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Drug Companies Band Together to Speed Cancer Drug Testing

A New York Times story reports that several leading pharmaceutical companies are working together in a cooperative effort to speed up the testing of new types of cancer drugs that use the body’s own immune system to combat cancer. This initiative is known as the National Immunotherapy Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of leading drug manufacturers Amgen and Celgene, as well as other smaller companies. Its website, CancerMoonShot2020.org, explains that the group also includes biotech companies, academic centers and community oncologists in an unprecedented collaboration.

Using immunotherapy to treat cancer

Cancer has many insidious forms and affects millions worldwide. The American Cancer Society is projecting 1,685,210 new diagnosis and 595,690 deaths from cancer will occur in the U.S. alone in 2016. Although these numbers seem bleak, the good news is that the cancer death rate has declined 23 percent in the two decades from 1991 to 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available). The Times article asserts that the most promising recent development in oncology is the newfound success of harnessing the immune system to attack cancer after decades of failed attempts. This kind of cancer treatment is known as immunotherapy, and as the Times notes, although it can be very successful in some patients, other patients receive no benefit whatsoever from immunotherapy drugs.

Researchers believe that these drugs may be more effective when used in combination rather than singularly, because different drugs work on different parts of the immune system. However, because of the sheer number of drugs and potential combinations, arranging individual trials is a time consuming process. That is where the National Immunotherapy Coalition comes in. The Coalition says it will have access to 60 drugs and hopes to enroll up to 20,000 patients by the year 2020 to run trials of various drug combinations for up to 20 kinds of cancers, including lung, prostate and breast cancer.

The National Immunotherapy Coalition

The Coalition is the brainchild of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, best known for developing the drug Abraxane, which is used to treat advanced-stage breast cancer. As its website explains, the coalition’s goal is to accelerate “the potential of combination immunotherapies as the next generation standard of care in patients with cancer.” To accomplish this ambitious goal, it will design, initiate and complete randomized clinical trials in cancer patients with cancer at all stages of the disease. Beyond that, the Coalition’s “aspirational moonshot” is to use the findings from these trials to “develop an effective vaccine-based immunotherapy to combat cancer by 2020.”

At Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C., we are hopeful that the coalition finds success over the next years. And if you or someone you love needs legal assistance due to injuries sustained from medical malpractice or other negligent acts, contact us today for help.

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