Print this article

Innovation, Impact Investment Raises Cancer Treatment Game

Dr Maximilian Martin

28 December 2023

The term “impact investing”covers many fields and medicine is one of them. In the following article, produced via , aspects of cancer treatment and research are covered. The editors of this news service are grateful for the insights, which come from Dr Maximilian Martin, global head of philanthropy at Lombard Odier Group. The usual disclaimers apply to the views of guest writers. Jump into the conversation. Email

Whilst 2022 saw more than its fair share of crises, including war in Europe, market turmoil, inflation and supply chain shocks, it nevertheless offered significant progress in terms of science and innovation. We saw the world’s first successful energy-positive nuclear laser fusion experiment, and the development of highly advanced chatbots in the field of AI. 

The sphere of cancer research and treatment was no exception, with recent progress having opened up vast possibilities for 2023. Impact investing has more potential than ever, with innovative methods of financing able to channel capital with increasing efficiency.

Progress in the cancer sphere firstly includes the effective application of mRNA vaccines to rapidly develop and update Covid-19 vaccinations. This has highlighted the power of immuno-oncology, i.e. the activation of the immune system to treat cancer. Originally developed in cancer research, the use of this medical science in the context of the pandemic has greatly expanded knowledge and infrastructure in this field. 

Secondly, the rise of digitisation during the pandemic was also present in the cancer sphere. The adverse financial impact of this period cut fundraising income by more than a third for some cancer research and patient organisations. Nevertheless, many set about virtualising their business processes, such as the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the world’s leading cancer control advocacy non-profit. UICC invested heavily in its digital platform during the pandemic and created a “virtual dialogue” format to enable the global cancer community to maintain connections in this period.

AI: an opportunity to watch in 2023
Artificial intelligence offers some of the most promising developments in early detection and cancer prevention. We can soon expect ChatGPT-type applications (chatbots able to simulate human conversation to an advanced degree) to improve access to cancer information downstream at the patient level. 

The potential of AI pointing upstream is equally exciting. Take “Interception,” an oncology AI project carried out at Institut Gustave Roussy (1) , one of Europe’s leading cancer research institutions (2). The project aims to detect and eradicate malignancies before they become detectable by classical assessments, which would allow 30 to 40 per cent of future cancer patients to be identified as high-risk up to 10 years preceding diagnosis.

For future cancer patients, the benefits are obvious: early detection is the best way to extend life expectancy and patient wellbeing. But beyond the human dimension, this also matters in the context of public resource allocation, particularly when healthcare must compete for funding with other causes such as nature conservation, climate change and social inclusion. 

New approaches to resource mobilisation and funding
Ground-breaking work is similarly underway to mobilise funds, expertise, and networks in order to reduce cancer inequality between high-income and low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Without proactive action to expand the availability of cancer medicines and treatment technologies in LMICs, this gap will only widen.

Here, an opportunity to watch is the Access to Oncology Medicines Coalition (ATOM), which was launched at the UICC World Cancer Congress in October 2022, and is being rolled out in 2023. The Coalition’s ambition “to reduce avoidable suffering and deaths caused by cancer in low and lower middle-income countries through increased access to affordable essential cancer medicines and training on their use” is interesting for scientists, pharma and civil organisations alike (3).

ATOM works with pharmaceutical companies to map their medicine portfolios and determine how access could be expanded in target ATOM countries. Going forward, it plans to include diagnostic companies, and to reduce transaction and rollout costs via mechanisms such as a single medicine registration process. This could offer biopharmas, and companies producing generic medicines and diagnostic tools, access to new markets, while simultaneously allowing businesses to be actors of change in parallel to their core function. 

In a more general sense, almost two decades after new financing and partnership models first appeared on the public health scene, it is time to take a leap forward in terms of innovative approaches to finance. The creation of the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm) in 2003, which creates bonds to borrow against future donor pledges so that vaccines can be delivered early, resulted in the immunisation of hundreds of millions of children (4). Equally, the Advanced Market Commitments (AMCs) in 2009, which created procurement certainty on volumes and prices for pharma firms, were revolutionary (5).  

The value of impact investing for cancer outcomes
In today’s world, where Environmental, Social and Governance considerations are fast becoming core investor requirements, sectors can work together to create innovative financing mechanisms that result in high social impact, improved outcomes for patients and attractive financial returns. For clients wishing to engage in philanthropic activity, structures such as sheltered foundations are vital tools for ensuring that capital is channelled effectively. This is primarily a result of the expertise and strategic relationships of such foundations with key organisations – in this case, the UICC and Institut Gustave Roussy for example.

Factors are currently combining to raise future cancer incidence: a growing and ageing population, urbanisation and an obesity epidemic. More than ever, cancer has the potential to touch everyone; it is therefore paramount that we prioritise the development of innovative financing solutions in order to limit its impact. 


2,  See Suzette Delaloge, 2021, Intercept project description, Institut Gustave Roussy, Paris.
3, ATOM presentation at World Cancer Congress, October 2022.
4, History | International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm)
5, See The Next Phase of Innovative Financing (

The author
Dr Maximilian Martin serves as the Global Head of Philanthropy at Lombard Odier Group, secretary general of the Fondation Lombard Odier and a trustee of the Fondation Philanthropia. He is also a Senior Fellow at IMD Business School, and a visiting lecturer at the University of St. Gallen. This article highlights views he shared as a speaker at the 8th Annual World Cancer Series Europe of the Economist Impact conference in October 2022. UICC and Institut Gustave Roussy are grantees of Fondation Philanthropia.