In nearly 30 years as a thoracic oncologist, I’ve learned that fighting cancer is just the first battle patients face. The second battle—the one less recognized—is the high cost of the medications they need, and the painstaking decisions and sacrifices often required to obtain them.

In recent years, the discovery and development of new therapies for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) has accelerated at an unprecedented pace.1,2 But too often, specialized drugs are priced beyond what the system can afford and what patients can pay. I’ve seen patients from all walks of life turn to fundraising platforms simply to pay for their medicines.3

At EQRx, our mission is to help patients win both of these battles—by delivering high-quality drugs at radically lower costs. We’ve started our work in NSCLC, the most common type of lung cancer, which is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide.4 In this area, we seek to leverage promising therapies and innovative partnerships with the goals of helping patients and addressing the rising cost of medicines. We’re making rapid progress in our quest to deliver new, more affordable treatment options for this devastating type of cancer with two new potential therapies: sugemalimab and aumolertinib.

Next week, this progress will be showcased through the presentation of updates from studies on both therapies at major medical meetings:

The IASLC 2021 World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC), hosted by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC)

  • Final progression-free survival (PFS) and preliminary overall survival (OS) results from the Phase 3 GEMSTONE-302 study of sugemalimab in Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); abstract #MA13.07

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress 2021

  • Updates from the Phase 3 GEMSTONE-301 study of sugemalimab in patients with unresectable Stage III NSCLC who had not progressed after concurrent or sequential chemoradiotherapy (CRT); abstract #LBA43
  • Final results of the APOLLO study reporting overall survival in patients with pre-treated EGFR T790M-positive locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC who received aumolertinib after progression; ePoster 1208P

As reflected in these presentations, sugemalimab is being studied in people with both Stage III and IV NSCLC, underscoring its potential to treat a wide range of patients. The molecule works by obstructing PD-L1, a protein that inhibits the body’s otherwise intrinsic immune response.5

Other effective anti-PD-L1 therapies have been approved in recent years—part of a wave of new treatments such as immune checkpoint inhibitors and targeted medications.6 While these innovations have decreased the mortality rate for patients with NSCLC, checkpoint inhibitors (PD1 and PD-L1 inhibitors) have experienced virtually no price competition despite a crowded landscape—allowing costs to skyrocket out of many patients’ reach.7,8

So far, the trials for sugemalimab have shown promise for patients. As updated data to be presented at WCLC show, sugemalimab plus standard-of-care chemotherapy demonstrated continued benefit and prolonged progression-free survival in Stage IV NSCLC and was well-tolerated compared to chemotherapy and placebo across all subgroups.9

Always hold us to the core principle of our premise: we are dedicated to ensuring that quality will not be compromised in the name of price.  Although this is counter to all we believe as consumers (“if it’s much less costly it can’t be as good” or “what am I missing,” etc.) we will continuously and fervently work to change this long-held belief.

We are committed to pricing sugemalimab at a fraction of the cost of other anti-PD-L1 or PD1 drugs. But our mission doesn’t rest on just one therapy or disease space: we intend for sugemalimab and aumolertinib to be the first of many high-quality, affordable treatments.

As members of the oncology community, we must work together—not just to improve lung cancer treatment, or develop promising new drugs, but to demand these medicines are fairly priced to ensure broad and equitable access for patients and their families.

Yes, we’re collectively making incredible strides in treating NSCLC. But if every patient who might benefit from such a drug can’t afford that therapy and the healthcare system can’t cope with the cost burden, efficacy becomes a moot point for those patients.

Let’s address what should be the “low hanging fruit:” leveraging the extraordinary scientific advances that have been made against treatment-resistant cancers to facilitate the development of high-quality medicines that are also affordable and accessible.



  1. Wang, M. (2021, July 18). Innovative Research and New Drug Development Continue to Prolong Survival Time of Lung Cancer Patients. National Foundation for Cancer Research. Accessed: September 3, 2021.
  2. Howlader N Engl J Med 2020; 383:640-649
  3. National Institutes of Health. (2021, June 22). Financial Toxicity and Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. National Cancer Institute. Accessed: September 3, 2021.
  4. American Cancer Society. (2021, January 12). Lung Cancer Statistics: How Common is Lung Cancer? American Cancer Society. Accessed: September 3, 2021.
  5. National Cancer Institute. (2021). Definition of PD-L1. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. Accessed: September 3, 2021.
  6. Wang, Innovative Research and New Drug Development Continue to Prolong Survival Time of Lung Cancer Patients.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Cohen, J. (2021, July 8). Is Checkpoint Inhibitor Price Competition Coming in the Oncology Space? Accessed: September 3, 2021.
  9. Zhou, C. GEMSTONE-302: A Phase 3 Study of Platinum-Based Chemotherapy with Placebo or Sugemalimab, a PD-L1 mAb, for metastatic NSCLC. WCLC 2021.