Great Strides Made In Developing New Medicines For Cancer

While there has been a great deal of discussion around Obamacare and the Supreme Court ruling that is expected to be announced in the near future, much progress has been made in other areas of public health that has gone largely unnoticed.

A report released earlier this month found that there are 981 medicines and vaccines currently being tested by America’s biopharmaceutical research companies to fight the various types of cancer affecting millions of patients around the world.  The potential medicines, which are either in clinical trials or under review by the FDA, include 121 for lung cancer, 117 for lymphoma and 111 for breast cancer.

At a time when cancer is among the nation’s and the world’s top killers, the significance of this information should not be undermined.  Despite remarkable steps in the ongoing battle against cancer, the numerous forms of this disease remain a huge public health challenge for patients, their families, healthcare providers and economies in America and worldwide.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death by disease in the U.S., surpassed only by heart disease.  Nearly 1 of every 4 deaths by disease is from cancer, and this year alone, over 1.6 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer.  About 577,190 people are expected to die of cancer this year, which is more than 1,500 people a day.

The hundreds of new medicines to treat cancer that are currently in development are our best hope for decreasing the burden of cancer to patients, their families and society.  The continual efforts of biopharmaceutical researchers in America have brought new and improved treatment options to patients.

Over the past few decades, there have been steady improvements in cancer survivor rates in the U.S. as a result of extraordinary progress in research and development.  According to the CDC, there were 11.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. in 2007, up from 9.8 million in 2001 and 3 million in 1971. The cancer death rate fell 22% for men and 14% for women between 1990 and 2007.  This increase in survivorship is largely attributed to earlier diagnosis and detection, and better treatments and follow-up care.

In addition to the benefits for patients and their families, drops in cancer death rates have an enormous economic impact. The National Institutes ofHealth estimates that the overall costs for cancer in 2007 is $226.8 billion: $103.8 billion for direct medical costs and $123 billion for indirect mortality costs (cost of lost productivity due to premature death).  According to recent research from the University of Chicago, reducing cancer death rates by 10 percent would be worth roughly $4.4 trillion in economic value to current and future generations.

The development of nearly 1,000 new cancer medicines by the pharmaceutical companies is even more significant when you consider just how long, difficult and expensive it is to develop safe and effective new medicines.

The process takes an average of 10 – 15 years for an experimental drug to reach patients, as the U.S. system of new drug approvals is the most rigorous in the world.  For every 5,000-10,000 compounds that enter preclinical testing, only five make it to human testing, and just one of those five is approved for sale.  And it costs a company an average of $1.2 billion, including the cost of failures, to get a new medicine from the laboratory to patients.  Indeed, pharmaceutical companies invested almost $50 billion in research and development last year.

Since the war on cancer was declared in the early 1970s, biopharmaceutical research companies have helped millions of patients worldwide manage and even beat cancer. Future medical advancements are our best hope for lessening the burden of cancer to patients, their families and society.