Winning the Battle against Cancer

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Numb. Devastated. Scared.

That’s the emotion the word “Cancer” evokes when it comes from a doctor.

“How long will I live?”

While physicians didn’t quite have an answer (any answer, should I say?!) until a couple of years ago, now they can with a high level of confidence respond with a smile to many of their patients – “Your entire life.”

It was some 4,600 years ago that an Egyptian physician Imhotep first identified cancer. Since then, it has intrigued physicians in a myriad ways and, in the last decade, has grown into one of the most researched medical maladies. The good news is that efforts are paying off and medical science is inching towards winning the battle against cancer.

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On a winning streak against cancer

A recent paper titled Cancer statistics, 2014, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, charts the growing number of cancer survivors and a combination of factors fuelling this. The study states that early detection, preventative measures and improved treatment has reduced cancer mortality rate in the US from a peak of 215 deaths per 100,000 people in 1991 to 172 deaths in 2010. In fact, nothing less than 1.3 million cancer patients in America battled the disease successfully since 1991.

The blue line in the graph indicates the number of lives saved from cancer vis-a-vis the possible deaths that may have occurred (marked in red). Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21208/full

The blue line in the graph indicates the number of lives saved from cancer vis-a-vis the possible deaths that may have occurred (marked in red).
Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/caac.21208/full

The study also found that while men were most afflicted by prostate cancer, breast cancer was the most common form of malignancy found among women. Lung cancer has been rated as the second most prevalent form of the disease, while children were often detected with leukaemia.

It’s raining patents on the battlefield

Universities, medical centres and drug manufacturing companies have been aggressively researching for cures and as a consequence patent filing trends pertaining to cancer research have been on a steady rise. Since 2000, the USPTO has recorded at least 88,819 patents and patent application filings.

Slide2

Source: iRunway analysis

Universities of California, Texas, Michigan and John Hopkins are the dominant patent applicants in cancer research. Genentech, Merck, Corixa, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute are the other top patent assignees.

Source: Thomson Innovation

Source: iRunway analysis

Patents pertaining to cancer treatment and therapy using anti-cancer agents (neoplastic agents), antibodies and immune system enhancing agents to kill malignant cells continue to dominate researchers’ interests. Immunotherapy has emerged as a hot topic at recent cancer conferences and has been encouraging leading pharmaceutical companies to develop immunotherapy drug programs.

Solutions that lie in patents

In a recent patent US 8926979, Novartis claims to have discovered novel anti-CD40 antibodies that are more potent than the anti-cancer drug Rituxan (rituximab) in treating various forms of cancer like those afflicting the lungs, kidneys and thyroid gland.

Source: Thomson Innovation

Source: iRunway analysis

Techniques to detect, diagnose and predict patients’ vulnerability to cancer is also an eminent area of research. Research to develop and identify cancer biomarkers to guide detection and treatment of cancer has resulted in significant patenting activity in this field.

The University of Texas has patented a non-invasive method of determining the risk of developing a breast tumor in patients through a saliva test. This biomarking method has the potential of becoming an inexpensive and painless technique of cancer detection, aiding in quicker treatment for the patient. This patent, US 8772038, which is titled “Detection of saliva proteins modulated secondary to ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast” describes a method of detecting at least one of forty nine biomarkers present in human saliva to ascertain the presence of breast cancer in a person.

Patent application US 20140037625 filed by Genentech claims to have found a method to identify lung cancer. It describes the use of a c-met biomarker in which a patient is likely to respond to a specific immuno-therapy treatment that can trace the presence lung cancer.

Such simple, non-invasive and painless methods are bound to enable physicians to administer targeted and efficient medication to treat cancers with more certainty.

Myriad patenting obstacles

In light of Supreme Court’s ruling in the Myriad case, patenting of naturally occurring human genetic segments have become difficult. While this ruling has come as a boon to cancer patients, it has created a slump in patenting activities related to various nucleic acid segments involved in assay, treatment and prognosis of cancer.

According to IMS Health, market size of oncology drugs was $91 billion in 2013, which was triple than what it was in 2003. The US FDA approved 10 new drugs in 2014 to treat various stages and symptoms of cancer. Oncology stands fourth among the 34 therapeutic areas for which FDA approves medications and drugs. There are 175 approved drugs for treating various cancers. The table below charts the top 10 drug manufacturing companies that have received approval for commercializing drugs to treat cancer.

table

Source: iRunway analysis

Of the 40 drugs assigned as “breakthrough drugs” by FDA, 50% are anti-cancer therapy drugs.  These drugs have been clinically tried to have greater drug efficacy and cures cancer from its roots.

Targeted medications and achievements in immuno-oncology have bolstered our arsenal in this battle against cancer. The world waits optimistically to witness a day when the emperor of maladies is vanquished and cancer becomes as curable as common flu. Until then, spread the cheer, support this battle and enjoy this video…

(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cancer-vs-alzheimer-1080×810.jpg)

Aditi Das
Aditi Das

Aditi Das is a compulsive sci-fi dreamer who conjures up aliens from vehicles stuck in a traffic snarl. When she isn’t driving teams, inspiring them to shred technologies to pieces and unearth their DNA, she’s busy dishing up Bengali food and blogging.


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