Posts Tagged ‘cancer’



Through the Murky Slog: Part II—A New Light for Cancer Therapies?

November 9th, 2011
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Last week, we discussed new drug approvals that reflected a paradigm shift for cancer drug development and for treatment of people living with cancer. Finally, we are starting to see a matchup of specific diagnostics with targeted biotherapeutics to address (effectively, we hope) targeted treatments for smaller groups of cancer patients.
 
Just recently, the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) urged the use of new biological knowledge to develop treatments faster, design more targeted clinical trials, and use information technology to integrate once-separate translational and clinical research. ASCO even says that targeted therapies can improve clinical trial responses from 8 to 30 percent. Also, just recently, the FDA gave itself a pat on the back as it highlighted its recent innovative drug approvals, with targeted cancer therapies included among those on the list.
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Are We at the End of a Long, Murky Slog in Cancer Treatment?

November 4th, 2011
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For many years, a lot of people (including us) have called for a new way to look at, diagnose, and treat cancer. This means changing everything – from how we classify cancer to research strategies to treatment regimens. It’s been a long slog, through murky data and lots of failures, but now we’re finally seeing targeted treatments, matched with diagnoses to select the right niche of patients. Best of all, there is strong evidence to suggest that those treatments may work very well in those patient cohorts.
 
These are unlike most current cancer therapies, which are marked by “broad brush” descriptions (“a breast cancer drug”) and expensive price tags that can wipe out savings, burden insurance companies, and may have little benefit. But the FDA has just approved a series of treatments (albeit for rarer and later-stage cancers) that come with companion diagnostics to make sure the patient is the right one (i.e., has the right biomarker profile) for that drug. Identification of these patients prior to treatment means that while the treatments are still very costly, they stand a much better chance of actually working.
 
Just recently, the FDA approved (under its fast-track NDA approval system):
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Notes From Afield—#TEDMED, Day One

October 27th, 2011
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TEDMED, that health-focused meeting of the minds, is underway in San Diego, and I wanted to share some impressions of the ideas proposed at the conference. This week, there are a lot of very interesting exhibits, thoughtful presentations, and a bright, energetic audience here. And if there was a central theme to this year’s TEDMED, I’d say it was “redefinition;” rephrasing our questions to reflect what we’ve learned about how the natural, social, and physical worlds actually work.  I’d like you to chime in; share your thoughts with me on these ideas, or any others!
 
Here are some of my initial takeaways:

     

  1. Dr. David Agus of USC observed that the power of sophisticated diagnostics is needed to produce truly targeted personalized medicine, but wonders if we need to not only redefine diseases such as cancer, but also to find different, more useful definitions of health. In other words, should we focus on defining health, or instead focus on what is meant by disease?
  2. Ger Brophy of General Electric Healthcare focused on the theme of cancer on a personal basis, rather than on the geography of where the cancer is. As we’ve discussed via this blog, cancer’s traditional definitions based on anatomical location are not keeping up with what we know about the disease – and its many forms – today. Read the rest of this entry »

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Moving Beyond The Whack-a-Mole Style of Cancer Treatment

September 26th, 2011
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In his latest Wall Street Journal column (“Drugs That Are as Smart as Our Diseases”), biologist/author Matt Ridley bemoans the plummeting efficiency of drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry. He points to a disturbing paradox: while identifying and sequencing genes of pathogens and cancer cells has become much cheaper in a short period of time, the number of new drug candidates (based at least in part on our knowledge of those genes) has dropped. According to Ridley, new molecule approvals per billions of dollars of inflation-adjusted R&D amounts to no more than one percent of the number of approvals in 1950. And as we’re all aware, this decline in innovation is all the more dire because the pharmaceutical industry needs to replace so-called “blockbuster” drugs that are about to lose their patent protections if it is to continue to keep investors satisfied and fuel future innovation.
 
So, why hasn’t the same industry that gave us statins, Herceptin®, and vaccines come up with a new generation of treatments? The biggest problem might lie in its success. Researchers today confront an enormous—and growing—amount of genetic and biochemical information as the search continues for newer, more effective drugs.  As we generate more data, we are increasing our understanding of the complexity of biological processes underlying disease states.  While this better understanding can lead to innovation, it also has uncovered obstacles. For example, scientists have found that signaling pathways leading to cancers are replete with redundancy, shortcuts and other molecular detours that block the activity of cancer drugs. Sometimes, these pathways can help eliminate or prevent cancer; at other times they can exacerbate it.
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Negative Headlines, Scientific Vulnerability and the Future of Genetic Tests

July 19th, 2011
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Though the life sciences industry is making great progress with genetic tests and targeted therapies, a recent article in the New York Times (“How Bright Promise in Cancer Testing Fell Apart”) exposes disturbing and cautionary insights into the application of this technology. The article revealed that research on the application of complex genetic tests to match cancer patients to the best available therapy may not be as promising as it seems.
 
The article describes a situation that emerged just over a year ago that raised serious doubts about a test developed by researchers at Duke University. The test used gene expression signatures to characterize tumors and to identify those most likely to respond to different drugs.
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Empowering Medical Consumers through a New Age of Partnerships

April 15th, 2011
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In the earlier days of the Internet, the consumer of medical or health-related information was a lone traveler, wandering through dark alleys of information often with little more than intuition and guesswork to guide the way. Who knew what type of foul play lurked in those unregulated shadows?
 
Interestingly, it isn’t watchdog regulation that’s lighting the path for the lost consumer of medical information today; it’s exciting partnerships around transparent technologies and practices that are seizing the market. For example, we recently participated in the 3rd Annual Personalized Medicine Partnerships Conference, which was designed to shed light on issues of paramount importance to the future of personalized medicine, including partnerships, clinical utility/validation, and the commercial realities of personalized medicine in the global healthcare marketplace. More to come from that conference in future posts…

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