korean medical community works in diagnostics. Korea is a global leader when it comes to diagnostics, and knowledge can be valuable in helping the team provide more beneficial care for our patients.


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