Bilal Piperdi on How Gilead is Striving to Create New Possibilities for People with Lung Cancer
Stories@Gilead - May 30, 2023 - 4 min read
After finishing medical school in the late 1990s, Bilal Piperdi wanted to follow his mentor into the field of thoracic oncology, the specialized area that focuses on lung cancer. Yet many of his peers and friends discouraged him due to its many challenges, including a lack of promising options for patients.
“During my residency, some physicians used to question whether metastatic lung cancer patients should even be treated,” says Bilal. “At that time, treatments had harsh side effects and were not very effective. Plus, the disease was stigmatized due to its association with smoking.”
But Bilal never wavered in his decision. He built a clinical research career in academia and heeded his mentor’s advice that to make a difference in this area he would need to think outside the box.
Years later, Bilal found himself joining Gilead as Vice President of Clinical Development Oncology, at the start of an exciting time for the company. Gilead had decided to build on its legacy in antiviral therapies and declared its intent to deliver 10 or more transformative medicines by 2030 by applying its strengths to cancer and other diseases.
Inspired by Gilead’s reputation for transforming care in HIV and its pioneering work that led to a cure for hepatitis C, Bilal was further drawn to the company’s diversity of talent and pipeline in lung cancer.
“Novel, unique transformations are what Gilead brings to the table and why I think we’ll make a difference in lung cancer,” he says. “There’s definitely a lot of momentum in this area.”
Gilead’s Focus on Unmet Needs and Challenges in Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is a complex disease, and multiple mutations make it challenging to treat. Bilal says Gilead’s goal is to reduce the burden of this leading global cause of cancer, where 50% of the cases aren’t discovered until they have metastasized.
The initial focus is on extending life for people with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Currently, the standard of care for metastatic NSCLC is immunotherapy or immunotherapy in combination with chemotherapy. But in more than half of the people who receive these therapies, the disease progresses in less than a year. The Oncology team is working to change that by exploring next-generation therapies and clinical combinations that could help improve outcomes and quality of life.
“This is just the start of the journey,” explains Bilal. “Our goals are to move into earlier lines of treatment and eventually aim for a cure.”
The team plans to make the biggest impact on cancer, he says, by combining therapies with different mechanisms of action – essentially attacking cancer from multiple angles. For example, researchers are evaluating compounds that encourage tumor cell death in combination with those that enhance the ability of the immune system to target the cancer. Plus, Bilal notes that Gilead won’t be limited by what’s in its current pipeline.
“If there’s a drug company or an organization with access to a medicine that may work with our therapy to help patients, we’re ready to collaborate,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to deliver therapies to patients and their care team as soon as possible in order to help bring more life to people with cancer.”
Bilal’s Inspiration to Improve Outcomes
Bilal says his desire to help improve patient outcomes in cancer was initially sparked by his father, a physicist who worked in radiation oncology during his childhood in Myanmar. His father was proud of Bilal’s career and often boasted about his son’s role in developing the next-generation of cancer therapies.
Bilal recently lost his father to metastatic kidney cancer, but his memory continues to inspire him in his work. He also credits his equally passionate team for Gilead’s ongoing progress in lung cancer.
“People here are tackling some of the most challenging diseases facing humanity,” he says. “We have an unwavering commitment to deliver treatment options that could help change the lives of people with lung cancer.”