While Prostate Cancer (PC) Awareness Month is behind us, the impact of this deadly scourge is not – in fact, it’s pervasiveness is increasing around the world, with one in nine men being diagnosed with PC every year in the US. Two dedicated pharmaceutical leaders, who are laser-focused on advancing solutions in the PC landscape are Chumi Khurana, Vice President, Global Commercial Leader, Prostate Cancer at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and Pallavi Bansal, GU and Hematology Lead for Merck US Oncology. As advocates in the men’s health arena, these two women offer a unique perspective and are committed to making significant progress in the fight to one day, eliminate the devastation of PC.
Each has had a different journey to advance men’s health. Chumi’s father was a physician and healthcare was always front and center in her home. Once she earned her MBA in International Business, she wanted to combine her passion for healthcare and global business. “As a wife, and parent of a son and daughter, my focus is on developing and marketing treatments that can be accessed by all who have unmet needs.” Pallavi’s grandmother died from cancer, and it had a tremendous impact on her. She experienced her mother’s pain and wanted to work on the causes of the disease. She began her career as a bench scientist, spending two years at the Cleveland Clinic exploring a new virus that may cause PC. “I left research because it took too long to make a difference. I pivoted to business because it brought me much closer to more mature innovation.”
In terms of the benefits women can bring to men’s health, Chumi strongly believes that “Traditionally women are seen as caregivers, men are seen as stoic and care-resistant. Women have a major role to play in encouraging the conversation and taking the stigma and shame away from men expressing weakness due to an illness.” Pallavi agrees and feels that women should channel the passion and advocacy they bring to breast cancer and elevate the conversation around PC. “Women often make healthcare decisions in families, an area many men have been found to neglect, women bring awareness. There is so much funding in Breast right now and women who suffer are passionate about it. As a result of the significant research and funding, more discoveries have been made. In PC you don’t see the same level of engagement, but this is slowly changing and we must help drive that change.”
Advocacy and preventive care remain pressing issues. Chumi is hopeful, but the statistics are still grim. “While PC remains more treatable when compared to other cancers, in the US alone, there were over 268,000 new cases in 2022 with approximately 34,500 estimated deaths.” Also of great concern are the disparities in the patient populations. “PC is significantly more pervasive among African-American men than white men,” observes Pallavi. “Similar to the pandemic, those who have less access to quality healthcare have worse outcomes. We need to deliver greater awareness, education and access to those populations. Especially when considering that men tend not to talk about their health issues.”
Chumi believes the silver-lining of COVID-19 is that it has shined a spotlight on the state of men’s health globally. “As we near the end of the pandemic, men are becoming more proactive about preventive care, and self-advocacy.” Pallavi agrees, but remains concerned. “Covid made clear the importance of seeking healthcare at the right time. I hope men better realize the consequence of not seeking timely treatment.”
As leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, both Pallavi and Chumi understand the key role that pharma, at the enterprise level, plays in advancing men’s health. “We can go a long way towards improving men’s awareness and proactivity towards achieving better health outcomes…campaigns that normalize the conversation around men’s health are a priority. Educate men on the signs and symptoms of prostate cancer. It is our duty to encourage men to get screened, especially if they’re at risk,” declares Chumi. Pallavi stresses the importance of advocacy. “We continue to partner with patient advocacy groups to drive awareness. This further elevates the understanding of treatment options, which can raise the demand for greater innovation in PC research and development. We must remain vigilant in our pursuit of curative solutions, not just during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, but throughout the year.”