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Emerging Oncology Drugs in Pharma R&D Pipeline
Posted on March 2nd, 2017 by Dr. Makarand Jawadekar, Ph.D in Pharma R&D
Cancer. It’s the 2nd leading cause of death in this country (1), and a disease feared by patients and healthcare professionals alike. Today’s cancer treatments vary in nature, and also, efficacy and levels of side effect profiles.
Most people have heard of and are familiar with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery for treating cancer. These are traditional treatments which have been used for several decades. However, they perform to varying levels of success/ efficacy, and they also can come with some challenging side effects.
In the pharmaceutical R&D world, cancer continues to be a very sought-after disease target for drug development, for obvious reasons. Not only does cancer represent the 2nd leading cause of death, but it is also a disease that poses significant physical and mental burdens on millions of individuals. Recently, the oncology therapeutics market has grown to $107 billion (2). Pharmaceutical companies continue to strive to bring new safe and effective cancer drugs to market that are even better than the drugs we currently have.
When I look at the newest classes of drugs in cancer treatment, there are a couple classes of drugs that stand out. The first is immunotherapy drugs, which act directly on the immune system to help fight the cancer cells (3). Some such drugs include Tecentriq, by Genentech, and Opdivo, developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb. These in particular fit within a class of “checkpoint inhibitors,” which all act on the body by antagonizing the mechanism by which cancer cells block the immune system from fighting against it. However, the most prominent issue with these checkpoint inhibitors is the fact that only some patients (in the case of metastatic melanoma, only 33%) have shown to respond well to them (4).
The second predominant type of immunotherapy treatments today is called cell therapy. Generally speaking, cell therapy entails “removing immune cells from the patient, altering them genetically to help them fight cancer, then multiplying them in the laboratory and… a transfusion, back into the patient” (5). Specific types of cell therapy include those like “CAR T-cell therapy” (6).
Despite these progressions, the next step for oncology drug researchers now appears to be trying to improve the patient response rates for these immunotherapy drugs, which currently have only shown to work for a certain percentage of cancer patients. Therefore, it is believed that increased genomic and bio-molecular research may help oncology physicians to better understand how molecular and genetic differences in patients influence their responses to these drugs.
There are some additional drugs/therapies currently in the R&D pipeline that are also hoped to improve upon the incremental successes of immuno-therapeutics currently on the market. For example, Pfizer’s Palbociclib inhibitor drug recently was shown to extend survival in Phase III of clinical trials, for the treatment of advanced or metastatic breast cancer (7). In addition, Eli Lilly’s Olaratumab, a monoclonal antibody, demonstrated in Phase III of clinical trials that it improved survival for sarcoma compared to current chemotherapy treatments (8). Finally, recently for the first time the National Institutes of Health approved a proposal to run a gene-editing CRISPR clinical trial for treating cancer (9). This new technique, which involves editing DNA segments, holds potential for eventually being able to activate certain cells in the fight against cancer.
There is also a great progress made on the Companion Diagnostics (CDx) area in oncology-related treatments. Sometimes, referred to as Theregnostics, we will see much more research through these lines as the payers demand “sure shot” efficacy for the drugs which cost so dearly to payers and patients. The idea is to apriory screen patients to a mAb treatment, based on the genetic testing and efficacy modeling based on the new biologic entity and binding to the receptors (lock & key concept). The advances in targeted drug delivery to the actual tumor-site are proving its hypotheses to work. In such instances, obviously any potential damage to other surrounding healthy organs and cells is reduced or even eliminated.
Although all of this progress in oncology is very promising, there is still a long way to go before cancer becomes a “thing of the past.” However, with continued focus on genomic and immunology-based clinical trial research, the future for oncologic drugs will continue to become a bit brighter every day.
For more information on current trends and the future direction of cancer research read the full report.
All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.
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Dr. Makarand Jawadekar, Ph.D
Independent Pharma Professional
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