Change in how we treat Cancer

“We are now,” says editor Ray Blanco, “in the early stages of a huge change in how we treat cancer.” He believes that “serious progress” is being made in the “arms race” to boost our own naturally present immune cells to do battle with cancer’s shifting defenses. Leading the charge is what Mr. Blanco calls “the new frontier in cancer treatment” – immunotherapy.

The basic concept isn’t all that new. Over 150 years ago, physicians began to notice improvements in cancer patients who had also developed infections. The next step was injectable bacterial cocktails, which would sometimes produce results. The understanding was that these pathogens were either directly attacking the cancerous cells, or kicking a dormant immune system into gear. But this form of therapy was eventually put on the back burner so that resources could be concentrated on other methods that looked more promising at the time, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. According to Mr. Blanco, “that’s now changing fast,” with small biotech innovators storming the front lines. “We are reaching a turning point,” he says, “in immunotherapy research. With hundreds of programs under development, it is now a heavily researched oncology field.”

Certainly there are skeptics out there, but Mr. Blanco doesn’t count himself among their numbers. He believes that biotech investors who stay on the sidelines during this “new wave of cancer therapy” will be “missing out on historic profit opportunities.” Estimates are that the market will build up US$35 billion a year through the next decade. For now, only two approved immunotherapies exist, one of which is Yervoy made by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY-NYSE, $41.54). But as Mr. Blanco concludes, “sometimes, the advantage in the marketplace doesn’t go to the first mover, but to follow-on entrants who learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.”

 

 

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