Guest Column: 395 new cancer medicines offer hope

Guest Column: 395 new cancer medicines offer hope

By Alan F. Holmer

Cancer remains the second leading cause of death by disease in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease. This year, some 556,500 Americans are expected to die of cancer—more than 1,500 people a day. The pharmaceutical industry’s commitment to research, evidenced by the 395 medicines in development for this disease, is our best hope of stemming this toll. In the state of Illinois, it is estimated that 59,900 new cancer cases will develop in 2003. Many of these medicines are high-tech weapons that fight the disease in new ways, while some involve research on new ways to use existing medicines. The research is being conducted by 181 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and by the National Cancer Institute. The medicines in development, all of which are either in clinical trials or under review by the Food and Drug Administration, include 70 for lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the United States; 49 for breast cancer, which is expected to strike 200,000 American women in 2003; 48 for colon cancer, the third most common cancer in both men and women in this country; and 48 for prostate cancer, which is expected to kill 29,000 American men this year.

Additional medicines target kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, skin cancer, ovarian cancer, and others. In addition, companies are working on medicines to improve the quality of life for people undergoing cancer treatment. In the past few years, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have made progress against cancer by bringing cutting-edge new cancer treatments to patients. These include:

n A breakthrough drug for a chronic myeloid leukemia that works by blocking the chemical signal responsible for cancer cell growth.

n A monoclonal antibody engineered to zero in on and kill non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells.

n A medicine that keeps growth factors from feeding certain types of breast cancer cells. Many of the new medicines in the pipeline also use new approaches and technologies to fight cancer. For example:

n A medicine for pancreatic cancer that works by blocking the pathway that signals cancer cells to grow.

n A medicine for lung cancer designed to inhibit the production of a protein that transmits signals that trigger abnormal cell growth.

n A drug that delivers a synthetic version of a substance derived from scorpions directly to brain tumor cells.

n A medicine designed to induce a powerful immune response to melanoma. This commitment to research promises to continue and accelerate the remarkable progress made against cancer in the past decade, which led to declines in both cancer cases and cancer deaths. Death rates for eight of the top 10 cancers were level or declining during the 1990s, according to a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. These encouraging statistics raise hopes for an eventual victory in the war on cancer. Said Dr. Leonard Saltz of New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: “I don’t think we’re going to hit home runs, but if we can get a series of line-drive singles going and put enough singles back to back, we can score runs.”

Holmer is president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association that represents the nation’s research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. You can visit the Web site at

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