Past Drug Failures Help Create Cancer’s Next Successes

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The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has released a new report, “Researching Cancer Medicines: Setbacks and Stepping Stones,” which highlights the number of investigational cancer medicines that did not succeed in clinical trials and how these so-called failures are a critical part of the drug development process. 

The report illustrates the challenges in bringing new medicines to patients with cancer, and explores the factors that contributed to both the approvals of new treatments and those that failed between 1998 and 2014. Three particularly difficult to treat cancers comprise the focus of the report, including melanoma, lung cancer, and brain cancer.

Setbacks Instrumental to Future Growth

 “While it may sound counterintuitive, research setbacks are instrumental to furthering efforts to better understand a disease and how to treat it. They are also an indication of the incredible difficulty in developing medicines to treat cancer,” said PhRMA President and CEO John J. Castellani. “These setbacks serve as a reminder that to make progress, we need a public policy framework that supports drug development in combination with promising science so that we can bring important innovations to patients.”

Significant advancements in the treatment of diseases like cancer are typically the result of cumulative innovation over time, rather than a single breakthrough in treatment.  Every success—and every failure—builds on previous advances to improve patients’ lives.

“While it is incredibly disappointing to see a promising new drug candidate eliminated from the pipeline, researchers take immeasurable [lessons] from every setback and build upon each one to develop effective therapies for patients,” said Mr. Castellani.

Despite these challenges, America’s biopharmaceutical companies continue to invest in research to develop new treatments.  According to a new report by PhRMA, there are 771 cancer medicines and vaccines either in clinical trials or awaiting review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Of these medicines, more than 50 are for the treatment of melanoma, 98 for lung cancer, and 47 for brain cancer. ■





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