As a research investigator at Sanofi, Maysoun Shomali is a pioneer making a difference for breast cancer research. For the last 20 years, Maysoun has dedicated her life to researching and developing therapies – 10 of those with a focus on types of breast cancer that are resistant to other forms of treatment. Through her work and colleagues like her, the advances in new treatments and early detection are helping to increase 5-year breast cancer survival rates by 89 percent. Today there are more than 15 million breast cancer survivors living in the U.S.
The Driving Force
The connection to the patients is by far the most important driver of her work. Maysoun notes even though she may not necessarily be there to see the patients treated or ever see them directly, just knowing they are benefitting from her research is what motivates her every day.
“Hopefully any therapy you make will touch thousands or millions of lives,” says Maysoun. “I think that is the goal with any therapy is you spend this time doing this research and developing this therapy to touch millions of lives.”
Challenges, Chances and Looking Forward
“Every day is a new challenge and if I have one advancement, one small advancement for the year, or even for that month, or that week, that to me is enough to keep going,” says Maysoun. “That is enough to persevere and find the next turn, the next key, the next step, to unlocking the puzzle.”
To Maysoun, advances in gene sequencing, technology development and targeted therapies are providing hope for patients and researchers. One specific type of treatment that excites her is immunotherapy. Rather than killing cancer cells directly with traditional tools, like radiation or chemotherapy, immunotherapy seeks to harness the immune system’s power to eliminate the cancer and slow its growth and ability to spread. Immunotherapies enable the immune system to fight cancer similarly to how it would attack a virus or bacteria.
While Maysoun does not closely work on immunotherapy research herself – and instead focuses on other targeted therapies – she notes that in recent years, immunotherapy has made the possibility eradicating a patient’s cancer a much more attainable outcome. In fact, more than 240 immunotherapy medicines and vaccines are currently in development, which all hold immense promise for cancer patients around the world.
“Through targeted therapies , other patients, particularly in breast cancer are able to extend their lives in meaningful ways,” says Maysoun. “There are definitely immunotherapies being developed that appear to have the potential to cure cancer, and others that seem to keep cancer at bay. These patients are living longer and healthier lives.”
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