Life insurers playing a critical role in early cancer detection
Cancer and its devastating impacts on the U.S. population aren’t slowing down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that the annual number of cancer cases in the U.S. will increase by 49% by 2050 as the number of adults entering the age groups at the greatest risk for being diagnosed increases.1 What if we could do something about it? By pooling the life insurance industry’s resources to bring multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests to policyholders, together we can attempt to alter the course of cancer mortality.
The screening challenge
One way to improve cancer mortality rates is through screening, which is proven to help save lives.2 However, at the present time, we only screen for five types of cancer individually, while 71% of cancer deaths are from those for which we have no current screening tests.3 Why is that?
The road to bringing new cancer screening technologies to the market is often a long one. It requires an enormous amount of time, investment, expert vetting, rigorous testing, and education. Clinical trials to test new cancer detection methods start with a series of proscribed steps, involve a huge amount of data gathering, and end with an application for FDA approval. It’s a process that can take years.4 Innovations that make it through the clinical trial process must show a net benefit, meaning they can detect a high proportion of cancer at a stage where treatment can be more effective than it would at a later stage. Up to now, only a handful of tests have passed this process.
But good news is on the horizon. Recent advances in medical knowledge, cellular biology, and are giving us a deeper understanding of cancer – which means better treatments and the ability to find it early, too, when there is a greater likelihood of survival.
Multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests can make a difference
One such technology with huge potential as an effective cancer screening test is Galleri®, the MCED test from biotech innovator GRAIL, which can detect a cancer signal from more than 50 types of cancer—over 45 of which currently lack recommended standard screening—with one single blood draw. By increasing the number of cancers detected through screening, Galleri® can potentially transform the future of cancer detection, leading to early intervention and potentially improved outcomes.
Munich Re first partnered with GRAIL in 2022 to promote early cancer screening as a post-issue benefit to eligible life insurance policyholders.5 Since then, we have helped several life insurers establish in-force programs to roll out Galleri® to policyholders. Policyholder response rates have been robust, and we’ve received strong endorsement from distribution partners and agents.
Clinical trials running at full speed
GRAIL’s clinical development program is one of the largest cancer screening trials ever conducted and involves more than 30,000 participants. Here is an update on recent trial activity:
- The UK’s ongoing National Health Service (NHS)-Galleri® trial completed enrollment of 140,000 volunteers between 50-77 years old and without symptoms of cancer, who will provide a blood sample during three annual visits over two years.6 The trial’s objective is to reduce late-stage cancer diagnoses. We are closely tracking early readouts of this trial—the largest study of an MCED test—whose findings will be relevant for the life insurance industry looking to offer Galleri® to asymptomatic policyholders. Interim results remain promising and are consistent with the results from our initial validation study.
- GRAIL presented results at the 2023 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting from a subset of Galleri® tests processed through commercial channels, including tests ordered through physicians, employers, and insurers. The findings supported the Galleri® test’s ability in real-world settings to detect a cancer signal across multiple cancer types—including stage I and II cancers—and predict cancer signal origin. Results that Galleri® could be used to support broad, population-level screening.
- Also during the 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting, GRAIL presented results from an analysis of people who received a signal-detected result, which showed that the test’s prediction of cancer signal origin helped guide diagnostic resolution, directing clinical workup and limiting exposures to excessive testing.
- Findings from a study conducted in partnership with the University of Oxford showed that Galleri® found two out of three cancers among more than 6,000 people who had visited their physician with symptoms suspicious of cancer and correctly predicted cancer signal origin in 85% of people with a positive test and confirmed cancer diagnosis. This study shows the potential value of MCED optimized for people with symptoms in leading to more efficient diagnosis.
Even with this exciting investment from GRAIL, it will take some time before Galleri® is widely adopted across the U.S. healthcare system. This screening gap is temporary, however, and change will come. GRAIL is already busy driving early cancer detection forward by delivering more than 100,000 commercial test reports to patients to date and launching 60+ commercial partnerships with employers, health systems, and others.
Life insurers stepping in to help
The life insurance industry is not bound by the same restrictions as healthcare innovators seeking to develop new products. Life insurance carriers have a unique opportunity now to speed up access to the Galleri® test for policyholders. During the past year, several life insurance carriers have found creative ways to start offering Galleri® to policyholders as a post-issue benefit. This includes embedding the test in health and wellness programs, utilizing distribution networks to reach policyholders, or attaching the Galleri® test in newly developed products.
Munich Re Life US has worked with these carrier partners to reach more than 100,000 policyholders about Galleri®. Our carrier partners have received strong endorsement from policyholders and agents regarding their offerings, and we are starting to learn about the outcomes of some positive cases, especially those where the cancer was intercepted early.
This is feedback we are delighted to receive. Here are just two examples:
We’ve now had several customers and an advisor who have learned that they have cancer by virtue of taking this test, offered through their John Hancock Vitality policy. So, when you think about that as a life insurer, it’s great for the customer, which we deeply value, but also good for us.
I can’t think of anything we have ever done as in our business or probably ever will do that is so meaningful and so personal…to a client. It’s really incredible.
You might still ask, “Why is it the responsibility of the life insurance industry to do this?” Carriers not only have easy, widespread access to large populations of people, but they also have an interest in their policyholders’ health and well-being. Our previous articles on Galleri® offer more insight into the operational benefits associated with offering the test to policyholders, which include future mortality savings and improved customer engagement:
Changing the future
In the U.S., there are over 334 million people, and roughly 52% of them have life insurance.7 We might not be able to cure cancer, but with the right commitment we can do something to positively impact cancer mortality.
The life insurance industry can speed up progress by paving the way for the acceptance of Galleri® and other cutting-edge early cancer detection tests that are emerging. At Munich Re Life US, we encourage you to take a deeper look with us. Working together as an industry, we can bend the cancer mortality curve.