June 9, 2013

NY Times: Promising New Cancer Drugs Empower the Body’s Own Defense System

Promising New Cancer Drugs Empower the Body’s Own Defense System by The New York Times' Andrew Pollack.
"“If you look five years out, most of this meeting [ASCO] will be about immunotherapy,” said Dr. Mario Sznol, a professor of medical oncology at Yale."
"“I think all of you recognize this is a very special moment in oncology,” Dr. Roger M. Perlmutter, head of research and development at Merck, told analysts Sunday at a standing-room-only meeting."
When Dr. Perlmutter was with Amgen, he (among others) was responsible for the acquisition by Amgen of BioVex's OncoVEX, now T-Vec: "Doctors inject T-Vec directly into tumors unlike most cancer drugs that are administered orally (as a pill) or intravenously into a vein. In Jan. 2011, Perlmutter explained that BioVex wouldn't have been worth Amgen's investment if OncoVex proved capable of only eliminating tumors via direct injection. The tumor burden in advanced cancer patients, especially those with skin cancer, is too great to treat them effectively. T-Vec, however, appears to activate a patient's immune system enough to target and eliminate tumors that are not directed injected. This so-called off-target or systemic response is what grabbed Amgen's attention and ultimately led to the company's decision to acquire BioVex."
"But there are reasons to be cautious. This is cancer, after all. Many other hoped-for miracles have failed to materialize. This is a conference that has hailed drugs that extend lives by only a few weeks as breakthroughs. “We’re so used to failure, we get excited very easily,” said Dr. Kim Margolin, an expert on melanoma and immune therapies at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance."
"The PD-1 drugs tackle the second problem of immune system suppression. How many cancers this will work for is still unclear. Much of the early work has been in melanoma, which is known to be more susceptible than many other tumors to immune system attack. There are cases, though rare, in which the immune system vanquishes melanoma on its own."

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