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Biotech Takes Aim at Breast Cancer

October 28, 2016
We’ve come a long way in our national fight to beat breast cancer.  Since the 1980s, the mortality rate has fallen by a third due to more effective medicines and an increased focus on prevention, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and with proper treatment, the average 10-year survival rate for breast cancer is now 83 percent.

But as Will Rogers famously observed, “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”

Breast cancer still claims upwards of 40,000 lives a year across America, and one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Moreover, a woman’s risk of contracting breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a mother, daughter or sister with the disease, according to ACS, and contracting cancer in one breast puts women at a higher risk of developing it in the other

Biopharmaceutical companies have stepped to the fore to advance the science behind breast cancer treatments, pioneering promising new therapies to save and extend lives with the ultimate goal of discovering cures.

New biopharmaceutical approaches have isolated irregularities in cancer cells specific to a particular patient. Targeted therapies can take aim at cellular and genetic alterations that trigger cancer cells to grow or spread.

For cancers to grow, blood vessels must develop to nourish the cancer cells – a process called angiogenesis. Several anti-angiogenesis drugs are currently being tested in clinical trials.

Hormone therapies have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in certain at-risk women, especially those born with genetic mutations that predispose them to the disease.

Improved radiation procedures are both reducing the risk of recurrence and the likelihood that major surgery like a mastectomy will be a necessary component of treatment.

And advances in digital mammography and the use of ultrasounds and MRI scans are allowing more women to receive high-quality care in the early stages of the disease when treatments are most effective. Nine out of 10 Americans who are diagnosed with breast cancer today will be alive five years later, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Often, people think of breast cancer as a single disease, but there are many different molecular and histological subtypes that respond differently to various therapies.  Although enormous progress has been made, some forms of breast cancer are still resistant to current treatment options.

President Obama’s Cancer Moonshot initiative has established a breast cancer working group focused on developmental therapeutics, laboratory research and clinical evaluation of novel treatments. Their goal is to fast-track clinical trials that focus on immuno-oncology, which train the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone.

Meanwhile, the science is galloping forward. There are 82 medications for breast cancer currently in the development pipeline. Biopharmaceutical companies are working with the Biomarkers Consortium and federal agencies on a research collaboration called I-SPY 2 to streamline the clinical development process for promising breast cancer therapies. This project uses biological markers from individual tumors to better determine which medicines will work on which patients. It’s also studying when adding investigational drugs to standard chemotherapy will improve patient outcomes.

As we reflect on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we note the strides that have been made to transform a terrifying diagnosis into an actionable treatment plan that maximizes a person’s prognosis for recovery and remission. For our part, BIO will continue our advocacy on behalf of scientists, researchers, patients and their advocates, while encouraging public and private sector players to make new commitments to work together in the search for cures.