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Advances in Cancer Research Cut Deaths by 33%


Between 2011 and 2020, 45.6% of new cancer drugs were approved through the accelerated approval pathway, according to a new report from the American Association of Cancer Research.

Breakthroughs in cancer research mean that fewer people are dying from cancer. In fact, deaths from cancer have fallen 33% between 1991 and 2020, according to a new report from the American Association of Cancer Research.

Philip D. Greenberg, M.D.

Philip D. Greenberg, M.D.

“Nearly all advances in cancer research and cancer therapies have evolved from studies in basic science. As we envision and advance the frontiers of cancer science and medicine, breakthroughs in precision medicine enabled by technologies, such as synthetic chemistry, single cell genomics, and liquid biopsy, are moving rapidly from the laboratory to the clinic, and they're going to change the way cancer is prevented, detected, treated, and monitored,” Philip D. Greenberg, M.D., FAACR, American Association of Cancer Research president said in the report.

Most of these in life expectancy and prevented deaths are in lung cancer, where smoking cessation campaigns and early detection have been driving down lung cancer rates and deaths. Additionally, progress in treatment for many other cancers has contributed to fewer deaths, especially for children and adolescents.

Research of cancer treatments is now focused on molecularly targeted therapeutics, and the American Association of Cancer Research highlights some of the advanced made in 2023. One of these approvals is Elahere (mirvetuximab soravtansine-gynx) to treat adult patients with epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer. Elahere had been granted accelerated approval in November 2022 and was granted full approval in March 2024. It is an antibody-drug conjugate targeted against folate receptor alpha, a cell-surface protein highly expressed in ovarian cancer. About 35% to 40% of ovarian cancer patients express high levels of folate receptor alpha.

Another important new targeted therapy is Krazati (adagrasib) for KRAS G12C-mutated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). KRAS is a gene that produces a protein involved in cell growth and death. Before this approval, KRAS was once considered an “undruggable” target, and Krazati’s approval provides hope that other KRAS-mutated cancers can be addressed, especially in colorectal cancer. In fact, the FDA is reviewing a supplemental application for Krazati in combination with cetuximab to treat patients with locally advanced or metastatic KRAS G12C-mutated colorectal cancer with a. target date of June 21, 2024. Other therapeutics for KRAS-mutated colorectal cancer are in development.

Immunotherapy has emerged as an important part of cancer treatment, especially for those with metastatic disease. As of July 31, 2023, the FDA has approved 11 immune checkpoint inhibitors to treat 20 cancer types and for treating solid tumors that share certain molecular characteristic. Among the new drugs approved between Aug. 1, 2022, and July 31, 2023, are two new immune checkpoint inhibitors: Imjudo (tremelimumab) to treat patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer, and Zynyz (retifanlimab-dlwr) to treat patients with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare skin cancer.

Advances have been in the development of CAR T-cell therapy, which is designed to increase the number of cancer-killing T cells. As of July 31, 2023, the FDA has approved six distinct CAR T-cell therapies for the treatment of a range of hematologic cancers.

Another type of immunotherapy is T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies, which bring cancer-killing T cell closer to cancer cells. Between Aug. 1, 2022, and July 31, 2023, the FDA approved four new T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies for the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma, and several additional hematologic cancers.

Among the recent T-cell engaging bispecific antibodies approved in 2023 are Epkinly (epcoritamab-bysp) and Columvi (glofitamab-gxbm) to treat patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Epikinly is also under FDA review to treat elapsed or refractory (R/R) follicular lymphoma (FL). The target action date is in August 2024.

The future of cancer breakthroughs, those at American Association of Cancer Research, said will come from several areas. AI, for example, will allow for the analysis of large datasets to classify tumors, better understand cancer at the molecular level, develop better drugs and assess patient response.

Despite these advances, American Association of Cancer Research says there is a need for additional treatment.

In 2024, more than 2 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society’s report in January 2024. More younger people are being diagnosed with cancer. Of all cancer deaths in people young than 50 years of age, colorectal cancer is now the number 1 cancer cause in men and the number 2 cancer cause in women.

President Joseph Biden’s reignited Cancer Moonshot has a goal to cut the cancer death rate by at least half by 2047. Last year, the Cancer Moonshot Scholars program was launched, which provides $5.4 million to a cohort of 11 academic researchers for cancer research. President Biden’s budget for 2024 requests $716 million for the reauthorization of the Cancer Moonshot through fiscal year 2026.

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