Another year has come and gone, and it was a busy one for our group. We saw at least 10 new or expanded drug approvals for oncology products in 2010. Many spirited debates took place in this market this year, and several remain unresolved. While we will soon know the FDA’s decision on the use of Avastin (bevacizumab) in breast cancer, we will not find out whether the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plans to follow the recommendation of its advisory panel and pay for Provenge until March 2011 (which will probably be sooner than when we know definitively how often “routine” mammography screening should occur).
One aspect of oncology that appeared to unite everyone in 2010 was the need for greater personalization in cancer care. These days, it is nearly a foregone conclusion that every cancer contains multiple molecular or genetic therapeutic targets—even if researchers have yet to discover them. More often than not, the molecular/genetic discoveries are taking place before drug development, which can only benefit patients.
At the recent 52nd American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, several studies concerning investigational targeted agents concluded with the words, “Based on these data, Company X plans to file a new drug application in 2011.” If the FDA approves even half of the applications that pharmaceutical companies anticipate filing in 2011, physicians will find themselves with far more treatment options for certain cancers. For example, in the past 6 months, hematologists went from having just 1 drug to offer patients with newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia to a choice of 3, and findings from the ASH conference hint that 1 or 2 more might be just over the horizon.
With 2011 being the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s War on Cancer, quite a bit of ink is being spilled on grading the country’s achievements. These assessments often look at the final outcomes without considering the overall progress the field has made in such a short amount of time. While it is true that we have yet to find a cure for cancer, it is not for want of trying. We could publish a 100-page issue every week and still not review every new discovery in this expanding market. Those 10 new drug approvals in 2010 represent years of work and millions of dollars. And the fact that we have unresolved debates despite accumulating reams of data illustrates just how difficult some of those questions are to answer.
Perhaps we won’t find a cure for cancer in 2011, but a few breakthroughs like those we have seen every year for the past several years will propel us to new discoveries that will bring us closer to our goal.