The cure for cancer is seemingly getting closer every day. Last year was an incredible year for developments in cancer research, with major breakthroughs happening in numerous areas. The FDA approved 12 novel oncology drugs in 2017, including some targeting specialized cancers such as mantle cell lymphoma, Merkel cell carcinoma, and follicular lymphoma. Below are some of the most exciting developments in cancer research from 2017.
The FDA approved use of the drug Keytruda for treatment of patients whose tumors exhibit certain genetic characteristics. Patients with solid-tumor cancers, including breast, colon, gastrointestinal, and prostate cancers, may have microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) tumors, which are unable to repair the DNA of infected cells. Keytruda, produced by Merck, proved effective at reducing obstacles that inhibited the immune system from attacking these cells.
CAR-T, a novel immunotherapy treatment, received FDA approval for children with leukemia. Kymriah, owned by Novartis, is a customized immunotherapy drug made by extracting T-cells from patients, reengineering them to target cancerous cells, and injecting them back into the patient. The procedure has a cure rate of more than 70 percent, and while it is expensive, Novartis is working with Medicare and Medicaid to manage the cost.
Kite Pharma was approved for its own version of CAR-T, called Yescarta. While Kymriah was approved for the treatment of child patients, Yescarta is targeted toward adult patients suffering from large B-cell lymphoma. Kite’s treatment also has a high price tag and a long waiting list, but the company is hopeful about its prospects.
Multiple myeloma patients may have their own form of CAR-T soon. Tiny Bluebird Bio and Celgene have been working together to reengineer T-cells to target BCMA, a protein found in myeloma cells. In December, they revealed that 17 out of 18 trial patients had responded positively to the treatment, with 10 of those seemingly cancer-free at the end. The successes of these three CAR-T treatments have inspired researchers to explore using this method for solid-tumor cancers.
2017 saw a number of developments in treatments that combine different drug modalities to create a unique therapy. In 2017, the FDA approved 12 combination therapies, involving drugs that had been previously approved for use on their own but have been shown to be effective when taken concurrently with others. The most recent came in December, when Genentech was approved to combine its drugs Perjeta and Herceptin with chemotherapy to treat patients with HER-2 positive breast cancer who have a high recurrence risk.
Immuno-oncology and combination treatments are just two of the exciting fields currently dominating cancer research. Novel treatment methods such as these are especially exciting to patients suffering from rare cancers such as mesothelioma who have had little success with current treatment options. Mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure, is resistant to many common therapies and leaves patients with a short life expectancy.
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