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Curing Cancer: Advancements and What is Yet to Come

February 8, 2017

Last month, MIT Technology Review reported “Two Infants Treated with Universal Immune Cells Have Their Cancer Vanish.” UK doctors treated the babies with genetically engineered T-cells from another person, known as CAR-T, as recounted in Science Translational Medicine.
The London treatment is notable for involving the most extensively engineered cells ever given to a patient, with a total of four genetic changes, two of them introduced by gene editing using a method called TALENs. One alteration was to strip the donor cells of their propensity to attack the body of another person. Another directs them to attack cancer cells.

The results are an exciting preview of the potential breakthroughs the field of personalized medicine promises. While experiments like this one saw positive results, Stephan Grupp, director of cancer immunotherapy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shared that the “hint of efficacy” is not enough to prove that this alone cured the children – there is still work to be done. Even so, it should not be forgotten how much progress has been made in the fight against cancers in recent decades. These advances have given patients a second shot at longer, healthier lives. The following cancer facts shared in PhRMA’s “Medicines in Development for Cancer 2015 Report” are evidence of such victories:

  • 22% decline in cancer death rates since the early 1990s

  • 83% of survival gains in cancer are attributable to new treatments, including medicines

  • 80% (approx.) of pipeline cancer drugs are potentially first-in-class medicines

  • 73% of cancer medicines in the pipeline have, the potential to be personalized medicines

Unfortunately, cancer is still to blame for 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. pushing researchers to explore and develop new innovative treatments. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) featured a cancer progress report snapshot which further points out how cancer, a major health care challenge, is a still huge national and international financial burden. AACR highlights the sense of urgency as our 65+ population, those most diagnosed with this disease, is expected to double by 2060. The hope of immunotherapy and gene editing in the fight against cancer has biotech companies from all around the globe swiftly working to further develop and improve treatments for patients. What’s more, there are a whopping 836 potential new cancer medicines and vaccines undergoing clinical trials or pending FDA review.

These medicines in the pipeline have potential to offer new hope to patients, but as the AACR reminds us, it is the committed biotech innovators that will help lessen the burden of “the emperor of all maladies”:
Research is the foundation of new and better approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment, which are driving down overall U.S. cancer death rates and increasing the number of people who are living longer, higher quality lives after a cancer diagnosis.

Read the full MIT Technology Review article here.

Read PhRMA’s full report, featuring AACR, here.