Over the past two decades, the risk of death from cancer has declined dramatically as researchers and doctors have discovered advancements in treatment and learned to better screen for potentially-deadly tumors. A study released last year showed the risk of dying from cancer within five years for those diagnosed between 2005 and 2009 was 39 to 68 percent lower than for those diagnosed between 1990 and 1994.
The march of progress in cancer treatment continues at a rapid pace, and nowhere is that on more prominent display than this week in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The conference offers a preview of the major innovations to expect in the coming years. The past five years have already witnessed more than 70 new drugs released that are further increasing life expectancy and even offering something close to a cure for cancers once believed to be a death sentence.
Among the most exciting research being presented at this year’s conference is that concerning personalized cancer treatments that attack the molecular causes of the mutation rather than simply trying to treat a specific type of colon cancer or breast cancer. Recent research has shown some cancers can be effectively treated by drugs approved for other types of cancer depending on the genetic markers for the particular patient.
The approximately 30,000 attendees at ASCO will also be following research on advancements in immunotherapy. Merck, Bristol-Myers, and others are at the forefront of a race to develop these treatments, which help a patient’s immune system attack the disease. Immunotherapy has many of the largest pharmaceutical companies focused on research to enter a market that could be worth $30 billion by 2020.
But it’s not just the pharmaceutical giants that are being closely watched at ASCO. Small companies are also releasing potentially-breakthrough research on new drugs. Among the stars at this year’s conference is Ariad, which has new research on brigatinib, a possible treatment for some types of lung cancer, particularly those who no longer are seeing benefits from Pfizer’s Xalkori. The company presented research Monday offering evidence that brigatinib may have longer lasting effects than drugs currently on the market, and it could have the added effect of affecting lung tumors that have spread to the brain. The company’s CEO, Paris Panayiotopoulos, appeared on CNBC Monday afternoon to discuss the importance of the trial data, noting the improved life expectancy and other aspects should make it competitive on the market once it receives regulatory approval. An analysis from RBC Capital Markets noted that the new research “supports FDA approval.”
Ariad, which is a suspected takeover target for a larger oncology company amidst an acquisition spree in the industry, is exploring new trials for ponatinib. The compound is currently only approved for relapsed disease, but some analysts see promise in the direction of Ariad’s research to improve dosing and potentially gain approval to treat another form of cancer. The company ran into trouble in 2013 when ponatinib trial results showed some potential dangers, but Ariad has regained its footing, and its research may present some new avenues for effective use of its flagship drug.
While cancer remains a terrifying diagnosis, this year’s ASCO conference is highlighting the potential to find a cure, or at the very least, battle back against the second leading cause of death in the United States. And for those wanting to witness some of the biggest breakthroughs happening today, the researchers, healthcare professionals, and pharmaceutical companies presenting at ASCO are a good place to look for a growing market of targeted therapies to improve chances of survival.