By Kate Hammeke, Contributing Editor
The heightened interest in developing cancer treatments, combined with the R&D efforts put forth over the past decade, contributed to the emergence of a class of “smart bombs” first reported as one of their most hopeful developments at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in June of 2012. These medicines use antibodies that bond to specific cancer cells to deliver a very toxic drug directly to the cancerous cell, leaving healthy tissue alone.
In February of 2013, the FDA approved the first “smart bombs” to treat breast cancer, commercially known as Kadcyla and developed by Roche’s Genentech.
The second major development reported at the time was some degree of success in using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, an idea that has been around for a century, but training the immune system to recognize the cancer cells as an “enemy” to attack had previously met with limited success. At present, there are still no FDA-approved drugs on the market that work using immunotherapy, but evidence from clinical trials testing PD-1 (a protein) blocking drugs have shown a “quantum leap” of progress. These potentially new kinds of therapies, combined with progress in diagnostic tests that help predict which medicines will work for which patients, are important tools in reducing cancer deaths and carry huge potential for the developers who bring them to market.