THE BLOG
09/30/2016 12:40 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2017

SAP: Cancer's Corporate Conscience

Having spent many years as an executive in the business world, I've often wondered what makes a good company great.

Renowned author Jim Collins tried to answer that in his 2001 mega-blockbuster, "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't." He concluded that identifying and promoting disciplined people to think and focus in a disciplined manner was a key ingredient of strong and consistent financial success.

Of course, that's important. But there is another indicator of corporate greatness that Collins overlooked: How innovative companies, led by compassionate executives, embrace the health and well being of their employees, especially those with an often terminal disease like cancer.

This month, I witnessed what should be the corporate model for this at SAP, the Big Data software developer in Philadelphia. Like me, SAP's CEO Bill McDermott and his C-suite colleagues are very much aware of two trends:

The growing global pandemic of cancer and its impact on the workforce, and what very well may be the best weapon to conquer it, precision medicine.

We all know that barring real change, the CDC predicts that 2025 will see 19.3 million new cases of cancer a year -- with lung cancer again leading the way by a wide margin. That's not the number of people who will have cancer nine years from now: That's the number of new cases alone. Nineteen million is more than the entire population of most countries in the world today.

As the founder of two non-profit lung cancer foundations, I came to SAP to talk about the very real hope precision medicine holds for impacting these numbers through breakthrough cancer research and treatments. The human body "print" is equally as unique as the fingerprint and that's what makes comprehensive genetic profiling to tumors so important. No longer is the treatment for cancer "one size fits all." Now, it's "right patient, right drug and right time!"

It's precisely this type of science and technology advancements that Vice President Joe Biden believes will help meet a key goal of his Cancer Moonshot of doing 10 years of research in five to win the war against cancer. McDermot and I are intimately involved in the Cancer Moonshot. Our views are patient centric and we've set up our own support programs and organizations to help patients, families and employees.

McDermott knows first hand what a cancer diagnosis is like. His wife survived a bout with breast cancer but his mother died at an early age from pancreatic cancer. So he values the importance of research and treatment -- and along with SAP's chief operating officer, Richard Knowles, is personally committed to fighting cancer in the workplace and beyond.

One of the Moonshot's most important missions is applying Big Data analysis in the field of health care -- a mixing of technology with science. SAP is a leader in this space. Through its HANA platform, the company is leveraging high-speed technology to access millions of neglected patient records, allowing physicians to make more timely and informed data-driven treatment decisions.

It's a remarkable program. But where SAP stands out among its corporate peers is the creation of the Corporate Oncology Program for Employees (COPE) a diagnosis and treatment map that provides physicians with the recommended care options if staff are diagnosed with cancer or another deadly disease. What is commendable is that SAP covers the cost of the test, something the insurance industry should be doing.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of discussion about how cancer will impact the workforce as more and more employees are diagnosed. And with companies fixated on growth and increasing revenue, an important question is whether they will embrace the remarkable solutions of precision medicine.

Companies like SAP are instrumental in changing the course of conversation and treatment in our country. Private enterprise in the United States has helped lead the way towards fundamental, and positive, change for Americans and people around the globe.

For the last decade, I have dedicated myself to making lung cancer a chronically manageable disease by 2023. We still have work to do, but knowing companies like SAP are putting their best foot forward to understand the patient perspective and provide top access to care and treatment gives me confidence we can overcome this terrible disease.